British Flag In The 1700s – Periodically throughout the year, the Military Programs Division hosts a program called “Military Topics Discussions.” Each of us focuses on a topic that we have studied extensively. My area of specialization is regimental colors (flags) during the American Revolution. In this blog post, I want to share the evolution of the flags that served Great Britain, the United States, and especially Virginia during the war. I should warn that I will limit my discussion (mostly) to flags used on land…naval flags are a whole other topic (although they are the point of origin for some land flags).
There are many popular stories that have been passed down about individual flags that have little (or no) basis in fact, but these stories have survived. I try to use my own 30 years of research and share only what is backed up by historical facts. Whenever possible, I link to other research articles that may be of interest to you. Keep in mind that what I have been able to share in the form of this blog has only scratched the surface of what is available.
British Flag In The 1700s
Williamsburg was the capital of one of the many colonies of the British Empire. Thus the colonists were introduced to the use of the Union Jack and coat of arms. Today, you’ll see several types mixed together, before and after the start of the Revolution, to represent the era we interpret in Williamsburg. The flag we generally think of as “British” today was better known as the “Union Flag” or “King’s Flag” in the 18th century. This flag represents the union of England (St. George’s Cross) and Scotland (St. Andrew’s Cross), literally merging their flags into the “Union”. The modern version we are used to looks a little different as it includes the additional flag of Ireland (St. Patrick’s Cross) in 1801.
Great Britain British Flag On Pole Stock Image
Barlow Cumberland’s 1909 book “The History of the Union Jack and the Flags of the Empire: Their Origin, Proportion, and Significance, as a Process Tracing the Constitutional Development of the British Kingdom, with Reference to the Ensigns of Other Nations.” Archive available at .org
If it is properly called the Union Jack or the King’s Colours, why do we call it the Union Jack today? These two different terms are somewhat interchangeable, but each name implies a different use (and sometimes size). The “King’s Colours” tend to be the specific sizes worn by British infantry regiments (foot soldiers). “Union flags” are larger in size and usually flown above a ship (in many cases implying that the ship is part of the British Navy). The Union Jack is usually a smaller version of the same flag that was flown on the front of a ship called a jackstaff. A flag placed on the stern (or stern) is usually a mark.
“Red Flag”, “Union Jack”, “Union Jack” and other attitudes used correctly, from the New form of names of all the main parts of the Bowles and fitting of the soldier. The full image is available from the Library of Congress.
A “king’s color” is just that: a flag, usually representing some form of service to the king (ie army, navy). For merchant marine use, as well as for many other “civilian” purposes, a different variant called the Ensign was chosen. The flag should place the “Allied” in the area of the flag and surround it with a larger solid red color, from which it gets its name “Red Ensign”. The earliest form of this flag used only the cross of St. George in the state for English use (St. Andrew in the canton for the Scots). In 1707, Queen Anne included this banner with the proclamation.
The Flag Of Great Britain But The Colors Are Correct
For the British colonies there was a separate flag called the “Colonial Union Jack” or “Escutcheon Jack”. Although designated for use, noted vexillologist David Mattucci and many others see no evidence that it was ever used. Instead, different variants of the “Red Badge” came into use, first in colonial New England, from an earlier version that included the state cross of St. George. At one point, due to religious disputes with the flag, the St. George’s cross was removed and replaced with a pine, sometimes inserted into the upper inner corner of the cross. Surviving New England flags of this type were used by militia troops in the mid-1700s and even later. Some units from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania used matching flags incorporating the “Confederate Flag” and even added later additions to allow the flag to be used during the Revolution.
An altered view of the “Red Ensign” for continental use, known as the “Taunton Flag”. You can find this image and more information about the flag itself in the article “Before Old Glory, There Was the Taunton Flag” on the New England Historical Society website.
Another flag based on the “Red Flag” used by US forces. See more images and read more about this flag in the article Don’t Tread on Me: The Flag of Colonel John Proctor’s 1st Battalion, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. Available on the Fort Pitt Museum Blog.
Good question. There are many flag books that detail how Massachusetts and New England changed their flag designs. However, the vast majority of British colonies around the world (with the exception of New England) used “red flags”. To this day, many former colonies still use the flag as their flag (with the addition of the colonial or royal coat of arms in the field). There is a good case for this flag to be associated not only with Virginia, but also with Williamsburg. The evidence is from the Bodleian Plate (an image that was key to the reconstruction of several major buildings during the Restoration of Colonial Williamsburg. It contains an image of the Capitol circa 1740 showing a flag flying over the dome. In the most detailed In view image you can vaguely you can see that the flag above the Capitol has a solid surface and a state in the corner. Unfortunately, this view is not detailed enough to tell if the state contains a St. George’s cross (like the New England flag) or an “Alliance”, but it is still a shape of a “red flag” sign we use.
Striped Ensign Red Green & Blue Flag
Although pale, the flag over the Capitol seems to indicate a territory and state. Given the date of the image, this would strongly suggest the use of “Red Ensign” rather than “Coalition” or “King’s Colour”.
So the next time you visit Colonial Williamsburg, remember that in the 18th century, flags were rarely seen around town. Where you would have seen a flag before the revolution, something very different was used than what we see today! As for the other flags you see around town today…that’s a discussion for another day.
The following resources are just a few of the many references that can provide additional insight into the discussion. If you want to know more, follow the links to read more articles and books on this topic.
Josh Buccioni has been an interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg for over 17 years and is a top 4 leading school group in the city, the most recent 13 being a military program. Josh specializes in military flags, primarily from the American Revolution to the American Civil War.
Brown’s Standards And Flags Of All Nations [british Colonial Flags]
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