Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 61.75" x 80.75"
Flag Size (H x L): 50.5" x 69.5" (52" x 104" unfurled)
American national flag variant, with an extraordinarily long and narrow format, bearing 16 stars on a faded, sky blue canton and 11 stripes that begin and end on white. Made sometime during the latter part of the Civil War and the 1876 centennial of American independence, these two counts symbolize Tennessee’s position as both the 16th state to enter the Union, in 1796, and the 11th state to leave it, in 1861.

This is a homemade flag. The canton, stripes, and stars are all made of plain weave cotton. The stars are hand-sewn and are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides). The stripes pieced and hemmed with treadle stitching, which is the rule as opposed to the exception in this period. Note the odd placement of the small, square canton, in the center of a red stripe. This could be said to represent “blood stripe” or “war stripe” position, indicating that the flag was made at during a time of war. More likely this was without intention, but even so, the condition is worth noting and desirable to flag enthusiasts. Of greater consideration is the fact that the stripes begin and end on white, which both unusual to the eye and far more rare. There is no formal binding. Instead, the fly end is simply rolled over and hemmed. Along this, four, heavy, cotton tabs were evenly placed and treadle-stitched, each with a black-painted, welded wire rings inserted, through which a staff or rope could be threaded.

Tennessee became the 16th state on June 1st, 1796. It is of interest to note that while there were 16 states for a period of roughly 8 years, the 16-star count was never official. The number of stars had been officially increased from 13 to 15 in 1795, by way of the Second Flag Act, which added stars for Vermont and Kentucky and likewise increased the stripe count to the same number. The two states had entered in 1791 and 1792, respectively.

It would be 23 more years before the flag would receive another official update from Congress. In 1818, by way of the Third Flag Act, the star count was increased to 20 to reflect the 5 additional states that had joined the Union by that time, and the stripe count was returned to 13, with the notion that they might soon transform into pinstripes with continued Westward Expansion.

Despite not having been an official star count, flags were produced in the 1796-1803 era, as evidenced by surviving illustrations and at least one surviving flag. The only period example presently known to exist, with the proper compliment of 16 stripes, is among the holdings of the Stonington Historical Society in Stonington, Connecticut. Other flags with 16 stars, however, were sometimes produced after the 1796-1803 period. These can be expected to have 13 stripes, very likely because later flag-makers were simply unaware that, prior to 1818, the logic was to add a stripe with every star.

One use of 16-star, 13-stripe flags during the mid-19th century was aboard U.S. Navy ships as small boat ensigns. Because there were 16 Free States in the period between 1850 and 1858, and because the U.S. Navy spent much of its time during this era chasing slave traders, it has been theorized that flags in this star count likely reflected the number of Free States. Evidence of this survives both in actual flags of that era, in the 16 star count, as well as newspaper articles, primarily in the south, which reported Northern ships displaying 16 star flags. One rare broadside, made for the 1856 presidential campaign, displays a prominent 16 star flag, flanked by the words “All North” and “No South.” I have encountered fewer than 10 of the U.S. Navy examples, all of which share the same basic 4 x 4 justified lineal configuration of stars. All are made of wool bunting, as expected for use at sea.

The flag in question here is different for a couple of reasons. Past the fact that it is made of a fabric the isn’t seaworthy, the most prominent reason is the count of 11 stripes. A distinctly Confederate number, this conveys the total number of states that seceded from the Union in an official manner. Although each voted and ratified on different days, a total of 7 states left the union in what is known as “the initial wave of secession,” which occurred on February 8th, 1861, when the provisional constitution of the Confederate States of America was adopted. These were followed individually by 4 more states. Although the Tennessee legislature voted for secession on May 6th, 1861 (the same as Arkansas, but later in the day), and North Carolina’s legislature voted in favor on May 20th, there was no ratification needed in NC. The state was accepted by Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Congress on the very same day. This was untrue of TN, where a popular vote of the people followed on June 8th. Tennessee secession didn’t become effective until that day, when it became the 11th and last to do so in a formal, legislative manner, and the state wasn’t officially accepted into the Confederacy until almost a month later, on July 2nd.

