1968 6¢ Historic American Flags: Grand Union
US #1352 – from the Historic American Flags Issue

On December 3, 1775, the Grand Union flag was reportedly flown for the first time.

The Continental Colors flag, also known as the Grand Union, the Congress Flag, the Cambridge Flag, and the First Navy Ensign, is considered the first national flag of the United States.

1968 6¢ Grand Union Flag Classic First Day Cover
US #1352 – Classic First Day Cover

It’s unknown when the flag was designed, or by whom, but by late 1775, the United Colonies recognized a need for their own banners.  Continental Army, Navy, and Marine forces needed a flag that would be easily distinguished from Britain’s Red and White Ensigns carried aboard ships and the Flag of Great Britain used by troops on land. 

1968 6¢ Grand Union Flag Fleetwood First Day Cover
US #1352 – Fleetwood First Day Cover

The Grand Union flag was easily created by sewing white stripes onto existing British Ensign flags.  The Grand Union’s 13 alternating red and white stripes represented the original colonies as our flag’s stripes do today.  The British Union flag of the time was included in the upper left corner.  This was a symbol of colonial loyalty to the crown and British laws.  It shows the colonies originally wanted peace with England, but a fair representation in government.

1936 1¢ Army and Navy: John Paul Jones and John Barry
US #790 pictures John Paul Jones and John Barry.

The flag was first flown aboard the Continental ship, Alfred, on December 3, 1775 (some sources say December 2).  Lieutenant John Paul Jones commanded the ship shortly after he received his first commission.  At the time, the ship was in the harbor on the western shore of the Delaware River at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  This event marked the first time an American flag was raised over an American naval vessel.

2000 33¢ The Stars and Stripes: Continental Colors
US #3403d from the 2000 Stars and Stripes sheet
1979 15¢ John Paul Jones
US #1789 was issued as part of the Bicentennial Series.

On January 1, 1776, Commander George Washington reportedly hoisted the flag near his headquarters in Cambridge.  The Continental Army was besieging the city of Boston at the time.  When the British troops within the city saw the flag, they thought it was a sign of surrender. 

The flag was used until June 1777.  After that, the Flag Act of 1777 dictated that 13 stars be added to the upper-left corner to represent each of the colonies.

2000 33¢ Continental Colors Fleetwood First Day Cover
US #3403d – Fleetwood First Day Cover

Discover what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. Thanks for the refresher on our early history of our first flag. We don’t want to forget our beginnings or take for granted the trials of how we became Americans!! Thanks again for article.

  2. Thank you very much for this valuable histoty lesson today. I read them all. Every day. I look forward to them and my interest in U.S. history is supplemented by these daily lessons. Thank you so much. They are very appreciated. Good work. Thank you forvyour efforts

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