Object Record

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Catalog Number DEC.013
Title Flag - Rhode Island Colony
Artist unknown
Date 1663 [possibly]
Description Blue flag with a white cross, a white saltire, and a narrower red cross placed on the white cross. The flag is made of blue cotton on which are painted in white the cross and the saltire. Upon the white cross is painted the red cross of St. George. The four layers of paint, two on each side of the cotton, make the red cross of this flag rather stiff. (Howard Chapin, Redwood Library Booklist, February 1937)

Fiber: warp and weft cotton; yarns: warp and weft - Z spun single yarns.; YPI: 32 Warp by 36 Weft.; coarse dyed blue cotton cloth woven in a hand loom, painted with white and red paint
The flag is a combination of the English flag - the red cross of St. George on a white field - with the Scottish flag - the white saltire (diagonal cross) of St. Andrew on a blue field. The Scottish flag was used as the basis of the design and the motive of the English flag as a red cross fimbriated, or edged, white. Being a combination or union of the English and Scottish flags, it was sometimes called the British flag and sometimes the Union flag. When it was flown as a small goag at the bow of a boat it was called the Union Jack.
By a Royal Proclamation of May 5, 1634, the use of the Union Jack was restricted to His Majesty's ships. Thus it became the government's flag in contradistinction to a national flag, a flag used by private individuals and merchant ships. The Union flag fell into disuse during the Commonwealth and the Protectorate, but it again came into use as the government flag upon the restoration of Charles II n 1660. This flag continued in use until the cross of St. Patrick was added to the design of the Union flag in 1801. In 1908 the British government ordered that the Union flag, or Union Jack as it is now usually called, should be the national flag of the British Empire and it is now so used. (Howard Chapin, Redwood Library Booklist, February 1937)
Object Name Flag
Medium Paint
Material Dyed Cotton
Dimensions H-68.5 W-94 cm
Credit line n.d.
Provenance The flag's presence in Newport since at least the late 18th century was revealed in an 1868 article in the Newport Mercury. During repairs to the attic of a house on Thames Street, once owned and occupied by Govenor John Wanton, among the relics discovered was the original flag of our Colony, while under the Royal Charter of Charles II, and which was sent with the Charter in 1663. At that time, i.e. 1868, the flag was in the possession of Stephen Gould, corresonding with a sighting by George Champlin Mason in his 1859 report on the Re-Union of the Sons and Daughters of Newport, R. I.: In the window of Messrs. Gould's store was seen a flag bearing this inscription: Rhode Island Colony flag; received from England by Gov. Arnold, 1663; used until the vacuation [sic] of the English, 1779. In 1874 Charles F. McKim (of the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White) featured the flag in a portfolio he compiled to document 17th and 18th century decorative arts in Newport. No further recorded mention of it came to light, until just before World War II. In 1936 in the Report of the Directors to the Shareholders, it was noted that, in the course of looking over the Library's treasures for display during the Tercentenary, the Librarian had discovered a most interesting old Flag , identified in an attached legend. Despite some skepticism as to the flag's historical authenticity, the Directors declared that it was the oldest Flag in existence in the United States. In 1937 it was framed in bronze and hung over the doorway of the Delivery Room, along with a brass plaque affixed to the doorway.In 1994 the flag was delivered to the Museum of American Textile History and sugsequently to the Williamstown Art Conservation Center for expert examination and analysis [see work notes below]. (Redwood Library Newsletter, Winter 1995-96, (4))
Collection Decorative Arts
People unknown
Notes The flag, when found, was attached to a nineteenth century piece of faded white cloth on which was painted the following inscription: "RHODE-ISLAND COLONY FLAG RECEIVED FROM ENGLAND BY GOV. ARNOLD 1663 USED UNTIL THE EVACUATION OF THE ENGLISH, 1779." This nineteenth century inscription may be a more or less garbled tradition or it may merely be the figment of someone's imagination.

"Rhode Island Treasures" exhibition at the RI Convention Center, Providence, Rhode Island
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