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Flag Day: History of the Stars and Stripes

Posted on June 11 2021

Flag Day: History of the Stars and Stripes


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By Larry Marotta

Each year on June 14, the United States celebrates Flag Day. Flag Day honors the day when the U.S. approved the official design for its flag, nicknamed the Stars and Stripes: June 14, 1777. The creation of the holiday is said to have been the work of Wisconsin grade-school teacher Bernard Cigrand, who in 1885 held the first recognized formal Flag Day observance with his students. The national holiday was established in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson.

Prior to that, the first American flag was called the Continental Colors. It was first raised at Prospect Hill in Charlestown, Massachusetts, on January 1, 1776. Although it was not the official national flag, it was the flag of the Continental Army, the American colonial army which fought against British troops in the Revolutionary War. As a military flag, it flew above army forts and on navy ships. Similar to the contemporary U.S. flag, the Continental Colors featured 13 horizontal stripes of red and white. However, this early flag’s canton--the rectangular area of a flag located on the top corner, closet to the side that attaches to a flagpole—displayed the British Union Flag, also known as the Union Jack.

Another common but unofficial flag in revolutionary-era America was the Gadsden Flag. Designed by South Carolina politician Christopher Gadsden, this flag featured a coiled rattlesnake accompanied by the text “Don’t Tread on Me.” Since the American revolutionaries perceived rattlesnakes as peaceful creatures that attacked only in self-defense, they felt this image reflected their attitude toward British rule.



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