Long May She Wave: The 15-Star Flag

Fifteen-Star Flag, 1794-1818. Gift of John E. Craver, 95.021.

Long May She Wave: The 15-Star Flag

One of the treasures of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library’s collection, the 15-star flag dates from the same era as the Star-Spangled Banner – the flag that inspired our national anthem.

Donated in 1995 by John E. Craver, this flag, made between 1794 and 1818, had been passed down in his family for generations. At 11 feet by 12 ¾ feet, it likely flew over a military fort or on a vessel to mark them as U.S. property. We do not know who made the Museum’s flag or where it flew.

The Museum’s 15-star flag is made of wool bunting, a lightweight, mildew-resistant, coarsely woven fabric. The blue canton, is colored with indigo. This dye, common during the late 1700s and early 1800s, provided a deep, permanent color. The red stripes are dyed with an unknown colorant. The stars are linen. In 1996 and 1997, conservators worked 500 hours to stabilize the flag and prepare it for display. Low-level display lighting helps preserve the flag.

The United States Flag
Congress approved the first official U.S. flag in 1777. In 1794, President George Washington (1732-1799) signed the Second Flag Act. It mandated 15 stars and 15 stripes – the number of American states at the time – but did not specify design details like the arrangement of the stars. The Museum’s flag has only 14 stripes; one has been removed, probably due to deterioration, or by a souvenir seeker. The 15 star and 15 stripe design remained official until 1818, when legislators adopted the 20-star flag, choosing to add one star for each new state, while keeping the number of stripes at 13. This same basic design is still used today.

The Star-Spangled Banner
The Museum’s 15-star flag is one of only a few existing flags made between 1794 and 1818. The most famous of these – the Star-Spangled Banner – flew at Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 and inspired Francis Scott Key (1779-1843) to write the words to what is now the National Anthem. Mrs. Mary Pickersgill (1776-1857) stitched that flag in 1813 to mark Fort McHenry as American property. A descendant of Fort McHenry’s commanding officer gave that flag to the Smithsonian Institution in 1912.

Learn More About The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library’s 15-Star Flag