Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Raising the First National Flag, January 1, 1776

“Raising the First American Flag, January 1, 1776” by C. O. DeLand

No, this isn’t a long-lost Howard Pyle: it’s by Clyde Osmer DeLand, who painted it under Pyle’s supervision at the Drexel Institute in the fall of 1897. As Pyle explained in a January 1898 description of his School of Illustration:
...I hold a “Composition Class” every week, some of the compositions submitted being of an excellence sufficient to admit their being used in pictorial form - page and double-page cuts - by the more important illustrated periodicals....

To cultivate independence, the compositions made by the pupils are from time to time submitted to some leading illustrated periodical or newspaper, and if accepted are worked up into a picture with only verbal criticism upon my part.
Such was the case with one of DeLand’s drawings which, after meeting with Pyle’s approval, was submitted to and approved by Harper’s Weekly. DeLand then got an official order for the picture and started painting.

Although it’s not a very well-known aspect of his mentoring, Pyle encouraged his students to write as well as illustrate, just as he had done with great success. Some, but not many, followed his advice, including DeLand who supplied his own text for “Raising the First American Flag, January 1, 1776” in the January 1, 1898, issue of Harper’s Weekly. In fact, it’s possible that DeLand (who turned 25 when the magazine was on the newsstands) was the first Pyle student to have his own illustrated text published. Here’s what he wrote:

by Clyde O. Deland

Prospect Hill (known also as Mount Pisgah) was the strongest fortification of the American army during the siege of Boston, and it was here that the Union flag was unfurled for the first time January 1, 1776, the day on which the new Continental army was organized.

Upon that day copies of the King’s speech at the opening of Parliament had been sent from Boston by General Howe to Washington. The speech was one better fitted to arouse opposition than submission to the English throne. It stated that the British nation was too spirited and powerful to give up those colonies which had been protected for so many years with “much expense of blood and treasure”; that both its army and navy had been strengthened, and that negotiations for foreign aid were already entered into. The English authorities entertained great hopes of the salutary effects of this message from the throne to the rebellious Americans. Accordingly the hoisting of the Union flag and the discharge of thirteen guns that saluted it were hailed with great delight by the British officers, who supposed it to be a token of submission to the crown.

Referring to these circumstances, Washington, in a letter to Joseph Reed, dated January 4, 1776, said: “The speech I send you. A volume of them were sent out by the Boston gentry, and, farcical enough, we gave great joy to them without knowing or intending it. For on that day - the day which gave being to our new army, but before the proclamation came to hand - we had hoisted the Union flag, in compliment to the united colonies. But, behold! it was received in Boston as a token of the deep impression the speech made upon us, and as a signal of submission. So we hear by a person out of Boston last night. By this time, I presume, they begin to think it strange that we have not made a formal surrender of our lines.”

The Annual Register of 1776 gives a more detailed description of the flag. It says, “So great was the rage and indignation [of the Americans] that they burned the speech and changed their colors from a plain red ground, which they had hitherto used, to a flag with thirteen stripes, as a symbol of the number and the union of the colonies.”

Previous to this, so-called “Union flags” were sometimes displayed, but were merely British standards with the legend “Liberty and Property,” or “Liberty and Union,” set upon the field as emblems of colonial rights and principles.

In 1855 the historian Benson J. Lossing discovered a contemporary colored drawing that for the first time rendered an authentic presentment of the flag. It was a sketch of the Royal Savage (Arnold’s flag vessel on Lake Champlain in the battle of October, 1776). An ensign was depicted flying at the mast-head. This flag displayed the British union - the combined crosses of St. George and St. Andrew - in the usual upper corner, but the field had been changed from the solid red into alternate stripes of red and white. It was doubtless the union jack in the corner of the flag hoisted at Cambridge that caused the English to misinterpret it - to suppose that the Americans intended to submit once more to the rule of George the Third.

The colonial Union flag of thirteen stripes was also displayed in Pennsylvania during the year. A letter describing the departure of the American fleet under Admiral Hopkins from Philadelphia, in February, says it sailed “amidst the acclamations of thousands assembled on the joyful occasion, under display of a Union flag, with thirteen stripes in the field, emblematical of the thirteen united colonies.”

After allegiance to the British crown had been thrown off, the jack bearing the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew became inappropriate, and on the 14th of June, 1777, the Continental Congress passed the following resolution:

Resolved, That the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white, on a blue field, representing a new constellation.

The illustration represents the ceremony of raising the new colonial flag. The scene depicts the interior of the fortifications on Prospect Hill, looking southeast across the Charles River toward Bartons Point in Boston.

The colonial troops, while much better organized than ever before, were still without a regular uniform, the occasional buckskin hunting dress of the Southern riflemen or of the frontiersmen being in picturesque contrast to the bucolic homespun of the New England minute-men.

Washington’s uniform is described in a letter written July 20, 1775, thus: “His dress is a blue coat with buff-colored facings, a rich epaulette on each shoulder, buff underdress, and an elegant small sword; a black cockade in his hat.”

Three of the cannon used at this time are now planted upon Cambridge’s common. They date from the reign of George the Second.

The profile of Boston, it may be said, has been rendered as carefully as possible from contemporary drawings and prints of the period. Edes & Gills North American for 1770 contains an engraving by Paul Revere, entitled “Landing of the Troops in Boston, 1768,” which gives an approximate view of that city, with its beacon, towers, and spires. Besides this, Lieutenant Williams of the Royal Welsh Fusileers, while stationed in Boston under General Gage, made a panoramic view in colors of the country surrounding the city. A copy of this drawing is in the cabinet of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

The vessel in the middle distance represents one of the British war-ships guarding the approaches to the city.

Note: for some reason, when I first posted this I titled DeLand’s picture “Raising the First National Flag, January 1, 1776” but the correct title should be “Raising the First American Flag, January 1, 1776”.


Byron DeLear said...

Great post. I noticed your version of the Clyde DeLand illustration is high-res and Black and White. I've also seen color versions of this painting. Do you know of a high-res color version anywhere? Many thanks.

Ian Schoenherr said...

That's a good question - I see one here, but I don't know how hi-res it is:


They don't cite the source, but it comes from a much smaller print than the original, black and white Harper's Weekly version. I'll keep an eye out for more info, though. It's a really nice image for a relative "beginner".

LaVallee said...

I am researching this painting to use in my lesson on the American Flag. I cannot seem to find a digitized copy of Harper's Weekly it was seen in. Can you help me? Many thanks.

Ian Schoenherr said...

Try this:


Byron DeLear said...

Hello Ian, I wanted to let you know the NYPL link and resource worked out great. The hi-res image will appear in my book about the flag. A question I did have for you is if you have any idea where the original painting is held? I've been invited several times to speak in Somerville concerning the Grand Union flag and on last New Year's Day - when Somerville conducts its commemorative event - I saw the original of this Clyde DeLand painting displayed in the Mayor's office... here is a link to a lithograph of the image...

Thanks for any information you might have to find the original Deland flag raising he did for Harper's.