Britain’s Union Jack had flown over the colonies in America since 1607. But in 1775, in a show of unity, the colonists designed the Grand Union flag. It had 13 stripes to represent the 13 colonies, and a small Union Jack in the upper right hand corner to represent loyalty to Britain. The Grand Union flag was also called the Continental Colors or Congress flag. Ralph Waldo Emerson mentioned the flag in his Concord Hymn, a poetic commemoration of the first battle of the American Revolution, which took place on April 19, 1775, at the North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts.
“By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world ….”
On July 4, 1776, the colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence, and almost a year later, on June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress passed a resolution stating, “Resolved, That the Flag of the United States be 13 stripes alternate red and white, that the Union be 13 stars white in a blue field representing a new constellation.” That new constellation was the new county.
The first American flag may have been designed by congressman Francis Hopkinson, or by a committee. Although historical evidence proves that Betsy Ross sewed American flags, it is not certain that she made the first one.
While Francis Scott Key watched the fighting in Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812, he noticed that once the bombing stopped, the American Flag was still flying. He wrote The Star-Spangled Banner, which in 1931 Congress named the national anthem. The very flag that inspired Francis Scott Key is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in D.C.
In 1831 a Massachusetts sea captain named William Driver nicknamed the American flag “Old Glory.”
As the country grew, Congress decided that after a state was admitted into the Union, a new star representing that state would be added to the flag on the Fourth of July. Since 1777, the flag has changed 26 times. The current 50-star flag has flown since 1960.
For more information about Flag Day and the American flag, consider these children's books:
What’s So Great About … Frances Scott Key? by Marylou Morano Kjelle
The American Flag by Christine Poolos
Meet Our Flag, Old Glory by April Jones Prince