Quiz: Do You Know Your New England Flags?

The region’s Revolutionary-era flags predate Betsy Ross’ landmark stars-and-stripes design.


Do You Know Your New England Flags?
Do You Know Your
New England Flags?

Here’s your chance to prove it.
The Continental Flag flew in New England during the Revolutionary War. You can catch a glimpse of it in a painting called The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill by John Trumbull, who earned the nickname the “patriot artist.” It’s also featured on the back of the uniforms worn by the New England Revolution soccer team.

Considered to be America’s first flag, the Grand Union Flag flew for the first time atop Prospect Hill in Somerville. George Washington raised the banner on the hill on New Year’s Day in 1776, after requesting Congress to create a new national flag—one that symbolized unity among the colonies in defiance of the British.
The Bunker Hill Flag looks startlingly similar to the Continental Flag, and it’s almost certainly on purpose. According to legend, the blue coloring occurred because of an error in a wood engraving of the design, which confused painters depicting the flag in their art. Painter John Trumbull is said to have featured the blue flag in another version of his piece, The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
The First Flag of New England is a twist on the English Red Ensign, which featured a St. George’s Cross in the upper lefthand corner. Here, the design incorporates a pine tree: a popular symbol of New England. This flag was often used by Colonial merchant ships sailing out of New England ports.
Political leader Roger Williams was an ardent proponent of the separation of church and state in Colonial America, which explains why this flag looks a bit strange. He preached about the “unchristian” version of the St. George’s Cross in the English Red Ensign, so Massachusetts Governor John Endicott ordered it removed. The result was this: the English Red Ensign sans St. George’s Cross.
The Green Mountain Boys, a militia organized in present-day Vermont and led by Ethan Allen, flew this starry green banner. It appeared during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars—today, it’s used as the regimental flag of the Vermont National Guard.
This banner, dubbed the Pine Tree Flag, was used by Massachusetts vessels in the Continental Army under George Washington. Washington’s secretary, Col. Joseph Reed, wrote a letter from Cambridge in October 1775 that requested the flag’s design.


“”Please fix upon some particular color for a flag, and a signal by which our vessels may know one another. What do you think of a flag with a white ground and a tree in the middle, the motto ‘AN APPEAL TO HEAVEN’—this is the flag of our floating batteries.”


New England flag images via Wikimedia/Creative Commons
The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill painting via Wikimedia/Creative Commons