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The article reproduced below is from the Mariners Mirror dated October 1937
where Charles Fawcett published an article discussing the suggestion that the
flag of the East India Company influenced the design of the Grand Union Flag at
great length. The article is entitled :
The STRIPED FLAG of the EAST INDIA COMPANY, and its CONNEXION with the AMERICAN "STARS and STRIPES"
The article discusses the many different possibilities and likelihoods for the design of the Grand Union flag. Although the article provides no definite proof of a connection it provides enough evidence and well formed argument to conclude that it is most likely that there is a direct connection.
Neil Kimber, 28 December 2002
THE MARINER'S MIRROR WHEREIN MAY BE DISCOVERED HIS ART, CRAFT & MYSTERY after
the manner of their use in all ages and among all Nations Vol. XXIII. No. 4
OCTOBER 1937 THE JOURNAL OF THE SOCIETY FOR NAUTICAL RESEARCH,
VOLUME TWENTY-THREE M-CM-XXXVII,
AT THE UNIVERSITY PRESS
The STRIPED FLAG of the EAST INDIA COMPANY, and its CONNEXION with the AMERICAN "STARS and STRIPES"
By Sir Charles Fawcett
As Editor of the India Office series The English Factories in India I have become interested in the red and white stripes of the flag of the East India Company and the question whether they are the origin of the similar stripes in the American flag. I venture to give the result of my research on this topic in these pages, as it will, I think, be of some interest to readers of The Mariner's Mirror, and no one else seems to have written about it in previous issues. Professor Geoffrey Callender, the Director of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, has informed me that the late Mr W. G. Perrin contemplated doing so, but had not completed his researches when he died. He has given a good deal of the history of the flag in his book British Flags (Cambridge University Press, 1922); but the only previous references to it in The Mariner's Mirror are a few short notes on pp. 190 and 221 of vol. I and on p. 63 of vol. III, which chiefly relate to the varying number of the stripes.
In the seventeenth century the flag had, as stated by Perrin (loc. cit. p. 130), generally from nine to thirteen alternate red and white stripes, the odd numbers being red; and it was to this that its nick-name of "John Company's gridiron" is due. The top stripes were, however, broken by a canton at the upper corner next the staff, containing the red cross of St George on a white field (see Perrin's Plate IX, No. 6). Nothing about its use, or intended use, has been traced in the early records of the Company, though special attention to this point was paid by my predecessor, Sir William Foster, who has kindly helped me by putting his notes on the subject at my disposal. This may, however, be due to the incomplete state of the records or to usage rather than any formal order of the Company, having led to the adoption of these colours (1). That they were only red and white is shown by a document of 1668. In that year Bombay was transferred by King Charles II to the East India Company, and in September commissioners were sent down from Surat to take over the island. A new flag was required for the Fort and they asked that some white, red and blue cloth should be sent for making it, if the King's colours (the Union Jack) were to be kept there; "if not, white and red will be sufficient"(2). That there were stripes on the flag is indicated by Peter Mundy's drawing of it in a sketch of Swally Marine in 1656(3) and by Dr Fryer's reference to it in 1673 as "the East-India striped Ancient"(4). There is also evidence that it had a cross on it, because in 1616 this was objected to by the Japanese as an emblem of Christianity, which had been banned in 1614. In 1671, when the Company was sending the Return to Japan in an effort to restart trade with that country, it decided not to alter its usual flag; but in 1673, when the ship entered the port of Nagasaki, she departed from this instruction on local advice and instead flew a striped white and red flag without a cross; when subsequently she put out one with a cross, the Japanese officials demanded an explanation(5). But all this is inconclusive as to its exact appearance. Fortunately a precise description of it at this period is afforded by extant coloured pictures of the four ships sent out to India by the Company in 1670. These were drawn by Edward Barlow, a seaman on one of them (the Experiment), who wrote an account of his various voyages and illustrated it with coloured sketches. This is now in the possession of Mr Basil Lubbock, who has edited it in his book Barlow's Journal (Hurst and Blackett, 1934). Three of his pictures showing the ships, or some of them, at Bombay, at Calicut and near Surat, are reproduced in the latest volume of The English Factories in India, recently published by the Clarendon Press, Oxford. These depict the flag with alternate red and white stripes and the canton with St George's cross, exactly as it has been described above. Similar illustrations that show the flag clearly have been reproduced (though not in colour) in Barlow's Journal opposite pp. 184, 190, 194, 198 and 200, while another one facing p. 358 shows it on a ship in which he sailed to the East in 1683. The number of stripes on his Bags is generally 9, 11, or 13, but there are instances of 7 and even 19 (the latter being on the ship of 1683, the other flag on which has 13 stripes), so obviously too much stress should not be laid on such variations. All that can safely be said about it is that Barlow's pictures support the view that the number varied and was generally from 9 to 13. They also show that a ship would sometimes wear, in addition to the Company's usual flag, the red ensign with a canton having a red St George's cross on a white field (6), which was then commonly worn by merchantmen and their use of which was expressly authorized by a proclamation issued by Charles II on 18 September 1674 (Perrin, loc. cit. pp. 68-9, 130).
