stem,inlargepart,fromthedifferenceintheirorigi-
nalfunction.HarrietWhite’sflagwasmadebya
groupofwomen,probablyasavolunteerprojectdur-
ingtheirleisuretime.Itwasapersonalizedgifttoa
groupoflocalsoldiersconveyinghonor,respectand
recognition.Theflagwasusedlightly,ifatall.Itwas
madefromsilkandthusintendedforuseinsideorin
awell-protectedoutsidearea.

The15-starflag,whichmeasuresapproximately

12¾feetby11feet,wasprobablymadeforpublic,
outdooruseatamilitaryfortoronasea-goingvessel
tomarkitasUnitedStatesproperty.Unfortunately,
wedonotknowwheretheflagwasoriginallyused.
The15-starflagismadefromwoolbunting,a
coarselywovenfabric,whichislightweightandresist-
anttomildew.Thestarsaremadeoutoflinen.

Whenthe15-starflagwasgiventothemuseumin

1995,itwasinpoorcondition.Givenitsageandits
probableuseoutside,theflagshowedlotsofwear—
itwasfadedanddiscoloredwithareasofstaining,it
waswrinkledandcreased,anditsufferedlossesof
materialthroughout.In1996and1997,theflagun-
derwent500hoursofconservationtostabilizeits
conditionandprepareitfordisplay.Textileconserva-
torsattheTextileConservationCenter,ledby
DeirdreWindsor,firstcleanedtheflagwithalow-
suctionvacuumandthenwetcleanedit,removingas
manystainsaspossible.Theareasoffabriclosswere
stabilizedwithpatches,usingfabricdyedascloselyas
possibletothecolorsoftheflag.Oldrepairsthat
werecausingdistortionswerecarefullyremoved.A
supportivebackingwasattachedtotheflag.Uponits
returnhometothemuseum,itwasplacedinaspe-
cially-constructedcaseintheFarrConferenceCen-
ter.Itissupportedonaslightly-angledbackboard
andhasspeciallowlightingtohelppreserveitfor
decadestocome.

Althoughwedonotknowwhereour15-starflag

wasusedoriginally,itisstillarareobject.Duringthe
early1800s,theAmericanflagwasnotunderstoodas
themeaningfulsymbolthatweknowtoday.Most
flagsweremadetoservepracticalfunctionsandused
bythegovernment.Duetotheirlargesizeandthe
factthattheyhadtobecompletelyhand-sewn,there
arefew15-starflagsaroundtodaythatweremade
whilethiswastheofficialdesign.Ahandfulof15-
starflagsfromtheperiodarerumoredtoexistin
AmericaandinBritain,butnotallhavebeendocu-
mented.Themostwell-knownexampleisthefamed
Star-SpangledBannerwhichhasbeenownedbythe
SmithsonianInstitutionsince1907.Thatflagflewat
FortMcHenryduringtheBattleofBaltimore,inthe

Warof1812,andinspiredFrancisScottKeytowrite
thewordstowhatwouldbecomeourNationalAn-
them.TheAmericanflagdidnottakeonthesym-
bolicsignificanceweknowtodayuntiltheCivilWar.
AsNorthandSouthweretornapart,fightingbattles
onAmericansoil,theflagstartedtobecomeanim-
portantsymbol.Afterthewar,asthenationbeganto
healitself,Americansimbuedtheflagwithvaluesof
patriotismandnationalidentity.

Throughoutthelate1800sandintothe1900s,the

flagwasusedbypoliticalcandidatesandsocialcritics
aliketosymbolizeavastnumberofideasandvalues.
Forexample,acampaignhandkerchiefforRepubli-
canrunningmatesBenjaminHarrison(1833-1901)
andLeviP.Morton(1824-1920)in1888employs
theflagtopromotetheircandidacy.Onthehandker-
chief,theflagissurroundedbybannerscitingele-
mentsofHarrison’splatform,“Protectionvs.Free
Trade,”“PensionsforSoldiers,”and“AidforFree
Schools.”TheuseoftheAmericanflagonthiscam-
paignhandkerchiefmayalsohavebeenasubtleallu-
siontoHarrison’srival,incumbentPresidentGrover
Cleveland,whowaspromisingtoreturncaptured
ConfederateflagstoSouthernstatesasashowofna-
tionalunity—apromisethatwasnotgreetedwith
acclaimintheNorth.

WhilethefamiliardesignoftheAmericanflag

wasformalizedin1818,itcontinuedtogiveflag
makersroomforindividualityintothelate1800s.
Anotherrareflaginthemuseum’scollectionhas

8

February2009/

TheNorthernLight

15-StarAmerican
Flag,1795-1818,
American,
NationalHeritage
Museum,giftof
JohnE.Craver,
95.021.
Photographby
DavidBohl.