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Flags for the Forts

On November 30, 1776 Ebenezer Stevens, Major of the artillery stationed at Ticonderoga, prepared a return of “Ordnance and Ordnance Stores” wanted by the Northern department. Amongst his requests were two flags or “standards” for the twin citadels of Ticonderoga and Mount Independence. Stevens requested massive flags, easily seen at a distance, measuring 30 by 45 feet—larger than the famous “Star Spangled Banner” that waved over Fort McHenry. Records of supplies issued out to the garrisons in 1777 indicate that two flags were, in fact, provided to the artillery and artificers on February 28, 1777. These flags would have flown over the forts as they prepared for a British attack, driving up the lake from Canada under the command of John Burgoyne. As the British closed in on Ticonderoga, American forces made the decision to abandon the posts. Leaving their flags flying, British forces tore down the American colors and replaced them with their own. General Simon Fraser’s advanced guard raised the colors of the 9th Regiment of Foot over the stone battery at the point of the Ticonderoga peninsula and Mount Independence, while the first flag to fly over the old French fort itself was that of the Brunswick Regiment Prinz Friedrich.

What did these American flags look like?

John Riley’s Powder Horn drawing
John Riley’s Powder Horn December 17, 1776 PH-032 Fort Ticonderoga Museum

The clerk recorded the issuance of the flags, but did not provide any details on their appearance. Ebenezer Stevens had requested flags with, “the ground work blue.” Such flags appear to have flown over Fort Ticonderoga in early 1777, and are depicted on a powder horn belonging to Lieutenant John Riley in Fort Ticonderoga’s collection.  Riley was from Wethersfield, Connecticut and served in Colonel Burrall’s Continental Regiment from that state over the winter of 1776-1777. His powder horn, dated December 17, 1776, depicts the works on Mount Independence, where he was stationed, and Ticonderoga. Made before the flags of 1777 were received, flying above what is labeled as “Ty Fort” is a large flag. The flag on Riley’s horn is a plan field, or ground, perhaps meant to depict a blue field as Stevens’ had requested, with the British union flag in the canton.

Blue Ensign
Bowles’s Universal Display of the Naval Flags of All the Nations in the World. Printed in London, 1779 Catalog #1107 Fort Ticonderoga Museum

It is likely given this illustration and the request from Ebenezer Stevens that the large flags flown at Ticonderoga and Mount Independence in 1776 and early 1777 were similar to that depicted on Riley’s horn. The British union flag, on a field of blue, essentially the same as the British “blue ensign” that is illustrated in Bowles’s Universal Display of the Naval Flags of All the Nations in the World, printed in 1779.  Interestingly enough, one of the colors captured from the 2nd New Hampshire Regiment in July of 1777, also consisted of a blue field, with the British union flag in the canton, although with a regimental emblem at the center. One German account of the fall of Ticonderoga describes two flags, one red and one bearing thirteen red and white stripes, although it is unclear if these were the same that were issued in February. Some version of the blue ensign does seem to have flown at Ticonderoga over its final year in American hands. Hardly a Revolutionary flag, the blue banner suggests the tension that still existed within the new United States between their British heritage and their future as an independent nation.