The Evolution of Old Glory: The 25 Star Flag of the United States

Tom Carrier, our resident vexillologist, has worked tirelessly on the history behind the creation of each version of the American flag as our country grew and states were added. We are thrilled to share his discoveries over the next few weeks. The design of the flag has been officially modified 26 times since 1777. This week we bring you the story behind the 25-Star Flag of the United States.  Enjoy!

The official flag of 25-stars would last only from July 1836 until the following July, 1837, so it is rather rare.

Overview 

An original part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the Territory of Arkansaw, as it was originally spelled, was created on July 4, 1819 from the Territory of Missouri. 

Slavery was more of an issue in the Territory as the cotton farmers continued to support the institution, while the subsistence farmers did not, an almost even split.  Removal of Native Americans to the Territory and further west by US government force was another form of continuous contention.  The Territory of Arkansaw, or Arkansas Territory as it was also known, was partitioned in half with the easternmost portion granted statehood as a slave state on June 15th, 1836 entering the Union as the 25th state. The western portion would become Missouri Territory. 

The Flag Act of 1818 mandated that a star be added to the flag of the United States for each new state on July 4th, Independence Day, following their admission.  Nowhere does it state how the stars, or even the stripes, were to be arranged. On July 4th, 1836, following the admission of the State of Arkansas in June, the number of states in the Union was brought to 25 and Arkansas was the 13th slave state.

The official flag of 25-stars would last only from July 1836 until the following July, 1837, so it is rather rare.  So rare, in fact, that I was able to find only one example from the 1836 period.

The authentic 25-star example is from the Zaricor Flag Collection that shows 24 smaller white stars appliquéd in concentric circles around one large white star in the center.  It was constructed of multi-ply wool bunting, according to the description, and was particularly well made for a flag that doesn’t seem to have been intended for government or official use because the three cotton ties at the heading weren’t usually associated for anything other than personal use. 

25-star “updated” flag. Once a new state was added, it was simply easier just to add a star, than to create an entirely new flag.

The second 25-star flag example is from RareFlags.com that shows a 24-star flag with four rows of six stars with an additional star haphazardly sewn onto the field.  This is an “updated” flag.  This isn’t uncommon as most personal flags were made by hand from whatever material was at hand.  Once a new state was added, it was simply easier just to add a star, than to create an entirely new flag.  There are other similar “updated” flags, but they are rather rare, too.

A third category of 25-star flags are usually created for commemorative events such as the Centennial in 1876. The stitching, use of grommets, weave, star patterns, placement of stripes and other characteristics will set these apart from earlier handmade flags.

What Experts Look For

While the Zaricor example is the only true example to date, we’ll use those manufacturing characteristics to identify a flag of the 1836 period.  However, even the “updated” flags may share certain characteristics such as wool bunting, appliquéd or hand-sewn stars and stripes and heavy linen headings, apart from the Zaricor flag with three cotton strips. 

Date:  within the 1836-1837 period

Size:   Zaricor: 27” (fly) length; 22” (hoist) width

Star Pattern:  24 smaller 1” five-pointed, appliqued stars arranged in two concentric circles with a larger 2” five-pointed appliquéd star in the center (for the new state of Arkansas)

Cotton stars were more in use by this time rather than the heavier linen. 

Stripes: 7 cotton red stripe, 6 white stripes usually of single ply worsted wool bunting

Fabric:  probably single-ply worsted wool bunting (not specific in the description); wool bunting was most predominant during the early period of flag manufacture with Z-twist weave

Sewing Thread:  not clear

Stitching:  hand sewn throughout

Heading:   plain weave, coarse linen

Grommets:  none; 3 cotton ties

Marks/Identification

 None noted


Tom Carrier is a General Worthologist with a specialty in Americana, political memorabilia and he has been the resident WorthPoint vexillologist (flags, seals and heraldry) since 2007. Tom is also a frequent contributor of articles to WorthPoint.

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