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Beginning in the early 19th century, the Navy adopted the use of commissioning pennants as part of the complement of flags and ensigns aboard their ships. The commissioning pennant was first hoisted when the ship was officially commissioned and it remained flying unless a flag officer or civilian, such as admiral, is aboard, during which time the commissioning pennant is replaced by their own flag. The practice of commissioning pennants continues today, and the style of the pennants has varied over the years. This particular pattern, with staggered stars, is the earliest style and form that I have encountered. I know of two other pre-Civil War pennants, one with 20 (1818) stars and another with 26 stars (1836-1845), which are both original to the period and are also in this style, where stars of the flag are staggered, rather than appearing in a row. The construction of this pennant, along with the quality and type of wool bunting and cotton stars, is consistent with flags made in the 1820-1845 period, and I am confident that this flag dates to this timeframe. The hoist, wool bunting and sewing thread is very similar to the 13 Star Lafayette Flag (IAS-00367) in the Rare Flags collection that dates to 1825 or earlier. Flags and pennants from this very early period are rare, and just a small handful survive. The entire pennant is hand sewn and the stars are single-appliqué construction with a high quality and early style of stitching. The construction and material used for the host, which seems to be a linen fabric with whip-stitched grommets, is also similar to other pre-Civil War flags in the collection. The pennant is somewhat long, at 40 feet in length, compared to the others of the type, is reasonably small, with some pennants from this period being over 100 feet long. This example is in exceptional condition for such an early age. A survey of early sailing ship paintings from the 1820's and 1830's shows many ships of this period flying pennants with the staggered star arrangement. Later in the 19th century, linear stars became prevalent, but the staggered pattern seemed to be a prevalent design for these pennants in the first half of the 19th century.

Below are images of the Schooner Yacht America, New York, New York, 1851, painted by James Bard, which provide a wonderful image of how a pennant such as this would have been seen and flown. The painting is in the collection of the Abbey Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum in Williamsburg, Virginia. note the style and presentation of the yachting ensign, to include the quirky elliptical star pattern, which is comparable to IAS-00428, and the style of the pennant with its staggered stars.

Learn more about ship's flags of the U.S. Navy. Star Count: 13

Date: 1845-1860

Era: None

Statehood: Original 13 Colonies

Construction: Hand Sewn Cotton Stars on Wool Bunting

Catalog Number: IAS-00440


24 Stars, Updated to 25 Stars
Early 19th Century Ship's Flag

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