How stars on state flags tell U.S. history

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It may not be easy to spot from a distance, but the number of stars on U.S. state flags matters. Following the original thirteen, all other states were admitted to the Union between 1791 and 1959. Count the stars and you’ll see that, for example, Indiana became the 19th state and Oregon the 33rd.

Ohio: The 17 stars in the Ohio flag symbolize that Ohio was the 17th state of the Union. Ohio was admitted in 1803, the fourth state after the original 13. The state flag was adopted in 1902. Its colors and 5-pointed stars come from the U.S. flag. The triangle and stripes suggest Ohio’s hills and valleys, roads and waterways. The white circle with the red disc is an O, the first letter in the state’s name, and also evokes the state’s nickname, “the Buckeye State”.

Indiana: The state flag of Indiana is dark blue with a gold torch surrounded by 19 stars. The 13 stars in the outer circle represent the original U.S. states. The biggest star with the state’s name in capital letters represent the state of Indiana which was admitted to the Union in 1816 as the 19th state. The torch stands for enlightenment and liberty. Indiana’s state flag was adopted in 1917, originally as the state banner.

Missouri: The State of Missouri became the 24th U.S. state when it was admitted to the Union in 1821. The Missourian flag was adopted in 1913. It is a horizontal tricolor of red-white-blue with the state seal in the middle. Both in the seal and surrounding the seal on the flag there are 24 stars showing that Missouri is the 24th state.

Arkansas: The state flag of Arkansas, adopted in 1913 and later modified, has a white diamond with a blue border on a red field. 25 white stars and four blue stars are arranged around the name of the state. The white stars on the diamond’s border represent the fact that Arkansas was admitted to the Union in 1836 as the 25th U.S. state. The blue stars represent the four nations that Arkansas has belonged to: Spain, France, the United States of America and the Confederate States of America. Arkansas was among the seceding states in 1861 and the colors and design of the state flag resembles the Confederate Battle Flag.

Minnesota: The first state flag of Minnesota is from 1893, the present version is from 1983. It is blue and has on it the state seal, the state’s name, the year 1858, 19 gold stars and a wreath of Pink and White Ladys’ Slippers, the state flower of Minnesota. The state was admitted to the Union as the 32nd state in 1858. The 19 stars on the state flag alludes to the fact that Minnesota is the 19th U.S. state following the original 13 states.

Oregon: There are 33 stars in the state seal of Oregon. They also appear on the obverse of the state’s flag together with the name of the state and the year 1859. Oregon’s is the only double-sided state flag in the U.S. On the reverse of the flag there is a beaver, the state animal. The state flag of Oregon was adopted in 1925. Oregon was admitted to the Union in 1859 as the 33th state.

Kansas: The state flag of Kansas is similar to that of Oregon. It is also dark blue and has on it the seal and name of the state. Above the seal there is a sunflower, the state flower. On the seal there are 34 stars because Kansas was admitted to the Union as the 34th state in 1861. The state flag is from 1927 and was modified in 1961.

Nevada: Nevada became a U.S. state in 1864 during the American Civil War. Hence the motto “Battle Born” on the state flag. The flag is dark blue and has a white star, representing the U.S. state born in wartime, and two sprays of sagebrush, the state flower of Nevada. The present version of the Nevada state flag is from 1991.

Utah: As so many other U.S. states Utah sports the state seal on a dark blue state flag. Some versions of this state flag, officially adopted in 2011, have exactly 45 stars divided between the two U.S. flags behind the shield in the middle of the seal. Utah was the 45th state to be admitted to the Union in 1896. The year 1896 appears on the seal together with the year 1847. The first Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.


Trooping the Colour 2017

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The Queen’s Birthday Parade in London on Saturday 17 June is the 65th of her reign. Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Sapphire Jubilee and this year it’s the 1st Battalion Irish Guards which troops its Queen’s Colour in the prestigious Trooping the Colour parade. 

Each battalion of infantry regiments in the British Army has two standards: the Regimental Colour and the Queen’s Colour.

A colour is a flag for military and ceremonial use mounted and fixed to a pike, usually with nails, and adorned with different kinds of embroidery, fringes and tassels, often with gold cords, and usually has a guilded ornament at the top of the pike. A colour is proportioned so it can be carried by one man.

