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America! Where The Flag Is Full Of Stars!

 

 

Just as "there's no place like home," there's no flag like ours.  How many flags do you know of that's "full of stars"?  Who had the idea of using stars to represent the States?  Who designed our flag that way?   There is some mystery about all this.  History is full of mysteries!

 

Nearly everyone knows the story of General Washington and Betsy Ross but who made the design that Washington brought to Betsy?  Have you heard the story of the designing of our flag?  Here, as in much of history, we find a mystery.  This one has to do with another of our unknown Founding Fathers, Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey.  We need to know a little bit about this man because it has been said that he it was who designed the flag Washington brought to Betsy.

 

Hopkinson voted for independence on July 2, and, on July 4th, signed the Declaration of Independence.  But his involvement didn't stop there.  He was subsequently appointed a member of the Marine Committee, the committee to publish the Journals of Congress and served on various other committees of Congress.  Obviously he was a valued member of these committees as he was one of "three persons well skilled in maritime affairs" appointed to take care of the business of the Navy.  Francis Hopkinson was a busy man!  Frothingham says that he, along with the other four New Jersey delegates who signed the Declaration of Independence, were "all independent souls."1

 

When did he find time to design our flag and where did he get his inspiration for it?  While a member of the Navy Board Hopkinson turned his attention to designing the flag of the United States.  His use of the stars in that design is believed to have been inspired by the coat of arms on the book plate of a book in his library. The coat of arms displayed three six-pointed stars, and his family motto, "Semper Paratus," or "Always Ready."  Could this have been related to the flag he subsequently designed?  Some questions still remain.  Some mysteries in history may never be resolved.  Frothingham adds to the mystery with his comments:2

 

In the beginning of the memorable year seventeen hundred and seventy-six....on New Year's Day Washington for the first time unfurled the Flag of the Thirteen Stripes as the flag of the United Colonies. To array this flag, as the symbol of national power, against the far-famed banner of Saint George, involved great labor....  So deeply seated was the affection for the mother country, that it required all the severe acts of war directed by an inexorable ministry (the British Parliament) and the fierce words from the throne (the king) to be made fully known throughout America, before the majority of the people could be persuaded to renounce their allegiance and assume the sovereignty. (However) Dr. Jeremy Belknap (had) visited the camp (of the Amereican army) in October, and in his journal of the 19th says: " I found that the plan of independence was become a favorite point in the army, and that it was offensive to pray for the king."

 

(The Virginia convention on May 14, 1776) instructed the delegates appointed to represent the colony in the General Congress "to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent States," and....  On the evening of the day the people of Williamsburg rang the bells, fired salutes, struck down the British flag from the State House, and raised "The Union Flag of the American States."

 

"...The (Continental) Congress...voted (June 14, 1777) 'that the flag of the thirteen united States be 13 stripes alternate red and white, that the union be 13 stars, white in a blue field representing a new constellation.'"3

 

Did Francis Hopkinson design our flag?  When did he do that?  And how was it that Washington was able to fly it in January?  All we know is that these things happened and that Hopkinson, himself, asserted in a letter to the Board of Admiralty in 1780 that he had designed "the flag of the United States of America."  In this letter he asked "whether a Quarter Cask of the public wine" would not be a reasonable and proper reward for his labors.  Unfortunately his suggestion was not honored however, don't you think having his design used for the making of our flag was a very good reward?

 

There is much more history before the bill was passed finalizing the method for arranging the stars and stripes as well as how the stars were to be added. Perhaps we'll get into that in a future article.  Below is a patriotic poem that fits right in with our article on how our flag came into being and with Flag Day.

 

Henry Van Dyke was born in 1852, just after California came into the Union. During his life time, 1852-1933 eighteen new states joined the Union.  That's amazing, too, because in the 63 years after the first 13 colonies joined together only eight states joined; then, after California joined in 1850 (only nine years later) eighteen had joined.  We grew fast for a while didn't we?  When did your state join the Union?

 

America For Me 

(by Henry Van Dyke) 

 

'Tis fine to see the Old World, and travel up and down

Among the famous palaces and cities of renown,

To admire the crumbly castles and the statues of the kings,- 

But now I think I've had enough of antiquated things.

So it's home again, and home again, America for me!

My heart is turning home again, and there I long to be,

In the land of youth and freedom beyond the ocean bars,

Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars.

Oh, London is a man's town, there's power in the air;

And Paris is a woman's town, with flowers in her hair;

And it's sweet to dream of Venice, and it's great to study Rome;

But when it comes to living, there is no place like home.

I like the German fir-woods, in green battalions drilled;

I like the garden of Versailles, with flashing fountains filled.

But, oh, to take your hand, my dear, and ramble for a day

In the friendly Western woodland where Nature has her way!

I know that Europe's wonderful, yet something seems to lack;

The Past is too much with her, and the people looking back.

But the glory of the Present is to make the Future free,--

We love our land for what she is and what she is to be.

Oh, it's home again, and home again, America for me!

I want a ship that's westward bound to plow the rolling sea,

To the blessed Land of Room Enough beyond the ocean bars 

Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars.

 

 

Footnotes: 

 

1. Frothingham, Richard, Rise of the Republic, Little, Brown and Company,Boston, 1872, p.532.

2. Found on pages 468, 511, and 578.

3. Now our national "Flag Day."


Question:  When did Congress pass the law declaring what the final design of our flag would be?

 

Answer:  On April 27, 1818, Congress passed a law declaring that our flag would, from that time on, have only thirteen stripes and provided that a new star should be added to the blue field as additional States came into the Union.


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