Dec 26, 2013

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The Early History Of American Nautical Flags

Nautical flags have been around for centuries. They have announced to the world what country, state/province or person the ship is sailing under. Today, boat flags include a wide range of types. They may be formal, representing the naval services and country they serve. They may also be personalized – featuring the name of the boat or something similar. They can also be novelty boat flags featuring fish and/or funny slogans.

Early History

The first ship flags are said to originate with a piece of purple cloth torn from the garment of the Greek commander Themistocles. It appeared first in his battle against the Persians in 480 BC just off the coast of the island of Salamis. He used this “flag” to signal the Greek ships to attack. The Vikings also had boat flags. Their Viking ships sported them as early as AD 878. This was the famous Raven Flag. Leaf Ericsson sported this type of flag when he made his explorative voyages.

Other boat flags developed earlier and existed for different usage. Many sea faring nations used cloth as a means of communicating with each other. The Romans were among the first to carry nautical signal flags. They used them to indicate the current situation as well as needs and desires. Over the centuries a system developed. It was and is used to communicate between ships. Modern ships also sport a series of nautical flags to use in case of emergency.

Early American Naval Flag History

The Continental Navy flew a Naval Jack during the American Revolution. Their opponents flew their own Jack proudly as have other naval forces through time. These “boat flags” represent the naval forces of a particular country and are not duplicates of the national flag. Furthermore, throughout the history of the United States, Naval Jacks continued to display variations.

The confederate Army adopted a similar practice during the Civil War. The naval jack and battle ensign echoed the change of the national flag from the Northern States’ Stars and Bars to the Confederate’s Stainless Banner. Yet, each flag flown frequently displayed variations on a theme. Many related to the state from which the vessel had come.

During the 18th century, American war ships continued to fly a variety of flags. They were not homogenous. The symbols appearing on the flags included a pine tree (Massachusetts) and a rattlesnake (South Carolina). Merchant vessels of the same time period sported a flag bearing 13 stripes. At this time, the official American flag bore 13 stars and the same number of stripes.

Throughout the history of the United States, the navy has sported several different types of flags. They reflect ownership as well as pride in serving the nation, the Confederacy or Union and the state. Today, naval jacks comply with a code. However, civilian boat flags still feature a wide variety of colors, shapes and symbols.

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