The Story of the First Stars and Stripes

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The Story of the First Stars and Stripes – By Daniel Sheridan

On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress authorizes the “stars and stripes” flag for the new United States.

On the right of the provided photo is the British Union Jack with the red cross of St. George and the Scottish white cross of St. Andrew. The flag on the left was used by General George Washington at Cambridge in January, 1776.

The flag in the middle, our “stars and stripes,” was adopted by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777. The British Union was exchanged for a Union of 13 States, represented by white stars on a blue background. Below this flag is the Washington family coat of arms with a Latin phrase meaning, “The event justifies the deed.”

The “Stars and Stripes” now represented the United States in their struggle for freedom. It was first flown on August 6, 1777. The story behind this event illustrates what America is about – freedom, courage, and ingenuity. Here’s what happened:

On August 3, 1777, British Colonel St. Leger, leading an expedition consisting of Loyalists and Indians, laid siege to Fort Stanwix, a log fortification held by two New York Regiments. The American Patriot, General Herkimer, knowing the Americans couldn’t withstand a siege for long, raised a militia of 800 men and went to the aid of his fellow patriots.

Herkimer and his band, however, were ambushed Near Oriskany, New York, by the Mohawk chieftain, Joseph Brant. The battle was one of the most gruesome of the war as the Militia, Royalists, and Mohawks became so intermingled that the battle turned into hand to hand combat, men wrestling with bayonet, hatchet, and hunting knife in hand. Brave men fell in the forest, as one writer put it, “with their left hands clenched in each other’s hair, their right grasping, in a grip of death, the knife plunged in each other’s bosom.” General Herkimer, as he lay dying from a mortal wound, continued to encourage and order his men until his last breath.

The battle still raging, men from the American garrison executed a daring move which successfully drove the enemy away. The Patriots, having heard of Herkimer’s fate, returned to the fort with prisoners, spoils of war, and five enemy flags.

The garrison didn’t have a flag when the battle began, but after returning from their victory they improvised one on the spot with the materials at hand. The white stripes were made of cut-up shirts, the red of pieces of scarlet cloth sewed together, and the blue background for the stars was made from a coat. Historian John Fiske describes the scene:

“This rude flag, hastily extemporized out of a white shirt, an old blue jacket, and some strips of red cloth from the petticoat of a soldier’s wife, was the first American flag with stars and stripes that was ever hoisted, and it was first flung to the breeze on the memorable day of Oriskany, August 6, 1777.”

Bancroft says,

“It was the first time that a captured banner floated under the stars and stripes.”

That’s the origin of the American flag: courage, ingenuity, and the principles of liberty which are the basis of our American Republic. Patriotism is devotion to Principles. A Patriot knows the Principles of Freedom, promotes them, and defends them. Thomas Jefferson described this quality as “the virtue, intelligence and patriotism of the people.”



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