American Revolution Flags, 1765-1781


    About the author

    Edward St. Germain.
    Edward St. Germain

    Edward A. St. Germain created in 1996. He was an avid historian with a keen interest in the Revolutionary War and American culture and society in the 18th century. On this website, he created and collated a huge collection of articles, images, and other media pertaining to the American Revolution. Edward was also a Vietnam veteran, and his investigative skills led to a career as a private detective in later life.


      SONS OF LIBERTY, 1765

      Red and white horizontal striped pattern.

      The original nine stripes of this flag represented the nine colonies that convened the “Stamp Act Congress” in 1765. After repeal of the Act in 1766, the flag became associated with the Sons of Liberty and became known to the British as the “Rebellious Stripes.” The Sons reached their zenith of influence with the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773, after which the nine colonies were joined by the rest.

      BEDFORD, 1775

      Stylized medieval illustration of a hand emerging from a cloud, holding a sword adorned with a banner.

      The original of this flag is in the town library in Bedford, Massachusetts. Tradition has it that it was carried by Bedford Minuteman Nathaniel Page at the battle of Concord. The latin motto “VINCE AUT MORITE” may be translated into English as “CONQUER OR DIE” or as “VICTORY OR ELSE DEATH”.

      Learn more about the Bedford Flag.

      RED ENSIGN, 1607

      British Red Ensign.

      Also called the Meteor flag, this British maritime flag (ensign) was carried on Navy warships throughout the colonial period. However, it’s here for another reason – this is the FIRST NATIONAL FLAG OF THE UNITED STATES.

      TAUNTON, 1774

      An historical flag displaying the union jack in the upper left corner with a red field and the motto "liberty and union" written across it in white letters.

      The Sons of Liberty were in the habit of meeting under a large tree (most village greens had one), which was called the “Liberty Tree”. In cities or towns that lacked a tree big enough, the rebels would erect a tall pole as a symbolic tree. This flag was raised on one such “Liberty Pole” in Taunton, Massachusetts on October 21, 1774.


      The flag of the kingdom of limburg (1839–1866).

      This troop was formed by wealthy Philadelphians who supplied their own uniforms, horses and equipment. In June of 1775 they escorted Washington from Philadelphia to Cambridge, Massachusetts to take command of the Army assembled there. The flag was later carried into battle at Brandywine, Germantown, Princeton and Trenton. One of the interesting things about it is the fact that it is hand painted.


      Illustration of a flag with a dark blue field in the upper left corner containing white stars arranged in rows and a green field occupying the rest of the flag.

      On May 10, 1775, Ethan Allen and his “Green Mountain Boys” of Vermont captured Fort Ticonderoga without firing a shot. They also fought with General Stark at Bennington in 1777. This flag is sometimes called the “Vermont Flag”, as Vermont became a Republic after the war and didn’t join the Union until much later.

      RHODE ISLAND, 1775

      White flag with a blue ship's anchor. Canton is blue with gold stars.

      Another example of design elements that we also see in today’s state flag, the anchor has been a symbol of Rhode Island since at least 1647. This flag is in the Statehouse in Providence. Among the first to join the Minutemen outside Boston at the outbreak of war, the Rhode Islanders were also among the first to practice the equality they preached by fielding an entire regiment of Black Patriots.

      CONTINENTAL, 1775

      The image displays a red flag with a green pine tree in the upper left corner.

      Believed to have been carried at Bunker Hill, this is a blending of the Meteor flag and the Pine Tree flag. Sometimes referred to as the New England Battle Flag.

      BUNKER HILL, 1775

      Bunker Hill flag.

      On the morning of June 17, 1775, as the British advanced up Breeds’ Hill (forever after to be confused with nearby Bunker Hill) in the early morning light they saw this flag above the American fortifications.

      Learn more about the Bunker Hill Flag.


      Flag bearing a green pine tree with the motto "appeal to heaven" displayed below it.

      You all knew that George Washington owned his own private navy, right? Six schooners, to be exact. Outfitted at his personal expense in the autumn of 1775. Ever the diplomat, Virginian Washington chose the New England pine tree motif as a gesture of solidarity and friendship between the northern and southern colonies.