All manner of symbolism can be seen in flags made during and on either side of the Civil War. In the south, some people were loath to just abandon the Stars & Stripes, which had been their flag too, of course. Others probably sought to display subtle messages, by hanging flags with 11 stripes instead of 13, for example, to mark a place where Southern sympathies might be found in the face of occupying Union soldiers or officials. A flag with a state-associated star count would perhaps be less expected in a state with well-defined loyalties, than in one where they were more mixed and there was greater need for communication through subtle symbolism. It has been suggested, for example, that flags of this nature sometimes marked places where secret meetings were held, or some sort of aid was available to supporters of whatever cause was being conveyed.

The 16 star count would have been appropriate for someone wishing to glorify both Tennessee and the South. This might be especially appropriate for Confederate soldiers, veterans, or other supporters, on an anniversary of Tennessee Statehood, such as the state's 75th birthday in 1871, or on July 4th. Another possibility is that the flag was made for use at a World's Fair, such as the 1876 Centennial International Exposition, the first event of its kind held in America. Unlike some states, Tennessee did not have its own pavilion at the Expo, but representatives of the state may have displayed exhibits in the huge buildings that bore a multi-geographical focus. Both historic and current flags and banners of all kinds were displayed throughout the fair in great numbers. Because Reconstruction of the South ended in 1876, someone in a state such as Tennessee might find a compelling, sanctimonious reason to produce a 16-star, 11-stripe flag.

An alternative reason for the use of 16 stars, though less likely, would have been to demonstrate solidarity within the 16 states that sympathized with the Confederacy. This total would have been accurate in the latter part of the war, following the annexation of West Virginia from Virginia in 1863. It was at this time that 16 represented the 11 official Confederate states plus 5 Border States, now including West Virginia (technically a Free State, but generally sympathizing with the South). With confusion and disagreement of all manner of issues, and the loss of homes, livelihoods and loved ones at stake, state-associated patriotism was severely heightened. In the North, versions of the Stars & Stripes were made that removed the Southern States. In the South, the opposite was sometimes true and Northern States were removed. In both cases, the counts chosen would depend on the loyalties of the flag-maker, geographic location, and date of manufacture. The various additions and subtractions of states, along with perceptions and opinions, resulted in a wide spectrum of star and stripe counts.

Whatever the case may be regarding the reason for its origin, surviving 16 star flags that date to the 19th century are rare. The fact that so few exist raises their interest among collectors, especially those who desire to own a flag in this particular star count, irrespective of the precise period of its manufacture. The fact that both the star and stripe counts of this particular flag point to Tennessee makes it even more interesting with respect to the tumultuous history of this pivotal and interesting state. The fact that it claims the greatest number of borders with other states than any other (8) except Missouri, with which it is tied, explains much of the reason why it was the last to leave the Union.

Note: The Roman numeral CXXXVI (136) is penned in tiny letters along the obverse side of the tab in the upper, hoist end corner. This appears to be modern and is probably a collection identification number.

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 combination of the small, square canton, and the exaggerated length of the striped field, allowed the flag to be folded back and forth to create an interesting presentation. This was executed in a three-dimensional manner, through the use of archival materials.

The background is 100% cotton twill, black in color. The mount was placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. A shadow-box was created to accommodate the tassels and folds. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic (Plexiglas). Feel free to contact us for more details.

Condition: The flag is extremely well-preserved. There is significant fading of the blue canton, but the resulting color is extremely desirable. There is very minor staining in limited areas. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.
Collector Level: Advanced Collectors and the Person with Everything
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 16
Earliest Date of Origin: 1863
Latest Date of Origin: 1876
State/Affiliation: Tennessee
War Association: 1861-1865 Civil War
Price: SOLD

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