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15 Star Flag - (1795-1818) (U.S.)

Last modified: 2002-09-28 by rick wyatt
Keywords: fifteen | united states | greasing flagpoles |
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[U.S. 15 star flag 1795] by Mark Sensen, 4 December 1997

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Description of the flag

In 1795, two stars were added, representing Kentucky and Vermont, bringing the total number of stars to 15. Two stripes were added to make a total of 15 stripes. This was the only U.S. flag to have fifteen stripes. In 1818, Congress proclaimed that one star for each new state would be added on the 4th of July following the state's admission to the union and there would be thirteen stripes representing the thirteen original colonies. The 15 star flag flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 and inspired the writing of the National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner.
Rick Wyatt, 5 April 1998

Fort McHenry flag

[U.S. 13 star Fort McHenry flag 1777 ] by Dave Martucci, 6 December 1997
Fort McHenry Flag

This is a drawing of what the original Star Spangled Banner looked like. You should note that, like the 13 star flag, this flag existed in many different variations. Anyway, this is the most famous 15 star-15 stripe U.S. Flag and the one our National Anthem was written about. It was flying over Fort McHenry in 1814 in the early morning after a major bombardment, signaling the Fort still held out. The original is in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC and is huge (30' x 42').
Dave Martucci, 6 December 1997

Fort Niagara flag

An actual garrison flag from Fort Niagara near Lake Erie north of Niagara Falls (1813, possibly dating from 1809) has the star pattern in five staggered (or offset) horizontal rows of three stars each.

I checked a book entitled Picture History of the U.S. Navy by Theodore Roscoe and Fred Freeman published by Charles Scribner's Sons, New York and London 1956. In it are several paintings and one photograph that give opposing views. Remember that at this time there was no official arrangements of stars. A very pertinent, very clear painting of the Battle of Lake Erie (September 10,1813) [also known as the Battle of Put-in-Bay] shows Commodore Perry leaving the USS Lawrence for the USS Niagara in a small boat flying a 15 stripe flag with three horizontal non-staggered rows of five stars. Other paintings of this battle have the flags less clear. In a painting of the H.M.S. Shannon and USS Chesapeake entering Halifax, Nova Scotia, (June 1813) the Chesapeake clearly wears a U.S. flag with three non-staggered horizontal rows of five stars under the British White ensign. Just to confuse things, a photograph of the actual 1814 Stonington, Connecticut, battle flag shows a 15 stripe flag with 16 stars arranged in a rectangular field of 4 non-staggered rows of 4 stars. Of course, artistic license exists in paintings, as the Constitution vs. the Guerriere has the flag depicted two different ways in two paintings of the same event! (5 rows staggered vs. 5 rows non-staggered)

I would conclude that the 15 star flag with 5 staggered rows of 3 stars each was definitely in use on the Great Lakes, and the arrangement of 3 non-staggered rows of 5 stars was likely in use as well.

More on the Fort Niagara flag
Kevin McNamara, 18 February 1999

Greasing Flagpoles

When British troops withdrew from Boston during the revolution, and after returning Fort Niagara to U.S. control after the War of 1812, they were supposed to have greased the flagpoles and cut the halyards to make it difficult for the American troops to raise their flag!
Kevin McNamara, 18 February 1999