      CULPEPPER, 1775

      A graphic illustration featuring a stylized skull entangled in barbed wire with the phrase "liberty or death" boldly presented below, accompanied by a decorative element above that appears to be a banner with indiscernible text, all set against a plain background.

      One of the companies in Patrick Henry’s First Virginia Regiment, the Culpepper Minutemen under Colonel Stevens were a fierce-looking group of backwoodsmen who wore “Liberty or Death” emblazoned in white on their green hunting frocks. They preferred rifles to muskets, and went into battle with tomahawks and scalping knives.

      GRAND UNION, 1775

      The Union Flag.

      Combining the Meteor flag with the Sons of Liberty flag, this was first raised at sea on December 3, 1775 by John Paul Jones; and on land on January 1, 1776, on Prospect Hill (then called Mount Pisgah) in Somerville, Massachusetts, when the Continental Army was mustered into formal existence. It received its’ name from a reference as the “Grand Union Flag” in one of George Washington’s letters. Curiously, this flag was never officially sanctioned by the Continental Congress. Flying aboard a patriot ship, it received the first foreign salute to an American flag from Governor De Graaff of St. Eustatius Island on November 16, 1776.


      Green flag with a red square in the center, with a design showing a man taming an animal.

      This flag belongs in any collection of “national” flags since its’ regiment carried it the length and breadth of the land, being the only state regiment to serve during the course of the war in all thirteen states. They distinguished themselves at Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, Monmouth and Yorktown, among other battles.

      FIRST NAVY JACK, 1776

      A stylized, pixelated image of an orange and yellow snake against a background with alternating horizontal black and red stripes.

      The earliest of the national “rattlesnake flags”, this one flew over the Navy’s first ship, the ALFRED, in January, 1776. For more on “rattlesnake flags”, click here.

      GADSDEN, 1776

      Gadsden Flag.

      First used by Commodore Esek Hopkins when his fleet put to sea in February, 1776, the design was “borrowed” by Colonel Cristopher Gadsden of South Carolina and presented to the Continental Congress.

      MOULTRIE, 1776

      A blue rectangular image featuring a crescent moon in the top left corner, with the word "liberty" written in bold white letters centered on the right side.

      Named for Colonel William Moultrie, this flag flew over Sullivan Island in Charleston Harbor during the battle on June 28, 1776. Sergeant William Jasper risked life and limb several times to replace the flag after it was shot down, inspiring the Americans by his heroism. The British were beaten so badly they didn’t renew the war in the south again until 1778. Look for a cresent moon the next time you see the present day state flag of South Carolina.

      Learn more about Moultrie Flag.

      BENNINGTON, 1777

      Bennington flag.

      On August 16, 1777, at Bennington, Vermont, General John Stark defeated a large raiding force sent by Burgoyne to capture American supplies stored there. This presaged the great British defeat at Saratoga. Note that this is the only American flag to begin with a white stripe. The original may be seen in the museum in Bennington.

      SERAPIS, 1779

      Historical American flag with stars and stripes representing the original thirteen colonies.

      Ben Franklin wrote the King of Naples in 1778, describing the new American flag as “Having thirteen stripes alternating red, white and blue.” In August of 1779, the epic naval battle between the Bonhomme Richard (named for Franklin) and the Serapis took place. When John Paul Jones sailed the battered Serapis into the allied Dutch port of Texel, she was flying this flag.

      COWPENS, 1781

      Cowpens Flag.

      Although named after the battle of Cowpens, this was actually the flag of the Third Maryland Regiment of the Continental Line. You can find the original flag in the State House in Annapolis. The Marylanders joined troops from Georgia and Virginia, all under General Daniel Morgan, to decisively defeat British Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre “The Butcher” Tarleton.


      The image is a representation of a flag with a pattern of blue stars arranged in rows on a white field in the upper left corner and horizontal stripes alternating in red and white below the field of stars.

      One of the bloodiest battles of the war occurred March 15, 1781 at Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina. Under American General Greene, the British inland advance was hurled back to the seacoast by the American militia units, with the British losing a quarter of their troops.

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