In November 1676 Samuel Pepys drew the attention of the Company to the fact that its flag continued to be flown by its ships in contravention of this proclamation, which prescribed for "merchants' ships" the use of only two flags, viz. the red ensign just mentioned and "the Flag and Jack white with a red cross (commonly called Saint George's Cross) passing right through the same"(7). On 6 December of that year the Court of Committees, as the Company's directors were then called, asked the Shipping Committee to confer -with the commanders of the three ships that were then about to sail for the Coromandel Coast and the Bay of Bengal 'touching the colours enjoined by Royal proclamation to be worn by all merchant ships mentioned, and how far it may be useful or inconvenient to the Company's affairs to have any alteration made in the ensign hitherto worn by their ships, and report". Evidently as a result of this the Court of Committees on 19 December instructed each of the commanders to note that between St Helena and England in his homeward voyage, as also when going out, he was in obedience to the King's proclamation "to wear only the usual English flag and ensign, and no other, viz, a white flag with a red cross, and a red ensign with a white cross in the upper corner"(8). The description of the red ensign's canton as "a white cross" was an obvious error which was corrected by substituting the words 'a red cross in a white field" in subsequent similar instructions to commanders.(9) These continued up to September 1688, after which the order in question does not appear in them.(10)
This does not, however, mean that the order had been annulled or that it ceased to be observed. Its restriction to home waters and those between St Helena and this country was a compromise, which was undoubtedly acquiesced in by the Admiralty; but that body would on the other hand be interested in the enforcement of this arrangement and there is nothing to indicate that it consented, in or about 1688-9, to any further relaxation of the terms of the proclamation of 1674, except to the extent that I suggest below. The reason for the omission of the usual clause after September 1688 is not on the records of the Company, but I venture to put forward a possible explanation of it. When the next ships were about to be dispatched in March-May 1689, William III was on the throne and England was on the brink of war with France over Louis XIV's support of the ex-King, James II. Under a royal warrant of 9 May 1689 the Company was authorized to commission their commanders to seize French vessels as prizes(11); in other words its ships were virtual privateers. In the seventeenth century the latter were in the habit of wearing the Union Jack,(12) so that the order in question might well be regarded as inappropriate.
This privateering lasted at any rate till January 1691(13), and the order, having once been dropped from the instructions, would not ordinarily reappear, in view of the natural tendency to copy instructions from the last one issued. Its omission was immaterial and the white flag with St George's cross and the red ensign authorized by the proclamation of 1674 continued to be used by the Company's ships, as is for instance shown by Barlow's picture of the East-Indiaman Sceptre, which he commanded in 1697-8 (Barlow's Journal, Vol. II, opposite p. 500).(14)
The striped red and white flag with St George's cross in the canton also persisted as the Company's special colours. Thus the third edition of The Present State of the Universe by John Beaumont, Junior, which was published in 1701, contains an appendix entitled "The Ensigns, Colours or Flags of the Ships at Sea, belonging to the several Princes and States in the World", and plate eleven of these shows this flag with 7 red stripes and 6 white stripes. A similar flag, but with only 5 red and 4 white bands, is shown as the Company's flag in (a) Les Pavilions ou Bannieres que Ia plupart des Nations arborent en Mer (Amsterdam, chez David Mortier, 1718), see pl. 7 and p. 6 of the text; (b) La Connoissance des Pavillons (1737), which, however, is practically a mere reissue of the 1718 book already mentioned; (c) the Flag plate at the end of Le Rouge's Atlas nouveau portatif (c. 1748); (d) a coloured flag plate of about 1750, Flaggen a//er seefahrenden Potenzen. von J. B. Homann (in Nurnberg); and (e) Bowles's Universal Display of the Naval Flags of all Nations in the World (published in May 1783).(15)
The last five were published after the legislative union between England and Scotland in 1707, and for reasons that I give below I think it is clear that they incorrectly show the canton as containing St Georges cross, instead of the union of that cross and the cross of St Andrew, which superseded the former in that year. The mistake is one that might easily arise from copying previous plates about flags that were not well known to the publishers, without their making due enquiry whether there had been any alteration in the pattern.
It is, I think, of some significance that the book Les Pavillons, etc. (1718), not only reduced the number of stripes in the Company's flag from 13 (the number shown in The Present State of the Universe) to 9, but added a flag that was exactly the same as the Company's, having 13 red and white stripes and St George's cross in the canton-entitling it 'Pavillon de Rang ou de Division d'une Escadre" (P1. IV, fig. 3). This supplies a possible reason for its reduction of the number of stripes in the Company's flag. The same squadronal striped flag appears in some of the other publications that have been mentioned above. I speak with diffidence, but was there such a flag used by the English Navy in the eighteenth century? Perrin's account of "Admiral's Flags" and "Flags of Command" seems to me to contradict its existence. He says (p. 115) "the field of the ensign had, since its introduction about 1574, been of striped design"; and the illustrations on P1. IX that he cites in a footnote include one (fig. 6) corresponding to the red and white striped ensign of the Company that he mentions at p. 130. But according to Perrin (pp. 90-102, 115-17) this mode of distinguishing squadrons was given up in 1625 and onwards, being superseded by the division of the fleet into three squadrons, red, white and blue, distinguished by ensigns and pendants of those respective colours. I am glad to be supported in this by Mr Bonner-Smith, whose remarks I give below, being more authoritative than any opinion of mine:
As regards Squadronal Colours, Perrin's main discussion on these is in his chapter entitled "Admiral's Flags". You will see that he says on p. 90 that Wimbledon's Cadiz Expedition of 1625 was the occasion when Squadronal Colours were definitely allocated to the Fleet, which was divided into Red, Blue and White Squadrons, the ships themselves wearing the appropriate coloured Pendant. The change in 1653 that he deals with on p. 117 is the introducrion of Ensigns (additional to Pendants) of the appropriate colour for each Squadron.
I think Perrin would have stated that from 1653 till Squadronal Colours were abolished in 1864 the only Ensigns used in the Royal Navy for which record material can be produced were the Red, White and Blue Squadronal Colours. We have abundant material about Admirals of the Red, Admirals of the White, and Admirals of the Elue but have never a word about 'Admirals of the Striped Squadron''. The occurrence of a striped flag [in the plates of flags] as a Flag of Rank or of Squadron Division about 1701-18 is evidence of a sort; against it we set the fact that the flag that any Flag Officer was to wear is mentioned in his appointment, and no trace has been found of any Flag Officer of that period being ordered to wear a striped flag (and so be styled ''Admiral of the Stripes").
