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This flag is remarkable for several reasons. It was discovered in the attic of the farmhouse on Walker Farm in Johnstown, Ohio. The flag is homemade, hand sewn, and made of cotton fabric. It has several features which make it a fascinating folk art masterpiece of early American flag making. The most striking visual feature of the flag is the folksy American eagle in the canton of the flag. Flags with eagles incorporated into their cantons are incredibly rare. Early 19th century flags which have eagles painted into their cantons are documented, and a very small handful still exist, perhaps four or fewer. The earliest of these were known as Indian Peace Flags, and were purported to have been gifted to various Native American tribes as a symbolic gesture from the United States Government. One such flag is held in the collection of the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Flags with sewn eagles and an arch of 13 stars above them are known to have been flown aboard steamers and various vessels in the mid-19th century. There are a few survivors of the type and there are many period mid-19th century paintings of ships which show these types of flags. The flag here is rather unique among the very few surviving flags with eagles in their canton in that it has its full complement of stars and the eagle is clearly a folksy representation of the Federal eagle as it appeared on coinage of the time. This style of the seated eagle, head turned, wings down, with one wing slightly higher than the other, was used on American coinage between 1807 and 1891. During that period, the general style of the eagle was reproduced on a wide range of goods including quilts, crockery, military equipment, and flags, though there are probably fewer than five examples of flags with this trait that survive. The 31 stars of the flag represent California statehood and the star count and construction of the flag date it squarely in the period of 1850-1858. The medallion pattern, with four corner stars and the central eagle within two arches of three stars, one arch above and one arch below, is a unique design. Two other known flags from this period, both with 13 stars and a folksy sewn eagle in the canton, have a similar trait of an unusual number of stripes (one has eleven, and one has nine). Those two flags, like this flag, are homemade also made entirely of cotton. One is dated 1857 and its topmost and bottom-most stripes are white.

As expected for some flags, this flag suffered some rodent damage when it was stored in the attic of the Walker family farm house, as can be seen in the photo of the flag in its un-restored state. It was also missing a portion of the third red stripe, the fourth white stripe, and there are indications that there was a bottom red stripe on the flag, although the hoist rope of the flag, which is original to the period when it was used and flown, was adjusted to the current height, indicating that the original maker of the flag removed the bottom stripe when it became damaged and did not repair or replace it.

Given extremely small number of homemade flags with eagles in the canton known to survive and the scarcity of pre-Civil War flags of any type, this example is a true rarity and special masterpiece of folk art Americana.

Learn more about methods to restore flags. Star Count: 31

Date: 1850-1858

Era: Pre-Civil War

Statehood: California

Construction: Cotton, Hand Sewn, Homemade

Catalog Number: IAS-00529


13 Stars, C.C. Fuller Type

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