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  27 STARS AND 15 STRIPES ON A HOMEMADE FLAG WITH ITS CANTON RESTING ON THE WAR STRIPE AND WITH A HIGHLY UNUSUAL FRINGE AND TASSEL; AN EXTREMELY RARE STAR COUNT, MADE DURING THE CIVIL WAR, BOTH TO COMMEMORATE FLORIDA AS THE 27TH STATE AND ILLUSTRATE ITS UNITY WITH THE SOUTH

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 31" x 46.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 24.25" x 32.5"
Description....:
American national flags with 27 stars, made at the time when Florida gained statehood, are among the rarest of all 19th century examples of the Stars & Stripes. Very few period examples exist and most major collections of early flags that have been assembled over the years have not included one. Part of the reason why 27 star flags are so rare is that the star count was official for only one year. Florida became the 27th state on March 3rd, 1845. After the Third Flag Act (1818), stars were officially added to the national flag on the 4th of July following a state's addition. This meant that the 27th star would theoretically have been added on July 4th, 1845. Because the makers of flags, both private and public, seem to have cared little for the acts of Congress, however, or were perhaps completely ignorant of the pertinent legislation, the 27th star would have been added by most makers at the time of the addition of the state. Sometimes it would have even occurred beforehand, in hopeful anticipation, reflecting the spirit of a nation in eager pursuit of Manifest Destiny.

Texas subsequently entered the Union on December 29th, 1845, as the 28th state, approximately 9.5 months after the addition of Florida. While the 28th star was not officially added until July 4th, 1846, most flag-makers would have once again added it on or before Texas' addition. So the production of 27 star flags had a realistic window of approximately just 9-10 months, which meant that it would be one of the shortest lasting star counts in American history.

Another reason that 27 star flags are so scarce is that they were produced during a time before the Stars & Stripes was in widespread use. Flags made prior to the Civil War (1861-1865) are extremely scarce, comprising less than one percent of 19th century flags that have survived into the 21st century. Prior to the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter in 1861, the Stars & Stripes was simply not used for most of the same purposes we employ it in today. Private individuals did not typically display the flag in their yards and on their porches. Parade flags didn't often fly from carriages and horses. Places of business rarely hung flags in their windows. The only consistent private use prior to 1861 seems to have accompanied political campaigning.

Even the military did not use the national flag in a manner that most people might think. Most people are surprised to learn that the infantry wasn’t authorized to carry the Stars & Stripes until well into the 19th century, and even then did not often exercise the right, because it was neither required nor customary. The foremost purpose before the Mexican War (1846-48) was to identify ships on the open seas. While the flag was used to mark garrisons and government buildings, the flags of ground forces were limited to the those of their own regiment and a perhaps a federal standard (a blue or buff yellow flag bearing the arms of the United States). Artillery units were the first to be afforded the privilege in 1834. Infantry followed in 1841, but cavalry not until 1862.

Homemade and entirely hand-sewn throughout, this exceptional little flag was not produced when Florida gained statehood. It is, however, an early example, made during the Civil War (1861-1865).

The form of this particular flag is just about as unusual as its existence. The stars are arranged in staggered vertical columns in counts of 4-5-4-5-4-5. Because there was no official configuration until 1912, their design before that year was left to the whims of the maker. That said, most structured their stars in lineal rows.

The count of 15 as opposed to 13 stripes is especially interesting and would reflect secessionist sympathies. Even though they did not all secede from the Union, there were 15 Slave States. This number had remained fixed since 1845, when both Florida and Texas acquired statehood with slaveholding rights. A count of 27 stars and 15 stripes would celebrate Florida specifically, displaying both its position in the growth of America and its unity with the South. Such a flag could be expected in the early part of 1861, while there was still some uncertainty and perhaps disagreement concerning what sort of flags would represent not only the Confederacy on the whole, but the various, seceding states. At approximately 24 x 32.5 inches, the size of the flag would be serviceable as a guidon (flank marker), or as camp colors for a military unit. An alternate possibility is that it was used in Union territory to mark a safe house for Southern sympathizers. Many messages, both obvious and less-so, appear in flags of the Civil War era.

