New Castle, Delaware
Community History and Archaeology Program 

With permission of owner E. Hargraves, Photo by J Meek

Flags over New Castle

When le Blanc made a drawing of New Castle's Waterfront on July 4, 1797 patriotism in the 20 year old country must have been popular. At least 6 flags are visible in the drawing, 4 of them with some detail. What were they?

The flag on the ship's mast at the end of Packet Alley seems similar to modern U.S. flags-- 13 strips (7 red and 6 white) and a blue field (canton). The picture does not show enough detail to see whether there were 13 stars in a circle (the 'Betsy Ross flag') or similar ones popular in the 1790's with 5 rows in a 3-2-3-2-3 pattern or 3 rows (4-5-4). Whether Betsy actually created the 5 pointed star flag is uncertain. She did have a New Castle connection. Her first husband John Ross(with whom she eloped across the river to NJ) was a grandson of George Ross rector of Immanuel Church and niece of George Read Sr. The flag clearly does not have the 15 stripes of the official flag of 1795 when Vermont and Kentucky were added to the union -- the Star Spangled Banner that flew over Ft. McHenry in 1814.
The Eagle Standard (?)

Another flag flew over a house on the Strand, perhaps what is now 22 or 24 The Strand. This flag has 13 stripes and a white field (canton) with something somewhat cross shaped. While not detailed enough to be sure, it seems unlikely to be well known motifs of the revolutionary era-- a rattlesnake, pine tree or St. Georges Cross. The closest thing is an eagle, like that of the General Schuyler flag or perhaps a flag of the Society of the Cinncinati. This society of revolultionary officers and their descendents was named after Roman general Cinncinatus not the city in Ohio!
The flag flying from the mast of this boat might conceivably be either a state flag, or a 'house flag' of the owner or company or shipping line. It does not match the current Delaware state which dates from 1913. The Delaware Public Archives collection has a photo of a regimental flag from the civil war similar to the current state flag. They have no records of a state flag earlier than the 1876 centential.

The Flags Of The World web site lists many hundreds of U.S. shipping line house flags, many dating back to the clipper ship era, but none appear to match this flag. Etiquette dictates that house flags should fly at the mainmast head; ensigns (national or state flags) at a stern pole at anchor or from a gaff peak while underway.
This pennant is similar to the 'commisioning pennants' flown by all USN vessels since the start of the revolutionary war, although the boat is apparently a non-military packet boat carrying two women and two children. In the navy, the pennants grew in length with the size of the ship, reaching up to 70 feet long in the 19th century.

Contact:   james.l.meek[-at-symbol-]gmail.com; (302)-326-1275