Barnabas Webb has been dead for nearly two centuries. But the Revolutionary War soldier—or, at least, the powder horn he used to carry gunpowder—is vexing the world of vexillologists, or flag researchers.
A Virginia innkeeper and history buff claims the engravings decorating Mr. Webb’s powder horn, which depict the end of the Siege of Boston in March 1776, contain the earliest known representation of the stars and stripes together on an American flag.
If correct, it could mean that Colonial Americans united stars and stripes more than a year before the 1777 Flag Act declared that the national flag should contain 13 stripes and 13 stars, potentially rewriting the early history of the Grand Old Flag.
But the claim is raising red flags among some historians of early America, who call it a star-spangled misstep.
John Millar, a Williamsburg, Va., innkeeper by day and architectural and tall-ships historian in his spare time, was perusing an issue of Early American Life, a magazine for enthusiasts of the era, last summer when he came across a photo of an 18th-century powder horn. Studying the images on the powder horn, which bears the date March 17-April 1776, he says he made a surprising discovery: A fingernail-size flag he believes depicts stars.
Balderdash, says Dave Martucci, an early American flag expert and past president of the North American Vexillological Association. “This is not a stars-and-stripes flag,” says Mr. Martucci, a 59-year-old tax assessor and flag appraiser from Washington, Maine. Stars were “in the future.”
Documentary evidence, including journals, he says, indicates that American naval ships at the time flew a flag known as the Continental Colors, which had stripes but no stars. The powder horn’s flag, he says, is simply a stylized version of that banner. As for the dots, he thinks they are the carver’s embellishment, perhaps to indicate the flag’s waving motion.
Strange Random Flag Quote:
“We [Americans] are the lavishest and showiest and most luxury-loving people on the earth; and at our masthead we fly one true and honest symbol, the gaudiest flag the world has ever seen.” – Mark Twain (American Humorist, Writer and Lecturer. 1835-1910)
- Is This the First American Flag with Stars and Stripes? (eogn.com)
- Stars & Stripes Forever: 8 Takes on the American Flag Best of Etsy (apartmenttherapy.com)
- ‘Grinch’ steals dozens of flags from Largo display (tbo.com)
- Stars and Stripes on display for the Fourth of July (photoblog.msnbc.msn.com)
- Happy Flag Day! Here Are 10 Fashion Editorials Featuring American Flags (fashionista.com)
- Straight from the Flag: Red & White Stripes (apartmenttherapy.com)
- Loyalist Soaps – The Patriotic American Flag Soap is Freshly Faithful (TrendHunter.com) (trendhunter.com)
- Proper Flag Etiquette for Flag Day (redenvelope.com)