FLAG, AMERICAN. Until the outbreak of the Revolution, when Americans flew a flag, they used the British Union Flag, which was proclaimed by King James I in 1606 (and was superseded by the Union Jack in 1801). A number of flags were flown in the first two years of the Revolution, including the green flag of the Green Mountain Boys with its fourteen oddly shaped stars on a blue background and the Cambridge Flag flown at Washington's headquarters at Cambridge, Massachusetts, with thirteen red and white stripes and the united crosses of St. George and St. Andrew, which was a modification of the British Meteor Flag. Other early flags include the Bunker Hill flag, the Gadsden or South Carolina Rattlesnake flag ("Don't Tread on Me"), the New England Pine Tree Flag ("An Appeal to Heaven"), and the Crescent Flag of South Carolina.
On 14 June 1777 Congress passed the Flag Resolution, which specified that there be thirteen stripes, red and white alternately, with thirteen white stars in a blue field "representing a new constellation." This left considerable latitude to flag makers as to the type of stars, their arrangement, and the arrangement of the stripes.
The Bennington Flag is believed by many authorities to be the first Stars and Stripes-style flag flown by ground forces. Said to have been carried or present at the Battle of Bennington in Vermont during August 1777, its field—nine stripes wide—had an arch of eleven seven-pointed stars over the numerals "76" and had two more stars in the top corners of the field. The top and bottom stripes were white rather than red. Another early use of the Stars and Stripes came at Cooch's Bridge, Delaware, on 3 September 1777.
The famous story about the first Stars and Stripes flag being made by Betsy Ross at the request of George Washington, Robert Morris, and George Ross is based on a family tradition first made public by her grandson, William Canby, in March 1870. Although Betsy Ross is known to have made flags, there is no evidence from her time that she made one along the pattern of the Stars and Stripes.
revised by Michael Bellesiles