There is another reason for the same conclusion. In 1676 in reply to the Commander-in-Chief of the Downs, who drew attention to the Company's flag as contravening the proclamation of 1674, Pepys remarked that that flag was "not of any so near resemblance to the King's as to create any mistake"(16). It is surely improbable that he would have said this if, in fact, the same flag was in use by the Royal Navy for squadronal purposes. It seems, therefore, clear that the book Les Pavillons, etc., is wrong in showing this striped flag as a squadronal one, it having been abandoned neatly a century before the date of its publication; and this adds to the probability-or rather, as I hope to show, the certainty-that it is also wrong in showing St George's cross in the canton of the Company's flag.(17)
On 21 July 1707 Queen Anne issued an Order-in-Council, under which the Union flag of St George's and St Andrew's crosses was to be substituted for St George's cross in the canton of the Royal Navy's ensign(18). Thereupon the Admiralty ordered the Navy Board to cause all vessels to be supplied with colours accordingly with all possible dispatch, and to have St George's cross taken out of all the ensigns and a Union Jack flag put into them instead(19). A proclamation of 28 July 1707, in promulgating the orders, also directed that the Union should replace the St George in the canton of the red ensign and contained a clause "strictly charging and commanding the Masters of all Merchant Ships and vessels belonging to any of our subjects, whether employed in Our service or otherwise, and all other persons whom it may concern, to wear the said ensign on board their ships or vessels" and no other(20). As pointed out by Perrin (pp. 131-2), this was in stricter terms than any previous proclamation on the subject and made the wearing of the red ensign with the union canton compulsory.
There is nothing in the Minutes or extant correspondence of the Company about the change of canton, but such silence clearly favours acquiescence in, and compliance with, its terms rather than the contrary. Compliance would merely entail the issue of orders to subordinates to make the change, and these would be contained in correspondence that later on was likely to be considered of insufficient importance to justify its preservation(21), whereas any proposal to disregard the proclamation would necessarily have had to come up for discussion by the Court of Committees and would have found a place in their Minutes. Nor is there any likelihood that the Company would desire to disobey the order. Such disobedience would at once have brought it into conflict with the Admiralty, which had taken immediate steps to alter its own ensign and had a duty to see that merchantmen also flew the correct canton. The Company's interests at the time of the proclamation were essentially opposed to its offending the Admiralty in this way, for England was then at war with France over the Spanish succession, and the Company was constantly asking the Lord High Admiral to provide convoys for their ships, to give protection against the impressment of their sailors, and for other favours. I give two specimens:
(General Records, Miscellanies, 1, 297-8, 320-1)
1. To the Honble. the Council of His Royal Highness Prince George, Ld. High Admiral of Great Britain etc.
May it please your Honours,
The Court of Managers for the United Trade of the English Company trading to the East Indies crave leave to represent that they understand 2 of their expected ships from the East Indies of a considerable value are arrived in Holland in company of the Dutch East India Fleet and do therefore humbly request that a sufficient force of her Majesty's Ships of war may be appointed forthwith to bring home their said Ships into the River of Thames. Dated at the East India house the 12th September, 1707. Signed by order of the said Court of Managers, Thos. Woolley, Secry.
2. (Address as in previous letter.)
May it please your Honours,
The Committee of the Court of Managers of the United East India Company do represent to your Honours that they have Letters from the Captains of all their Ships at the Nore advising them that by Admiral Jennings, order the greatest part of all the able Seamen on board their severall Ships were taken away on Saturday last.
That the time of the Year is already so far Advanced that the Ships are in dai~ger of losing their Monsoons and if they should a whole year's trade is certainly lost which will prove a very great prejudice to the Public as well as the Company. That they may do what in them lyes to prevent so Generall an evill they humbly pray that Protections may be immediately granted to their severall Ships and for their complement of men as mentioned on the other side to the end their Owners and Commanders may immediately set about getting of new Seamen to supply the rooms of those so taken away and that the Protections may be of sufficient force to preserve the men they shall so get as well as those left on board. (The letter also asks for proper Protections for preserving the soldiers on board, which are "extremely wanted for defence of their Forts and settlements abroad".)
Dated at the East India house the 23rd February 1707/8.
(Signature as in the other letter.)
There was thus every reason for the Company to comply with the proclamation of 1707, and if the canton was altered in the red ensign, it is hardly conceivable that it would not also be altered in the Company's striped flag. That the cantons in both colours had in fact been changed accordingly by 1732 is, I think, clearly proved by six pictures that are now in the Military Committee Room (No. 197) at the India Office. As to their origin, I quote Sir William Foster's remarks in his Catalogue of Paintings, Statues, etc., in the India Office (p. 18):
This is. . .a set of pictures of the more important settlements in the East Indies and on the route thither, as they were in the early part of the eighteenth century.. . Their purchase in 1732 is recorded in the following extract from the Court Minutes (1st November):-"Order'd That the Secretary do pay Mr George Lambert £94. 10s, for Six Pictures of the Forts etc for the Court Room at fifteen Guineas per Picture as per agreement." The paintings are not signed, but it has been ascertained from other sources that the artists were the aforesaid George Lambert (b. 1710, d. 1765, the first president of the Society of Artists, founder of the Beefsteak Club, and for many years the principal scene painter at Covent Garden Theatre) and Samuel Scott (b.1710?, d. 1772, a friend of Hogarth's and a marine painter of some eminence). There seems little doubt that Lambert painted the buildings and landscape in each picture, and Scott added the ships. There is no record of either artist having been in the Indies, and it may be concluded that they merely worked up materials already existing. This of course detracts somewhat from the value of the pictures, but the probability that they were based on reliable data is still sufficiently strong to make them of importance for early Anglo-Indian topography.
The presumption stated in the last remark applies with particular force to the flags shown in the pictures, which were painted specially for the East India Company(22). Scott, as a marine painter, would be familiar with those flown on East Indiamen, and it is very improbable that he would show the canton incorrectly. To have depicted it as containing the union instead of St George's cross, if the latter was still being flown, would have not only caused derision, but also hazarded the Company's acceptance of pictures tainted with such a misrepresentation. All of them include one or more of the Company's ships in the foreground, and in every one the red ensign is painted with the union canton of St George's and St Andrew's crosses. St George's cross on a white field (as in the former canton) only appears in the long pennants flown at the masthead(23). In the picture of Bombay there are no less than four red ensigns with the union canton. That picture also shows the Company's striped flag with the same canton(24). The flag is spread out as a prominent feature of the foreground, and it is surely absurd to suppose that the artist would wrongly depict this important part of it.
