|13 star flags have been flown throughout our nation’s history for a variety of purposes. They were hoisted at patriotic events, including Lafayette’s visit in 1825-26, the celebration of the nation's centennial in 1876, and the sesquicentennial in 1926. They were displayed during the Civil War, to reference past struggles for American liberty and victory over oppression, and were used by 19th century politicians while campaigning for the same reason.
As the number of stars grew with the addition of new states, it became more and more difficult to fit their full complement on a small flag. The stars would, by necessity, have to become smaller, which made it more and more difficult to view them from a distance as individual objects. The fear was that too many of them close together would become as one white mass and distort the ability to identify American ships on the open seas. Keeping the count low allowed for better visibility. For this reason the U.S. Navy flew 13 star flags on small boats. Commercial flag-makers mirrored this practice and some private ships flew 13 star flags during the same period as the Navy.
Flag experts disagree about the precisely when the Navy began to revert to 13 stars and other low counts for this practice. Some feel that the use of 13 star flags never stopped, which seems to be supported by depictions of ships in period artwork. This was, of course, the original number of stars on the first American national flag, by way of the First Flag Act of 1777, and equal to the number of original colonies that became states. Any American flag that has previously been official, remains so according to the flag acts, so it remains perfectly acceptable to fly 13 star flags today by way of congressional law.
Since there was no official star configuration until the 20th century (1912 specifically), the stars on 13 star flags may appear in any one of a host of configurations, some of which are more rare and desirable than others. The stars of this particular flag are arranged in a circular wreath of 12 with a large star in the center. This basic configuration, whether oval or circular, has come to be known as the "3rd Maryland Pattern". The design is very desirable due to both its visual attractiveness and the scarcity of its use. The name comes from a flag that resides at the Maryland State Capitol in Annapolis, long thought to have been present with General Daniel Morgan at the Battle of Cowpens in 1781. According to legend, the flag was supposedly carried by Color Sergeant William Batchelor of the Maryland Light Infantry and was donated to the State of Maryland by Batchelor's descendants. The story was disproved in the 1970's, however, following an examination by the late flag expert Grace Rogers Cooper of the Smithsonian, who discovered that the Cowpens flag was, at the earliest, of Mexican War origin (1846-48).
Among flag collectors and enthusiasts, however, the name "3rd Maryland" stuck to the design. A similar flag, in the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of History & Technology, was carried by the Maryland and District of Columbia Battalion of Volunteers during the Mexican War. So the name does have known applicability to another Maryland regiment. This star pattern is most often seen among surviving examples that date to the mid-19th century, roughly within the Mexican War to Civil War time frame (1846-1865). It was also revived in commercially small scale, commercially-produced within the 1890-1920's time frame.
This particular flag was probably made during the Civil War. Its purpose was probably to be flown on a small craft that ferried sailors back-and-forth to shore, or to be flown on the gaff or yard arm or a larger vessel, or perhaps on the pilot house as the captain's own flag.
The stars of this example have an extraordinary feature. Across the thousands of wool bunting flags that I have seen that date to the 19th century, the tiny stars in the circular ring of 12 are the smallest that I have ever encountered. Hand-sewn and single-appliquéd with brown cotton or linen thread, they are endearingly beautiful.
Like most flags with wool bunting stripes and a wool bunting canton, the stars of this flag are made of cotton. There is an open sleeve along the hoist made of heavy cotton twill. The name "L.S. Stone" is written along the hoist with a dip pen. This would be the name of a former owner. It was common to mark flags in such a manner throughout the 19th century to indicate ownership.
The small scale of the flag itself is also extraordinary among known examples of the period. This is a very desirable trait. Prior to the 1890’s, most flags made for extended outdoor use were very large. Those with sewn construction were generally eight feet long and larger. This is because flags needed to be seen from a distance to be effective in their purpose as signals, while today their use is more often decorative and the general display of patriotism. Smaller examples exist, but they are unusual. A six-foot example is small among flags of those that pre-date 1890, and they smaller they are, the rarer they are. Measuring just three feet in length on the fly, this one is particularly tiny. Because 19th century sewn flags can be cumbersome to frame and display in an indoor setting, many collectors prefer small examples, like this one.
Due to a combination of the star pattern, the tiny stars, the small scale of the flag, the Civil War date, and its attractive visual qualities, this is both a beautiful and highly desirable example among 13 star flags of the mid-19th century.
Mounting: The flag has been hand-stitched to 100% silk organza on every seam and throughout the star field for support. The flag was then hand-stitched to a background of 100% cotton, black in color, which was washed to remove excess dye. An acid-free agent was added to the wash to further set the dye, and the fabric was heat-treated for the same purpose. The mount was then placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic.
Condition: There is minor mothing throughout and there is very minor foxing and staining along the hoist binding. There is some bleeding in the signature. Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.