The tradition of military units carrying large, colourful and elaborately decorated standards stems from the time when communication on the battlefield couldn’t be done any other way. “Trooping the colour” originally meant to parade the commander’s standard through the ranks of soldiers to let them know what to look for in the heat of battle.

In the UK there are five Foot Guards regiments: the Grenadier Guards, the Coldstream Guards, the Scots Guards, the Irish Guards and the Welsh Guards. The battalions of these five regiments take turns leading the Queen’s Birthday Parade which always takes place on Horse Guards Parade at St. James’s Park in London on a Saturday in June.

At the centre of this year’s Trooping the Colour is the Queen’s Colour of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards. On the crimson silk standard there are 21 woven battle honours. These are the names of battles and campaigns where the regiment has fought with distinction:

Retreat from Mons. Marne 1914. Aisne 1914. Ypres 1914:17. Festubert 1915. Loos. Somme 1916:18. Cambrai 1917-18. Hazebrouck. Hindenberg Line. Norway 1940. Boulogne 1940. Mont Pincon. Neerpelt. Nijmegen. Rhineland. NW Europe 1944-45. Djebel bou Aoukaz 1945. North Africa 1943. Anzio. Iraq 2003.

The Irish Guards was established in 1900 by Queen Victoria and the regiment has fought in both World Wars and other military conflicts. Guardsmen of the Irish Guard carry out guard duty at the royal palaces but also serve as ordinary infantry soldiers, in the UK and abroad.

The central element on the Queen’s Colour of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards is the crowned royal cypher of Queen Elizabeth II, E II R, surrounded by the collar of the Order of Saint Patrick with Irish harps, gold knots and red-white Tudor roses. The order’s badge, suspended from the collar, has a green shamrock on a Saint Patrick’s Cross i.e. a red saltire on white.

The Order of Saint Patrick was established in 1783 for the Kingdom of Ireland as an equivalent to the Order of the Garter in England and the Order of the Thistle in Scotland. The order still exists, but no knights of the order have been created for more than eighty years. Since the partition of Ireland the Order of Saint Patrick has been dormant and there are no plans to revive it.

The Irish Guard keeps the symbols of this order alive, however. Not only on its Queen’s Colour, but also the regimental badge of the Irish Guards is the star of the Order of Saint Patrick and the regimental motto is the same as that of the order: Quis Separabit? Who shall separate us?

Scottish Isle of Barra Mourns Teenage Terror Victim with Island Flag

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The Barra flag is not yet officially registered, but it enjoys a great deal of local support on the small island in the Outer Hebrides. The tragic death of a teenage girl from Barra in the Manchester Arena bombing has made the island’s green and white Nordic Cross flag more widely known.

A 14-year-old schoolgirl, Eilidh MacLeod, from the island of Barra in the Western Isles of Scotland was one of the 22 adults and children who were killed in the Manchester bombing on 22 May 2017. Her friend, 15-year-old Laura MacIntyre, also from Barra, was critically injured in the Islamist terrorist attack and is still fighting for her life.

A week ago today, on Monday 5 June, Eilidh MacLeod’s funeral service was held in the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea in Castlebay, the main village on Barra. Hundreds of mourners, many of them her relatives and childhood friends, participated in the funeral procession to Vatersay, a small island adjacent to Barra, where she was laid to rest.

Barra has a population of around 1,000. Vatersay, connected to Barra by a short causeway, is the southernmost inhabited island in the Outer Hebrides. The islands have a large percentage of Gaelic speakers and the Outer Hebrides, or Western Isles, comprise the only Scottish local government area with a Gaelic-only name: Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

For some time now a Nordic Cross flag has been in widespread but unofficial use on Barra. It is green with a white cross. Like other islands and traditional counties in the northern and western parts of Scotland the isle of Barra has found flag inspiration in its Norse heritage and cultural ties to Scandinavia.

The exact design of the island’s flag has not yet been decided. Hence the shade of the green colour and the shape of the cross still vary. In order to be official the Barra flag must be registered with the highest heraldic and vexillological authority in Scotland: the Court of the Lord Lyon.