There is other pictorial evidence to the same effect, though not so strong. Thus a picture of Fort St David in the India Office(25) shows a large ship flying the Company's striped flag (11 stripes, of which the odd ones are red), with the union of the two crosses in its canton. This was painted by Francis Swaine, some time prior to his death in 1782. Though he was never in India, he was a marine painter and would, therefore, be unlikely to make a mistake about the canton. His companion picture of Fort William, Calcutta(26), shows the red ensign with the union canton on the only ship that carries a flag. As remarked by Sir William Foster, this view of Fort William is obviously based on Jan van Ryne's(27) engraving of the same subject, published in or about 1754. A coloured copy of this engraving is in my possession and shows the union canton both in the red ensign and the Company's striped flag. Another picture of an East Indiaman carrying the Company's striped flag with the union canton is the one of the Ranger being attacked by a Mahratta fleet in 1783. The original picture, painted by T. Butterworth, was exhibited by its owner, Sir William Robinson, in the Earls Court Exhibition of 1895 and contains several examples of that flag on boats accompanying the Ranger. It has been reproduced as the frontispiece to Col. John Biddulph's Pirates of Malabar.(28)
Under a proclamation of 1 January 1801 the canton of the red ensign was again altered, so as to incorporate the red saltire on a white ground that represented Ireland (29). There is no doubt that the Company accordingly adopted the present Union Jack in the canton, and its flag is shown with it in Heather's Flags of aII Nations (1807). Prior to that the new union is found in pictures of East Indiamen: for instance those of The Earl of Abergavenny (painted by Thomas Luny, 1801) and The Warren Hastings in a fight with La Piemontaise on 21 June 1806, which are Nos. 59 and 63 at p. 28 of Foster's Catalogue already cited. Though there is nothing in the Minutes or extant correspondence of the Company about the alteration, this (as in the case of the union of 1707) favours compliance with the terms of the proclamation of 1801, especially as the change of canton appears to have been carried out expeditiously.(30)
The end of the Company's flag as an ensign on its ships came in 1824, as shown by the following proceedings of its Committee of Shipping:
24th February 1824. A letter being read from the Rt. Honble Lord Viscount Melville, dated 19th and referred by the Court this day, stating in reply to a letter written him by the Chairman on the 12th instant that he cannot propose to the Board of Admiralty to issue a Warrant authorizing the Company's Ships to wear as their distinguishing Colours the Ensign which has been in use in the Forts etc. in India, but that he apprehends that it may be worn as a Jack or Flag without any warrant or authority from the King or from the Board of Admiralty.
Resolved That the Captains of the Company's Ships, the Pilot Sloops and the Dispatch Cutter be acquainted that the red Ensign appointed to be used by all Merchant Ships, is the only ensign which the Company's Ships can, by law, now use: and that they are therefore in future not to hoist the Company's Colours as an Ensign; but are at liberty to do so, as a Jack or Signal flag only.
At a subsequent meeting on 2 March 1824, it was resolved that "the Company's Colours be not sent on board the Company's ships in future".(31)
There is, however, some evidence that in spite of these orders, the striped flag continued to be worn by the Company's vessels in Indian waters, even after the Company's trading Charter had been abolished in 1833, e.g. by surveying ships of the Bengal Marine until 1861.(32) In the case of the Bombay Marine, an Admiralty warrant of 1827 authorized its ships wearing "in addition to the Red Ensign, which all ships belonging to His Majesty's subjects should legally wear, the Union Jack and a long pennant" of a particular kind. Perrin remarks (p. 123) that "the curious expression 'should legally wear' seems to have reference to the fact that the legality of the old striped ensign of the Company had recently been called in question, and its use, except as a Jack, had in consequence been abandoned". This no doubt was due to the orders of 1824. The Indian Navy, which existed from 1st May 1830 to 30 April 1863, in addition to the Red Ensign with the Union canton, appears to have continued the use of the Company's Jack, i.e. plain red and white stripes without a canton. And on the latter being ceremonially hauled down in 1863, the history of the Flag may be said to have come to an end.
For the sake of completeness I have given incidents in its history after 1800, but they do not affect the main purpose of this article, which is to establish that the Company's flag was identical with the one generally known in the United States of America as "the Grand Union Flag". This was the first banner displayed in the American War of Independence to indicate a union of the thirteen States in revolt, each of which had previously used a flag of its own. It seems to be established that it was first flown by Lieutenant Paul Jones on the Alfred, the flagship of the Congress Navy, on 3 December 1775 (34). It was undoubtedly hoisted on 1 or 2 January 1776 by Washington at Cambridge, Massachusetts,(35) when he assumed command of the united forces of those States. The flag continued to be used both at sea and on land even after the adoption by the Congress of the "Declaration of Independence" on 4 July 1776, which made the union canton inappropriate. It was not till nearly a year later that the Congress substituted the Stars and Stripes in their first form by a resolution of 14 June 1777. Before the end of the eighteenth century the number of stripes was increased to fifteen on account of the admission of two more States to the Union, but in 1818 it was settled to go back to the original thirteen stripes and to show the number of States by a separate star for each in the blue canton. Accordingly since 1912 when the State of Arizona joined the Federation, there have been 48 stars, arranged in six horizontal rows of eight stars each.