While some pre-Civil War star counts turn up on flags produced in the late 19th century for various purposes, 27 star flags are highly unusual. This may be due to Florida’s secession from the Union in 1861. As a former member of the Confederacy, it may have taken a while for residents of the state to once again embrace the Stars & Stripes. If a world’s fair committee within a state was comprised primarily of Confederate, Civil War veterans, the decision not to display a 27 star flag at the Florida pavilion, to reflect its history as the 27th state, may have been a relatively unconscious one. The idea may not have even been considered. The same may be true with regard to the celebration of Florida's semicentennial within the state, including decoration at parades, speeches, and pageants. Whatever the case may be, legitimate 27 star flags of the 19th century are extremely rare in any period.

Note how the blue canton is resting on a red stripe. When this condition occurs, some flag historians have referred to this as the “blood stripe” or the “war stripe”, suggesting the flag was constructed in this fashion when the nation was at war. In actuality, the placement probably occurred more often by accident. Not everyone knew where the canton was traditionally positioned, and because there was no official specification until 1912, there was no regulation with regard to this aspect. Whatever the case may be, the war stripe feature is both scarce and highly coveted by collectors.

The canton, stars, and white stripes of the flag are all made of plain weave cotton. The red stripes are also cotton, but with a twill weave, and possibly containing some flax or wool content. The hoist end of the flag is bound with the same red twill used in the stripes. This particular fabric is one I have encountered before in Southern, Civil War period flags. Likely hand-dyed, when it is subjected to moisture, it bleeds, losing color unevenly, to arrive in this blotchy, uneven state. When brittle, though the grain is diagonal, it tends to fracture in horizontal lines in precisely this fashion.

All of the piecework and binding was accomplished with hand-stitching. The stars are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). These are sewn in an unusual fashion, with a locking blanket stitch. While an especially unusual method of appliquéing stars in general, the use of a blanket stitch allowed the maker to complete the task in an attractive and effective manner, without having to turn the edges of the fabric under. This method of stitching helps bind the raw edge, to prevent fraying, which made a lot of sense in particular for such a small flag, where the stars are comparatively tiny. One will seldom ever encounter appliquéd stars this small on any American flag of any period. Unexpected traits like this can be indicative of Southern manufacture. When considering the star and stripe count, both the twill fabric and the stitching become meaningful in the spectrum of its attributes that determine the likely date of origin.

The most unexpected thing about the flag's attributes, however, is not the stars, but the decorative binding at the fly end. Here there is an interesting, hand-woven fringe that appears to be either homemade or of small, cottage industry-production. In any case, I have never seen a similar style on any flag or early textile. Made of wool, this appears to have been produced--or at the very least modified—for this particular flag. The inside edge was apparently created by folding over the twisted filaments and weaving them accordingly to construct the gimp. Three vertical rows of chain-stitched woolen yarn, in red, blue, then red again, were included for decoration. The reverse was backed with white, plain weave cotton. The flag is accompanied by a braided cord and handmade tassel, constructed of the same red and blue yarn, with white added. The simplicity of the construction speaks of its homemade nature.

The flag was passed down through the McKenzie family of Springfield, Massachusetts. On the obverse of the binding, near the bottom, the name "H. W. McKenzie" was inscribed with a dip pen. “Grace McKenzie” is penciled on the obverse, near the fly end of the first white stripe, proceeded by what appears to be the letter “L,” crossed out with 4 horizontal strokes.

Herbert William McKenzie (b. Oct. 21, 1891, d. Feb. 24, 1958) and Grace Lucille (McKenzie) Chapman (b. 1900, d. 1990) were the son and daughter of William D. McKenzie (b. 1858 in Canada) and his wife, Minnie (Moorhouse) McKenzie (b. 1867 in New York State). William came to the U.S. from New Brunswick. In the 1880 census he was living in Windham, Connecticut, but later records show that most of his life was spent in Massachusetts. The McKenzie’s lived Springfield, where William was a member of the Masonic order and a builder. In 1910 he constructed the Indian Motorcycle company plant.

