13 Star Boat Flag & 1st US Navy Aviation Insignia

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13 STAR US NAVY SMALL CRAFT –

“BOAT FLAG”

13 Star Boat Flag full size image

The size of this flag corresponds to a Navy Ensign No.
11 of 1870

 SIZE: 98″
inches on the fly by 50 inches
on the hoist,  a ratio 1:1.8
=18px”>

It
has  been five years, almost six since we had a proper Boat Flag to offer. This one is a
 U.S. Navy Small
Craft flag which is frequently referred to incorrectly as a “Boat Flag”. This terminology was last used by
President William Howard Taft in Executive Order No. 1637, on October 12, 1912 when he proclaimed:

“Boat
Flags”: In order that the identity of the stars in flags when carried by small boats belonging to the Government may
be preserved, the custom holding in the Navy for many years, of thirteen (13) stars for boat flags, is hereby approved.”
President William Howard Taft, Executive Order No. 1637, October 12, 1912.

By 1916, the United States Navy discontinued the long standing custom of using these smaller number of stars
on the flags of so called small craft which by the time of WW I were no longer authorized. Their original purpose
was so the US Colors would be easy to recognize from a distance at sea which the fewer number of
stars on a blue canton made possible.
 

Two of the hand stiched Stars image

CONSTRUCTION & CONDITION: Made from cotton flag bunting with seven red stripes
and six white. The canton is a blue background with rows of 3 2 3 2 3 stars which is the pattern used by those made in US
Navy Yards. The stripes are stitched by machine and the stars are applied by hand. There are no brass grommets because
a bolt rope was originally rigged though the sleeve formed by the head band of the flag where it was held in place along the
hoist by five hand sewn eyelets using small stuff for whipping. The hoist band is sewed by hand and there is a hand
sewn seam through its horizontal center. There also is a hand sewn square patch on the canton’s upper left.

There
are two moderately sized holes just aft of the canon and a string of seven small holes all in a vertical line.
Considering service at sea and its age ashore, even with its holes, the flag should be considered a “find”
by an astute collector.
 

Canton of 13 Star Boat flag image

PROVENANCE:
The flag is a small ship’s flag, circa
1870 according to Navy specifications for a Number 11 ensign, and is frequently referred to as a “Boat Flag”.
It w
as found in the attic of the house at the end of the Delano’s stone wharf
on Kingston Bay, Kingston, Massachusetts that was was built in 1803 . Later it was stamped in two places by
a subsequent owner, E.E. Truesdale. Truesdale was the superintendent of the Webster, Pembroke and China Mills in Suncook,
New Hampshire from 1870, until about 1885. He owned a general store in Suncook and was also a New Hampshire State
Representative from 1879-80, and State Senator in 1887-88.

 

Trusdall's stamp on the canvas header image
 HISTORY OF 13 STAR FLAGS IN THE US NAVY:  

USS Ironsides flying a 13 Star Boat Flag imageRecognized flag authority, David B. Martucci, says, “The thirteen star U.S. Navy boat
flag seems to have originated in 1862 (based on the surviving boat flag of the U.S.S. Ironsides, which was
launched that year and sunk in 1864). The 1863 Navy Regulations list five sizes in the “boat flag” category, with
fly dimensions respectively of 5, 6, 7, 8 and 10 feet. (These sizes continued in force until at least 1880, as they are listed
in Preble’s second volume.) From the period of 1862 to about 1870-1875, the boat flags bore the thirteen stars in three
horizontal rows of 4-5-4. The date of transition to the most common pattern is not yet known, but the launch of the U.S.S.
Saginaw
(which was sunk in 1870) still used the 4-5-4 pattern.”

 Somewhere in the 1870’s
the Navy changed the star pattern of the U.S. Navy “boat flags” to five horizontal rows of 3-2-3-2-3. This star
pattern continued in this style until the “boat flag” was discontinued in 1916.” Copyright by David
B. Martucci 
 

Readers please note: The two ships that Martucci says were known to fly the 13 Star
Flag referred to above were not “BOATS”, they were full size warships of their day. They were not even small craft
considering the size of comparable vessels. The USS Ironsides was renamed on launching “New Ironsides”
to distinguish her from the Frigate USS Constitution which is referred to as OLD IRONSIDES. The New Ironsides
was a first generation ironclad of 3580 tons displacement, had a speed of 10 knots, and was 255 feet long, with a beam
of 56 feet, and a draft of 12 feet. Victim of a galley fire, she sank in 1866. BTW, the USS Constitution is of 2200 tons
displacement and 203 feet in length is still in service in Boston Harbor.
 

Also referred to by Martucci, the USS Saginaw, photo at right,  was commissioned in 1860, a sidewheel steamer of 453 tons, she had a
length of 155 feet. After serving in the Pacific Squadron for years and after spending the Civil War years patrolling the
West Coast of North America she returned to the Pacific where she sank after hitting a reef in October, 1870.

We
are puzzled by all references to the 13 Star flag as a “boat flag“. Clearly they were used on ships. The
Naval Historical Center in Washington DC refers to it as “a flag specifically for use by small craft
and boats.” Emphasis added. This at least is evidence that the term “boats“ is not meant to be inclusive.

FIRST USE OF MARKING ON A WAR PLANE took place at Vera Cruz,
Mexico in April, 1914 on two Curtis Navy Type C flying boats
.
 


 

CHRONOLOGY OF 13 STAR NAVY SMALL CRAFT FLAG DESIGN: Years:  

1870-1885

stars in canton do not “point” in any consistent direction.

1885-1890

marking on heading lists the size of the flag, e.g. “U.S.E. No. 8”; brass grommets (dated 1884) replace
hand whipped button holes or plain grommets.

1890-1900

stars are oriented in common directions; rows of 3 “up,” rows of 2, “down;” the heading is
now marked with size, location of navy yard where the flag was made and the date (month/year) of production.

1900-1916

stars all oriented “up,” dates no longer appear on brass grommets, stars applied to canton with machine,
zig-zag stitch
.

 FLAT RATE SHIPPPING to the 48 contiguous
States $75.00

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Established in 2003

Celebrating 18 Years of Exellence in Nautical Antiques