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Grand Union flag
"First National Flag", School Text, A Brief History of the United States, 1880

The Grand Union Flag, also known as the Congress flag, the First Navy Ensign, the Cambridge Flag, and the Continental Colors, is considered to be the first national flag of the United States. This flag consisted of 13 red and white stripes with the British Union Flag of the time (prior to the inclusion of St. Patrick's cross of Irelandmarker) in the canton.

The flag was first flown on December 2, 1775 by John Paul Jones (then a Continental Navy lieutenant) on the ship Alfred in Philadelphia). The Alfred flag has been credited to Margaret Manny. It was used by the American Continental forces as a naval ensign and garrison flag in 1776 and early 1777. It is widely believed that the flag was raised by George Washington's army on New Year's Day 1776 at Prospect Hill in Charlestownmarker (now part of Somervillemarker), near his headquarters at Cambridgemarker, Massachusettsmarker, and that the flag was interpreted by British observers as a sign of surrender. Some scholars dispute this traditional account, concluding that the flag raised at Prospect Hill was likely a British union flag.

The design of the Grand Union flag is similar to the flag of the British East India Company (BEIC). Indeed, certain BEIC designs in use since 1707 (when the canton was changed from the flag of England to that of Great Britain) were identical, as the number of stripes varied from 9 to 15. That BEIC flags were potentially well known by the American colonists has been the basis of a theory of the origin of the Grand Union flag's design.

The Flag Act of 1777 authorized as the official national flag a design similar to that of the Grand Union, with thirteen stars (representing the original thirteen U.S. states) on a field of blue replacing the British Union flag in the canton. The combined crosses in the union flag symbolized the union of the kingdoms of England and Scotland; the symbolism of a union of equal parts was retained in the new American flag.


  1. Delegates to Congress . Letters of delegates to Congress, 1774-1789, Volume 2, September 1775-December 1775
  2. Leepson, 51
  3. Preble (1880) p. 218
  4. Ansoff (2006)
  5. see Fawcett (1937)

  • Ansoff, Peter. (2006). The Flag on Prospect Hill. Raven: A Journal of Vexillology, 13, 77–100, , .
  • Fawcett, Charles. (1937). Mariners Mirror, October. The Striped Flag of the East India Company, and its Connexion with the American "Starts and Stripes".
  • Hamilton, Schuyler. (1853). History of the National Flag of the United States of America
  • Leepson, Marc Flag: An American Biography 2004. ISBN 0-312-32308-5
  • Preble, George Henry. (1880). History of the Flag of the United States of America

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