The flag was likely passed down to Herbert and Grace through the family of Minnie, who, according to census records, married William in Massachusetts in 1882. Since the McKenzie side of the family was Canadian, immigrating to the U.S. post-war, it stands to reason that that flag probably came from the Moorhouse side. Minnie was the daughter of Talcott Morehouse II (b. Feb. 22, 1789 – d. Mar. 3, 1877), a farmer from Ballston, just outside Saratoga, New York. Talcott was around 78 years old when Minnie was born. His wife, Amanda Maria (Burby) Morehouse (b. about 1830-1833, d. Feb. 5, 1908), was married three times. The first was to Joseph P. Hawkins (1827-1857), of Saratoga Springs. The second was to Wilbur Wagar (b. about 1833, d. 1864 or 1865), a resident of the same.

To unravel the mystery of a 27 star flag, with 15 stripes, in the hands of a Massachusetts and New York State family, I searched for a Florida connection in lineage or in some other capacity, such as Civil War service that took a soldier to the state in the maneuvers of his regiment. None of the primary members of any of these families or their ancestors in the 19th century, hailed from anywhere in the South. While two men in Amanda’s extended family served in the Civil War, neither seems to have had any contact with Florida, nor a reason to have given the flag to Amanda, who was approximately 28-32 years old and married for the second time, by 1861. Of the three husbands of Amanda Moorhouse, only one saw Civil War service. It was here that the answer was most likely found.

On August 7th, 1862, at the age of 29, Wilbur Wagar mustered into I Company of the 115th New York Infantry. Captured at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia on Sept. 15th, 1862, barely a month after his enlistment, he was paroled on the following day. The 115th , nicknamed the “Iron Hearts,” proceeded from Virginia to Chicago, then on to Hilton Head and Beaufort, South Carolina, where it spent the majority of 1863. In the latter part of January, 1864, the regiment was sent to Florida.

Of all the Confederate States, Florida had by far the smallest population, at just 140,000. It also saw the fewest number of Civil War battles. Only two major conflicts occurred there, plus a number of small skirmishes. The most significant of these was the Battle of Olustee, which took place on February 20th, 1864. Among the 13 units that participated was the 54th Massachusetts, the African American unit that achieved great fame in modern times by the movie “Glory,” which told its story as the first black regiment. Two others, the 8th and 35th U.S. Colored Troops, also participated at Olustee. Union losses there were massive, at 1,861—a curious number, coinciding with the opening date of the Civil War—including 203 killed, 1,152 wounded, and 506 missing. Wagar was listed among the wounded that day, and was designated as a POW, but there is no further record. He may or may not have survived the war, as his date and method of discharge are unknown. If he did return home, it wasn’t for long. Amanda filed for his Union Army pension on August 21st, 1865.

It is of interest to note that a second flag, with 45 stars and 13 stripes (instead of 15), was found alongside this one. This second flag was produced in a similar, unusual fashion, with some of the same fabrics and stitching, and was signed "Herbert Mc." in one location and with the initials "M.W.M." in another, in the same sort of manner and likely with the same black ink, and from a similar dip pen. Though barely (if ever) flown, and in that regard very different from its well-used, 27-star counterpart, the stars of the 45-star example are similar in both their scale and in the unusual blanket stitch method of appliqué. This was accomplished with different thread and, upon close inspection, the stitching of the stars on the 45 star flag is not nearly as fine as it is on the 27. Although having 6 points instead of 5, they are likewise arranged in staggered vertical columns; in 9 staggered columns of 5 to be specific. This is very uncommon. The style and color of the hoist binding are alike, as-is the fact that the blue canton rests on a red stripe. And while the curiosity remains behind the use of 15 stripes, the two flags are obviously closely related.