The thirteen stripes of the National Flag are thus undeniably derived from the Grand Union Flag. Their origin in the latter is more controversial, but the position is at any rate clearer if that flag was exactly the same as the East India Company's ordinary flag between 1707 and 1801. The adoption of an English flag with the Union Jack in its canton gives rise to no difficulty. Though hostilities began in 1775, it is indisputable that Washington and other leaders of the revolt were still in hopes of a reconciliation with the Mother-country, and the war was regarded as one against the unlawful acts of the King's Ministry rather than one involving disloyalty to the King. Otherwise it is absurd to suppose that a flag with the Union Jack on it would ever have been adopted.(36)
On the above basis, the assertion that the Grand Union Flag was copied from the East India Company's flag has, prima facie probability. It is indeed stated that Benjamin Franklin urged its adoption in a speech at a dinner-party on 13 December 1775, which he and Washington attended. The substance of this speech is said to have been recorded at the time(37); but my efforts to trace any such record have been unsuccessful, and the evidence that the Grand Union Flag was flown by Lieutenant Paul Jones ten days previously goes against the story. It is also asserted that in 1775 a committee was appointed to consider the question of a single flag for the thirteen States and that it recommended the adoption of the Grand Union Flag(38). Here again documentary proof of the statements appears to be wanting, in spite of a thorough search(39). No doubt there are reasons for supposing the flag to have been designed or recommended by such a committee(40); but, in the absence of authentic evidence as to the ideas and motives of its draughtsmen, we are necessarily thrown back on a consideration of the probabilities. Some American writers on the Stars and Stripes have pointed out the close resemblance between the two flags. Thus Admiral Preble in his Origin and History of the American Flag (Philadelphia, 1917) says (p. 220):(41)
The flag adopted [in 1775] resembled, if it was not exactly the counterpart of, the flag of the English East India Company then in use, and which continued, with trifling variations until its sovereign sway and empire in the East for over two hundred years was, in 1834, merged in that of Great Britain.
The American historian, Benson Lossing, LL.D., is also said to have written a letter to Thomas Gibbons, Esquire, of the United States Navy, saying: "If they [the stripes] were suggested by anything then existing, I think it may have been the flag of the East India Company, with which the colonists in seaports especially, were familiar."(42) That such statements were made by him or other historians is corroborated by the first issue of Flags of the World by the National Geographic Magazine (a reprint of the same article in its number for December 1917), which (p. 400) said that the East India Company's "flag has peculiar interest for America, as some historians declare that it was the parent banner of our Stars and Stripes". It was added that the Company's flag, in 1775, bore St Andrew's cross as well as that of St George.
I think I have sufficiently shown that the latter statement is correct. This is of importance because other American writers reject the theory of any connexion between the two flags on the ground that the Company's one then bore only the cross of St George in white canton. Thus Peleg D. Harrison in The Stars and Stripes and Other American Flags (Boston, 1918) says (p. 42):
The design of the continental flag was not original. It was similar to that of the East India Company in every respect except one; the canton bore the subjoined crosses of St George and St Andrew on a blue ground (the then British Union Jack), instead of the cross of St George alone on a white ground. The ships of this company as early as 1704 had worn a flag with thirteen horizontal red and white stripes with the cross of St George in a white canton. In the following year the number of stripes was reduced to ten, and in 1737 the flag was pictured with thirteen stripes. The ships of this company were frequent visitors to Boston Harbor; and their flag, which writers say at the time of the Revolution contained thirteen stripes, precisely similar to those on the continental flag, was a familiar sight to the colonists.
The same statement as to the Company's flag is made by Willis F. Johnson in The National Flag-A History (pp. 31-2). He cites the three principal theories that have been advanced as to the origin of the Grand Union Flag, the second of which attributed the design to
"the banner of the British East India Company, which had thirteen stripes of red and white, with St George's Cross in a white canton,"
but he rejects this view on the ground that
"the British East India Company's flag was scarcely known in America, save for a few visits at two or three ports; besides which, American patriot were not in 1779 or in 1775 looking for British examples to follow."
The second objection may apply to the adoption of the Stars and Stripes in 1777, when the union canton was replaced by thirteen stars, but it is certainly unsound in regard to the Grand Union Flag of 1775 for reasons already given. Even in May 1776 whole delegations in the Congress were hopeful of reconciliation with England, as stated by General Washington in a letter to his brother Augustine(43). The other objection has more substance, though I admit that my preconceived ideas were against it. I thought that the Company would surely have sent tea and other Eastern commodities to American colonies in ships either owned by it or specially chartered by it for this purpose(44). But clear evidence to the contrary has convinced me that I was wrong.
It is a well-known matter of history that the Company sent tea to America in 1773, with the resulting incident known as "The Boston Tea Party", which started the American Revolution. I, therefore, first investigated the circumstances under which this was done. In January of that year the Company was on the verge of bankruptcy and its warehouses were overstocked with tea. The Court of Directors was consequently seeking financial help from the Government and also liberty to export tea to foreign parts free of duty. The Premier, Lord North, told them that he did not think Parliament would agree to assist them, unless they submitted definite propositions to remedy the errors and abuses that had brought them into their then difficulties. Accordingly, in February, the Directors discussed some draft propositions. Among these was one that the Company should be "permitted to send from China directly to America two ships with cargoes of tea and other China commodities, subject only to the American duty" of 3d. a pound, which the Government were intent on retaining. This proposal was dropped later on in that month,(45) but the fact of its being suggested makes it practically certain that direct trading by the Company between China and America had not hitherto taken place.(46) This is corroborated by the records relating to the Company's trade with China, which were thoroughly examined by H. B. Morse, LL.D., whose Chronicles of the East India Company trading to China, 1635-1834 (g vols.) show that its ships were laden with tea at Canton for London and make no mention of any ships being intended for America. It was not till 1824 that an Act was passed authorizing the Company, or any person licensed by it, to trade direct from China to the British colonies and plantations in America.(47)
Next, how was this consignment of over 2000 chests of tea sent by the Company to America? Owing to the opposition to their being landed in America and the resulting inquiries and reports there is plenty of evidence on this point in extant records. In regard to the tea that was destroyed in Boston Harbour, the chests were consigned by the Company on three ships sailing from London, namely the Dartmouth, the Beaver and the Eleanor. None of these were East Indiamen, as has been stated;(48) nor were they chartered by the Company. It merely sent the chests as freight-goods to consignees that it had selected, who were resident at Boston(49). The Dartmouth carried oil and other merchandise, besides the tea, and was engaged in regular trade with the colonies(50). The Beaver and the Eleanor also carried other goods, and all three were to lade cargo at Boston for different ports(51). The same appears to have been the case with the tea so fruitlessly shipped to New York, Philadelphia and Charleston which was taken as freight on the Nancy, the Poll2 and the London(52). There is no reason to suppose that any of these six vessels would carry The Company's flag in substitution for, or in addition to, the red ensign.
