The Evolution of Old Glory: The 27 Star Flag of the United States of America

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 27-Star Flag of the United States.  Enjoy!

The number of authentic 27-star flags is extremely limited. Here we have Zaricor’s example of the U.S. 27 Star Military Storm Flag 1845-1846.

Overview 

Florida became an overseas possession of Spain, claimed for the Crown in 1513 during the first European expedition by Juan Ponce de Leon to what would become the continental United States.  An attempt to colonize the new possession failed in 1521, and Ponce de Leon died in Cuba from wounds received during a skirmish with the native Calusa.  Other Spanish explorers would return and explore more of the territory, establishing St. Augustine in 1565 as the first European settlement in North America.

For the next 300 years or so, the territory would be overseen as a Spanish territory, then British, then back to Spanish again by 1783.  The territory would be divided between the provinces of West Florida, the peninsula, and East Florida which would briefly become the Republic of East Florida in 1821.  Through a treaty with Spain, the United States took possession of both Floridas and created the Territory of Florida in 1822.  After the cessation of the Seminole Wars in 1845, the Territory was the 27th state admitted to the Union on March 3, 1845 and was known as the State of Florida.

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.  So, while Florida was officially admitted on March 3, 1845, the addition of a 27th star on the flag of the United States would become official on July 4, 1845.

The official flag of twenty-seven stars would last from July 4, 1845 until July 3, 1846, a period of only one year.

With such a short time period, the number of authentic 27-star flags is extremely limited. Yet both the Zaricor Collection and Rareflags.com both have rather well preserved examples of different types. 

The Zaricor example features a “U.S. 27 Star Military Storm Flag 1845-1846” in a staggered 5,6,5,6,5 pattern which would be consistent with official military regulation use at about 6’x11”.  The flag is hand sewn from plain weave wool worsted bunting, which is consistent with the period.  It’s not known what type of thread was used throughout.

The “Elliptical Medallion” pattern of the 27 star flag.

Another example from the RareFlags.com collection features stars in an “Ellipitical Medallion” pattern, that is, 27 stars seemingly arranged haphazardly in the blue canton, but in fact a pattern emerges with one star in each corner and an oval medallion of stars is neatly arranged.  However, this flag is hand sewn from woven cotton with linen thread, not the usual wool bunting, which might make this flag more homemade than for official use.

A 27-star smaller “parade flag” in the Zaricor Collection.

A 27-star smaller “parade flag” in the Zaricor Collection is a 3” x 4.5” unique example of a printed muslin hand held flag used at parades and outdoor ceremonies.  Attached to a wooden stick through a sleeve, the flag is unusual in that the stars, in a 5,4,5,4,5 pattern, are printed “upside down,” that is the top of the star points downward. 

There are three examples of different flags using different materials.  These are the different types of flag designs, fabrics, and styles that will be seen more and more throughout the 19th and early 20th century.

What Experts Look For

Date:  1845-1846

Size:  Ranging from official military use at 6’ x 11’ to civilian flag parade flag at 3” x 4.5”, the Elliptical Medallion did not specify a size.

Star Pattern:  Official military use and the civilian “parade flag” both feature the 5,4,5,4,5 pattern; the Elliptical Medallion shows a star in each corner with the others forming a medallion pattern.  Other patterns are likely.

Stripes: wool: hand stitched cotton, linen thread; “parade flag” is printed

Fabric:  wool: Single-ply worsted wool bunting was still the most predominant during this period, but silk, cotton and muslin were being produced as well, as the examples show.

Sewing Thread:  wool flag is unclear; cotton flag uses linen thread; parade flag is printed.

Stitching:  wool and cotton flags are still hand sewn throughout; no stitching on “parade flag”

Heading:   wool: plain weave, coarse linen; parade flags were attached to sticks using either small nails or glued sleeves

Grommets:  None

Marks/Identification

 None noted


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