Both the 27 and 45 star McKenzie flags are entirely hand-sewn, which is uncommon in the 45 star period, though typical in the earlier periods. The red and blue fabrics employed in both flags significantly pre-dates the construction of the 45 star example. In the North, blue, plain weave cotton is not usually encountered in the cantons of Civil War period flags with cotton stripes, save occasionally during the war’s opening year. In these instances, fine, merino wool, or else a blended fabric of some sort, is often substituted, perhaps due to wartime shortages. In the South, however, that was less often the case. The blue cotton is a glazed variety and, like the red fabric, is very likely of the Civil War period. Both of these were obviously salvaged from whatever remained of a limited supply. The canton of the 45 star flag is joined from two pieces of blue chintz. The white cotton, by contrast, used in the 45 star example, is of later vintage. As unlikely as it may seem, the red and blue fabrics seem to have somehow traveled with the 27 star flag, from the original maker.

Taking all of the above into account, my suspicion is that the 45 star flag was made when there were 45 states, 1896-1908, by someone copying the earlier, 27 star example, and employing some earlier fabrics in the construction. Possibly a second flag was needed for a patriotic event, such as a parade to celebrate the end of the Spanish-American War (1898).

How the 27 star flag traveled from Florida to New York State remains unknown. It could be that Wilbur Wagar captured it at Olustee, having been used as a guidon or camp colors, and stored it away, to be sent home at a later date. It could be that he passed as a POW, unrecorded, but that his effects were returned home by a comrade. It could be that it was made for him while in Florida, for some reason, and that he escaped the POW camp and was taken in and housed by someone who gifted him the flag, or that he was cared for by someone who did. Maybe the gift was thought of as no longer representative of the Confederacy, basically being a Stars & Stripes, but as being meaningful to the recipient. While this part of the story will likely never be known, the unlikelihood of someone in the very Canadian / New England, Morehouse McKenzie family having any contact with scantly populated and far away Florida is so unlikely that Wagar has to somehow be the source.

In collector terms, the small size of the 27 star flag is important to note. At just 24 x 32.5 inches, this is an unusually small example to encounter among sewn flags of the 19th century. In early America, pieced-and-sewn flags were typically 8 feet long and larger. This is because they were important in their function as signals, meaning that they needed to be seen and recognized from great distance. Garrison flags measured a massive 35 feet on the fly and ship’s flags were likewise large by necessity. Even infantry battle flags were approximately 6 by 6.5 feet, and thus practically the size of an average quilt of the same period. Many collectors and one-time buyers alike prefer smaller flags due to the practical nature of their display.

In summary, this is an exceptionally rare flag with interesting symbolism, in one of the rarest star counts known in flag collecting, homemade and entirely hand-sewn, an unusual stripe count, its canton resting on the war stripe, the inclusion of an interesting homemade fringe and tassel, and in a great small size for the period.

Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed within our own conservation department, which is led by expert trained staff. We take great care in the mounting and preservation of flags and have framed thousands of examples.

The flag has been hand-sewn to 100% silk organza throughout for support. It was then hand-stitched to 100% cotton, black in color, that was washed and treated for color-fastness. The mount was then placed in a combination of two modern moldings that have a black finish with red undertones and highlights.

Condition: There are tack holes along the hoist, with associated rust stains, evidence of where the flag was once affixed to a wooden staff. There are tears in the canton from the stress of being flown. Fabric of similar coloration was placed behind the canton during the mounting process for masking purposes. There is some splitting in the 1st, 5th, 13th, and 15th stripes, accompanied by modest fabric loss along the lower edge of the last stripe for approximately 3/5 of its length. There is moderate fading throughout, moderate oxidation and water staining. There are some areas in the applied fringe with damage and minor losses and there is fraying at the end of the fringe. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 27
Earliest Date of Origin: 1861
Latest Date of Origin: 1864
State/Affiliation: Florida
War Association: 1861-1865 Civil War
Price: SOLD
 

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