There may have been, however, special reasons for the tea being shipped in this way in 1773, and this instance does not necessarily establish that previous consignments of tea (if any) were sent to America in vessels that did not fly the Company's flag. The Act of Parliament under which the Company had liberty to export this tea, was passed in 1773, and it was not till 19 August that the Company applied for the requisite licence.(53) A need for haste might have led the Company to depart from its usual practice, so that this instance might be an exceptional one.
I have not attempted to go through all the Company records for the period 1700-72 in order to ascertain what was the actual practice, but none of those I have examined contains anything to suggest that it used to send its own vessels to America or chartered them for such voyages from London. The Company's general ledgers, for instance, during this period specify voyages to places within the limits of the Company charter, like Borneo and Madagascar, as well as to India and China, but contain no mention of America. The tea accounts in them refer only to voyages to and from China. On 2 October 1721 an Order in Council was made to prevent illegal trade being carried by ships coming to His Majesty's Plantations from the East Indies, and a clause was inserted in the instructions to Governors of the British colonies in America, enjoining the due observance of the Trade and Navigation Laws, more particularly in regard to the trade from the East
Indies.(54) If the Company was then itself exporting tea to America, the minutes of the Court of Directors in this year might reasonably be expected to refer to this Order or to events leading up to it, but nothing of the kind appears in them; the only relevant topic in them is the seizure by Customs Officers of a large parcel of tea that was being smuggled into England, in regard to which the Customs Commissioners consulted the Company as to "the properest way to put an effectual stop to such clandestine unlawful practices".(55) It is, however, waste of time to recount further negative pieces of evidence like this, for other considerations suffice to dispose of this point conclusively. The fact is that, prior to the legislation of 1773 allowing the Company to export tea to America from England, the Company-in the words used by Lecky in his England in the Eighteenth Century (iii, 386)-"had been obliged to send, their tea to England, where it was sold by public sale to merchants and dealers, and by them exported to the colonies". As is to be expected in a work "distinguished by its lucidity, reliability and scrupulous impartiality"(56), this statement is fully substantiated by provisions in Acts of Parliament, of which I was previously unaware. Thus the Act of 1699 (9 & 10 Will. III, c. 44), which authorized the formation of the New ('English') Company, contained a provision (s. 69) obliging the Company ships to bring all goods laden in them in the East without breaking bulk, to some port in England or Wales for their unlading, and, to sell the goods openly and publicly by "inch of candle".(57) Any breach of this provision entailed forfeiture of the goods or their value. An Act of 1707 (6 Anne, c.3) increased the stringency of this obligation. On the union of the New Company and the Old ('London") Company, the United Company became subject to it for the original charter of the New Company then became the foundation of the powers and privileges of the United Company(58). Accordingly an Act of 1711 (10 Anne, c. 28), while allowing the continuance of the United Company, makes this subject to the restrictions imposed by the Act of 1698, or by the charter issued under it, except in regard to a matter which does not affect this particular question. Other enactments tend the same way. Thus we find Acts of 1745 (18 Geo. II, c. 26) and 1748 (21 Geo. II, c. 14) making the "proprietor or proprietors" of tea intended for exportation liable to pay the duty on it or perform the other requirements for its lawful exportation, and the context clearly shows that the Company did not come under this expression. Acts of 1767 (7 Geo. III, c. 56) and 1772 (12 Geo. III, c. 60) required merchants exporting tea to do so in the same packages in which they had been sold by the Company. A prior Act of 1748 (21 Geo. II, c. 14, s. 2) required the tea to be exported in the same package in which it was originally imported into Great Britain, and not in less quantities than the entire lot in which it was sold by the United Company, under penalty of forfeiture of the tea and the package containing it. The last provision was found to discourage merchants and traders from exporting tea to Ireland and the American colonies, so the Act of 1767 (7 Geo. III, c. 56, s. 7) substituted a requirement that the tea should not be exported in less quantities than the whole of the contents of any chest or other package in which it had been sold at the public sale held by the United Company.
There were also strict provisions regulating the Company's sale of tea, with a view to its keeping the market supplied with a sufficient quantity to answer the demand in Great Britain and to prevent prices rising above those prevalent in neighbouring countries, which lasted well into the nineteenth century(59). Among these provisions was one requiring the Company to keep a stock at least equal to one year's consumption according to the demand of the preceding year, and in 1745 the Legislature (18 Geo. II, c. 26, ss. 10, 11) authorized the Company to import tea from Europe so as to supplement its supply in case of a threatened deficiency, with a proviso that, if the Company failed to keep the market supplied with a sufficient quantity at reasonable prices, the Government might license others to do this importation. In view of the large demand for tea that developed in the eighteenth century and the difficulties that attended its export from China, it seems probable that, until 1770 and onwards, when the London market became overstocked(60), the Company had enough to do in fulfilling its function as the sole legitimate importer, and would not have wanted to export tea, even if it had been allowed to do so.
There is another reason for this view. As early as 1720, the shipping that traded between England and the colonies in America was estimated to carry more than one-sixth, and possibly even one-third, of the total tonnage from England to all foreign countries(61). An Act of 1707 (6 Anne, c. 37) for the encouragement of trade to America stipulated (ss. 15, 23) that none of its provisions should prejudice the rights of British subjects to trade to America as before; and those engaged in this trade would not welcome such a powerful competitor as the East India Company. Similarly such a competition would have incurred the opposition of the merchants and dealers who purchased the Company's teas and took all the risks of their subsequent disposal. But such speculations are superfluous in view of the clear fact that the Company was prohibited from itself exporting tea to America until this was legalized by the Act of 1773.
