The United States flag started out with thirteen stars and thirteen stripes.
But when two new states were added, a banner with fifteen stars and also fifteen stripes became our nation’s official flag on May 1, 1795 and continued as our ensign for twenty-three years. It is the only official flag to ever have more than thirteen stripes.
This flag was adopted to recognize the admission of Vermont and Kentucky as states when they joined the original thirteen. The addition of the extra two stars and two stripes had been approved by Congress in the Flag Act of 1794.
This flag was the one flying over Fort McHenry, in Maryland, during the War of 1812, when Francis Scott Key wrote our national anthem. For that reason, the fifteen-star flag is also known as The Star-Spangled Banner. The British failed to capture Fort McHenry during that attack.
The huge flag over the fort measured 30 by 42 feet and was specially made when Major George Arminstead, commander of Fort McHenry at the time, said he wanted “a flag so large that the British would have no difficulty seeing it from a distance.”
The flags for the fort were made by a local woman, Mary Young Pickersgill, under a government commission. Her daughter, two nieces, and an African-American indentured servant helped stitch the flags. The largest one was called the garrison flag, and a somewhat smaller one was called the storm flag.
|This is the actual flag that flew over Fort McHenry in 1814, photographed in 1873 in the Boston Navy Yard by George Henry Preble.|
The Fort McHenry flag has undergone several restoration efforts at the Smithsonian Institution, and can now be seen there with a display that helps the viewer see the dimensions of the original flag.
George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe all served under the fifteen-star flag.
Congress passed the Flag Act of 1818, since five more states had been admitted to the Union. This act added five new stars to the flag and reduced the number of stripes from fifteen to thirteen. From then on, our flag has always had thirteen stripes. The five additional stars represented Tennessee, Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana, and Mississippi.
Soon Illinois was added, so the flag had 21 stars, and on it went, until Alaska was added in 1959 and Hawaii in 1960, when our flag took on its current look, with 50 stars.
So, what do you think of our flag? Should we have kept on adding stripes? Left the flag with 13 stars and 13 stripes? Or some other design? I love our Star-Spangled banner, but I'd love to hear what YOU think.
Susan Page Davis is the author of more than fifty published novels. Her newest novellas can be found in the 12 Brides of Christmas and Westward Christmas Brides collections. A history major, she’s always interested in the unusual happenings of the past. She’s a two-time winner of the Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award, and also a winner of the Carol Award and the Will Rogers Medallion, and a finalist in the WILLA Awards and the More Than Magic Contest. Visit her website at: www.susanpagedavis.com .