A formal registration is to be expected at some point in the future. The effort to get the flag of Barra officially recognized is supported by Alasdair Allan, a minister in the SNP government and the member of the Scottish Parliament for the Western Isles since 2007. In 2016 he commented:

“The feeling at the initial meeting was that recognition of the flag would help boost the island’s marketing efforts as well as celebrate its unique identity. There is already widespread use of Barra’s flag which can already be seen flying from fishing boats, on local produce and on car stickers.”

When a chartered plane with Eilidh MacLeod’s coffin landed on the beach runway of Barra Airport on Saturday 3 June the coffin was covered in the Barra flag. The green and white flag of Barra was flying at half mast when the young girl’s funeral procession passed her local school two days later.


Read also The Flag That Could Have Been Greenland’s. Sven Tito Achen’s design for a Greenlandic flag in 1985 was also green with a white Nordic Cross.

Copenhagen 1892: Flags at the Royal Golden Wedding Anniversary

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The last time there was a royal golden wedding anniversary in Denmark was in 1892. A flag decorated Copenhagen celebrated the happy marriage of King Christian IX and Queen Louise. Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia, their daughter, may have inspired a peculiar Saint Andrew’s cross flag: a merger of a Nordic swallow-tailed flag and a Russian naval ensign.

This photograph from 1892 shows a festively decorated building on the corner of Vesterbrogade and Frederiksberg Allé, two streets in Vesterbro close to the centre of Copenhagen. A number of different flags can be detected, some of them quite out of the ordinary.

Most of the flags are Danish flags, a number of them swallow-tailed. These are not naval or state flags, though. Since the 19th Century the swallow-tailed Dannebrog (the so-called splitflag) has been in wide-spread unofficial use at wedding parties, birthday celebrations etc.

There are also Norwegian and Swedish swallow-tailed flags in the black and white photo (Sweden’s blue and yellow appear a little lighter than Denmark’s red and white). Erroneously, the Norwegian and Swedish flags have two swallow tails like the Danish flag. In Norway and Sweden three tails is the norm.

The white flags with a Saint Andrew’s cross appear to be some sort of Russian flags. A white flag with a blue saltire is the naval ensign of Russia. On the building in the picture, these unofficial Russian flags are swallow-tailed like the Nordic flags.

On 26 May 1892, Christian IX and Louise had been happily married for 50 years and had been King and Queen of Denmark for more than half that time. The golden wedding celebrations in Copenhagen lasted for days. Photos and paintings from the time show that streets and houses and ships were decorated with literally thousands of flags, put up by the authorities and by private citizens.

King Christian IX and Queen Louise were known as “Europe’s parents-in-law” because their children married into prominent royal families all around the continent.

Their eldest sons became King Frederik VIII of Denmark and King George I of Greece. Their youngest son, Prince Valdemar, was suggested as a possible king of Bulgaria in 1887 and of Norway in 1905. Among their three daughters, Alexandra was married to Britain’s King Edward VII and Dagmar was married to Russia’s Emperor Alexander III. She was known as Maria Feodorovna in Russia and was the mother of the last tsar, Nicholas II.

A large number of King Christian’s and Queen Louise’s children, grandchildren, relatives and in-laws as well as foreign dignitaries gathered in Copenhagen for the celebrations. The Russian imperial yacht, the Polar Star (in Russian, Полярная звезда), lay at anchor in the harbour. The vessel was in Copenhagen not only at this occation, but rather often in fact, as the Empress loved to visit her parents and always travelled from Saint Petersburg to Denmark by ship.

Manned and commanded by the Russian Navy the imperial yacht of course flew the Russian naval ensign. This fact may explain why the Saint Andrew’s cross would have been known and used by Copenhageners to represent Russia in flag decorations in 1892.

125 years later, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, a great-great granddaughter of King Christian IX and Queen Louise, celebrates her royal golden wedding anniversary. It was on 10 June 1967 that Princess Margrethe, then heir to the Danish throne, married Henri de Laborde de Monpezat, today known as Prince Henrik of Denmark.

Queen Margrethe and Prince Henrik have decided to celebrate their wedding anniversary in private with their family away from rolling TV cameras. So, there will be no public festivities in Copenhagen today and, it’s safe to say, far fewer flags than in 1892.