I have been fortunate in discovering a contemporaneous statement which clinches not only this conclusion, but also the assertion that the tea sent to Boston and other American ports in 1773 was merely freighted by the Company on ships trading between London and America. Dodsley's Annual Register for 1774 (XVII, 47) says as follows:
In consequence of this measure [viz. the Act of 1773] the Company departed in some degree from its established mode of disposing of its teas by public sales to the merchants and dealers, and adopted the new system of becoming its own exporter and factor. Several ships were accordingly freighted with teas for the different colonies by the Company, where it also appointed agents for the disposal of that commodity.
In these circumstances the ships that carried the Company's teas to Boston, etc., In 1773 would presumably fly the ordinary British mercantile flag, viz, the red ensign. The same presumption applies a fortiori to ships carrying teas sent not by the Company, but by "proprietors" to whom it had sold them. It follows that the theory favoured by some English and American writers that the Company's ships were frequent visitors to American ports and its flag a familiar sight to the colonists is a pure myth.(62)
Though this undoubtedly weakens the case for the Company's flag being the source that inspired the adoption of the Grand Union Flag in 1775, it by no means disposes of it. Its striped flag had been flying for nearly two centuries, and it would at any rate be familiar to Englishmen. It seems probable that it was also well known to American seamen, who made voyages to Dutch and other European ports for various purposes, including the large traffic in smuggling tea and other heavily taxed goods into America(63). Thus Esek Hopkins (1718-1802), who was commissioned in December 1775 as Commander-in-Chief of the new navy of the thirteen States and on whose flagship the Grand Union Flag was first hoisted would almost certainly be acquainted with it, for not only had he been one of the leading colonial seamen, but also a privateer captain, who had made brilliant and successful ventures during the Seven Years' War (1756-63). The distinguished American leader, Benjamin Franklin (1706-90), was another who must have known of it. He came to London as a young man to finish his education as a printer (December 1724 to July 1726), and made two other long stays in England from 1757 to 1762 and from 1764 to 1774. During the latter period he acted as London agent for the opposition to the King's Government in four of the American colonies. In 1761 he made a trip to Holland and during his third period of residence he visited France and Germany. He thus had opportunities of seeing the Company's flag;(64) and even if he did not himself see it, it did not need the omniscience of Macaulay's schoolboy for him and hundreds of other English settlers in America to know of it. He would naturally be interested in the East India Company, for (in addition to its prominence as a mercantile body) it was concerned in the agitation that was going on in the American colonies. Thus in a letter of 5 January 1773 Franklin mentions a report that the Company had tea and other goods to the value of four millions in its warehouses, for which it wanted a market, and says that he had remarked on the imprudence of keeping up the duty on tea, which had thrown that trade into the hands of the Dutch and others who smuggled it into America(65). On this point the Company was in agreement with Franklin, for in 1667 it had advocated an alteration of the duties to prevent
smuggling,(66) and in the beginning of 1773 it urged the abolition of the duty of 3d. a pound on tea in America, which Lord North's ministry insisted on retaining.(67)
Franklin, therefore, far from having reason to dislike the Company, could properly regard it almost as an ally. Another thing that might dispose him to favour its flag was that it symbolized independence, in the sense that the Company's administration in India was not then directly controlled by the King's ministers, for it was not till 1784 that the well-known "Board of Control" was established. Franklin was Chairman of the "Committee of Conference", consisting of himself and two others, which was appointed by the second continental congress on 15 June 1775 to confer with General Washington on the organization of the land forces.(68) He is likely, therefore, to have had an influential voice in settling their flag. He is also said to have designed the Rattlesnake flag of South Carolina.(69)
In the absence of due substantiation for the alleged speech of Franklin in its favour, this is as high as I can reasonably put the case for the view that the Company's flag was deliberately copied by the designers of the Grand Union Flag in 1775. I have no desire, however, to overlook arguments, or suppress evidence, that can be urged against the likelihood of its being followed in this way. Thus Dodsley's Annual Register for 1774 (xvii, 48) says that the East India Company's attempted export of tea to America in 1773 rendered it extremely odious to the colonists, who said the Company was quitting its usual line of conduct and wantonly becoming the instrument of giving efficacy to a law which they detested. This odium no doubt existed, but it is open to question whether it would not have subsided by the end of 1775, when the Grand Union Flag was designed. The commencement of hostilities between British troops and the colonists would tend to divert this odium and focus it on the King's ministers and forces. The influence of Franklin may also, as already suggested, have been able to overcome any objection of this kind to the adoption of the Company's flag.(70)
Opinions are of course bound to vary as to the probabilities of the case. Apart from the difficulty of weighing the pros and cons from the few relevant facts available, differences of opinion may arise from preconceptions or proclivities that can unduly influence not only the ordinary "man in the street", but also the historian(71). If I have shown any bias in favour of the Company's flag, I am at any rate justified in relying on one qualification that no other rival can claim, viz. the fact of its being identical with the Grand Union Flag. That this was due to mere coincidence, without the designers of the latter banner being aware of it, seems to me improbable. But such a coincidence is of course possible and in that case the most likely suggestion seems to be that the Grand Union Flag was derived from another British flag, viz, the red ensign, which was of course well known in America. The designers are said to have decided on drawing six white stripes across the red field of this ensign to give thirteen stripes and so signify the union of the thirteen states that were opposing His Majesty's Government. This is favoured by at any rate two American writers on the stars and stripes of the American flag(72). Some support may also be said to be given to this view by a passage in Dodsley's Annual Register for 1776 (xix, 147). It states that the American forces in their lines before Boston during 1775 were enraged at a speech made by George III at the opening of Parliament and at the rejection of a petition made to Parliament by the continental congress, adding:
and they are said on this occasion to have changed their colours from a plain red ground, which they had hitherto used, to a flag with thirteen stipes as a symbol of the number and union of the colonies.
Colours with a plain red ground, based on the red ensign, do in fact appear to have been flown by separate American forces in 1774 and 1775.(73)
A third suggestion is that the Grand Union Flag came from the signal flag of red and white stripes that has already been mentioned. Thus P. D. Harrison
A flag worn by American vessels during the early part of the Revolution, composed of thirteen horizontal alternate red and white stripes alone, was an exact copy of a signal used in the British Fleet. This flag cantoned with the Union Jack of the United Kingdom would have been a counterpart of the continental flag; and it is not impossible, some writers say, that the American flag was formed in that way.
There is, however, reason to doubt whether this signal flag, as used in the British Navy in the eighteenth century, ever had as many as thirteen stripes, for the most that are mentioned by Perrin at pp. 162-6 is seven; but assuming that it, and its American counterpart, had this number of stripes, one can only say that, while it is "not impossible" that the Grand Union Flag was derived from it, there is no strong probability shown in favour of such an origin.
Stripes were of course common in flags, and various other striped ones have been suggested in this connexion, but with little plausibility. It has also been thought that the stars and stripes of the American flag were suggested by the Washington coat of arms, which were a white shield having two horizontal red bars, and above these a row of three red five-pointed stars. This theory is, however, now generally discredited.(75)
The present tendency in the United States is to treat the origin of the Grand Union Flag as a mystery, which is unlikely to be solved(76). And in recent publications about the "Stars and Stripes" no mention is made of the East India Company's flag. Thus the reference to it that appeared in the 1917 edition of Flags of the World by the National Geographic Society finds no place in the 1934 edition. This may be partly due to the doubt that has hitherto existed whether the Company's flag was the same as the Grand Union Flag; but now that it seems clear that the two flags were identical, I feel sure that better recognition will be given to the claim of the former. Even if the identity of pattern is due to mere coincidence, it is a fact which deserves to be noticed in any discussion as to the origin of the American flag. And as the Company's flag had a long and honourable history, no discredit can attach to the American flag from a connexion between the two colours. In any case I think my research about it has clarified some points that were previously obscure, or have been the subject of erroneous statements; and I trust the publication of this article may result in further light being thrown on the subject by others more competent than I am to discuss points about flags.
(1)Sir William Foster has suggested to me that the flag may possibly have been derived from that used by Portuguese merchant-vessels. According to Alexander Justice, Dominions and Laws of the Sea (London, 1705), this was one bearing alternate green and white stripes, with the Portuguese royal arms superimposed. The Portuguese in India established a system of granting passes to native vessels sailing under their protection, which was copied by the English. The former may have permitted country junks to use their commercial flag minus the royal arms, and the English may have adopted the practice, merely substituting red for green. It would be natural for the Company in that case to go one step further, and distinguish their own ships by the use of the national emblem (St George's cross) in the canton.
(2)English Factories, 1668-9, p. 67
(3)The Travels of Peter Mundly, 1608-1667 (Hakluyt edition), v, opp. p. 70. The sketch, which is in ink, clearly shows the stripes on the ensign of one of the ships in the foreground.
(4)A new account of East India and Persia, edition 1698, p. 24; Hakluyt edition, i, p. 74. Sir William Foster has pointed out to me that Fryer here refers to the flag in question being flown, not by Company's ships but by three country junks, which carried English passes, so that the flag they displayed may not have been the one with St George's cross in a canton, which would have been inappropriate for non-Christian vessels, but one with mere stripes on it. This, however, does not affect the fact that, according to Fryer, the Company's ensign was a ''striped" one.
(5) O.C. 104 and 147 reproduced in Letters received by the East India Company,11, 21 and 52; Co.'s despatch to Bantam 21 September 1671, Letter Book, iv, 478; Journal in O.C. 3902, under date 6 July 1673, referred to in Miss Sainsbury's Court Minutes, 1671-3, p. x.
(6)See for instance the picture of the Experiment in the frontispiece to English Factories, vol. I, new series.
(7) Catalogue of the Pepysian Manuscripts,III, 334; cf. Perrin, loc. cit. pp. 130, 131.
(8) Miss Sainsbury, Court Minutes, 1674-6, pp. 385, 392. The summary at p. 392 omits the important words "on this side of St Helena'', which are contained in the original copy in Letter Book, v, 392-3.
(9) Letter Book, v, 431, 486, 488, etc.
(10) Court Minutes, 1674-6, p. viii. The last such order will be found in Letter Book, v, 586
(11) Letter Book, ix, 52, 53, 55, 57.
(12) Cf. Perrin, loc. cit. p. 124. A red Jack, with a Union Jack in the canton, was expressly authorized for them in 1694 (ibid. p. 125).
(13) A commission under the royal warrant was issued in this month (Letter book, IX, 181). The above statement is corroborated by George White, An Account of the Trade to the East Indies (1691), who says, ''The commanders of the ships [i.e. East-Indiamen] had likewise the King's commission, with leave to wear the Royal Ensigns" (Reprint of 1772, P. 24, in India Office Library Tract, No. 174).
(14) Mr Basil Lubbock has kindly confirmed my statement as to the two flags.
(15) I am indebted to Mr Bonner-Smith for my attention being drawn to these plates.
(16) Tanner, Catalogue of the Pepysian MSS (N.R.S.), III, 325. Cf. Perrin, p. 130
(17) A red and white striped flag was in use as a signal to chase (Perrin, pp. 162-3), but this had no canton and would be hoisted only on the special occasions for which it was designed. Pepys, of course, was fully acquainted with the Navy's squadronal colours, red, white and blue, as shown by the table he drew up, which is reproduced by Perrin at pp. 96-7.
(18) Cf. Perrin, loc. cit. P. 71.
(19) Admiralty Office Minute and letter of 29 July 1707, copies of which are in Mr Perrin's notes now in the Admiralty Library. See also Perrin, p. 118.
(20) London Gazette, 4356. Cf. Perrin, pp. 71, 132.
(21) Thus the Minutes and reports of the Committee of Shipping (the records most likely to contain anything on the subject) previous to 1813 were recommended for destruction in 1860, and (except for some Minutes of 1685; and 1686) no such records now exist prior to 1802. See also Foster's Guide to the India 0ffice Records (1919), p.106
(22) The pictures are those numbered 36, 37, 40, 45, 46 and