Rotary District 6920 Conference Main

American Revolution
In Coastal Georgia


Flags Over Coastal Revolutionary Georgia

Intro -- Travel back in time with me to the period of the American Revolution. I will display and describe flags that flew over Revolutionary Georgia, along with key personalities and events associated with each flag. But first, can you name the Flag that was flown over the American Colonies- including Georgia, longer than any other? -

Answer is the British Union Flag, or more commonly called the Union Jack --  Starting 175 years before the Revolution in Jamestown (1601) and Plymouth (1620), Americans pledged allegiance to the Union Flag, the official flag of British monarchs.


1--British Flags-Display: Union Flag & British Red Ensign

This Union Flag, with the red cross of St. George placed over the diagonal white cross of St. Andrew on a blue field, represents the Union of England, Wales and Scotland which occurred in 1606. As the official flag of the monarch- also called the King’s Colors, it served as the National flag of Great Britain and each of its Colonies-- including America. This Union Flag has been prominently displayed in Georgia since its inception, including here at Fort King George and at Fort Frederica on St. Simons.

Ensign” is the name of a flag which identifies the nationality of sea-going vessels. This British Red Ensign, incorporating the small Union symbol on a field of red, was displayed on all British man-of-war and merchant ships, and before 1776, on all American merchant ships—when it was called the Colonial Red Ensign. This flag was flown on Royal governmental buildings in the American colonies, including Savannah, prior to the American Revolution. I will explain how the Red Ensign was a precursor of several flags of Colonial protest as well as our first American flags.

Georgia flourished under the leadership of Royal Governor James Wright; the economy blossomed, the territory tripled, and an influx of new settlers greatly expanded the population. Georgians loved Governor Wright – AND King George III--until the Savannah Liberty Boys, encouraged by rebels in Massachusetts, began to disrupt the operations of The Royal government. Would you believe the Liberty Boys arrested Governor Wright and made him a captive in his own Residence?

One morning in March of 1776, two British warships appeared in the Savannah Harbor, both flying the Red Ensign. The ship’s Captain wanted to purchase rice for British soldiers in Boston, but the rebels fired on the British warships who then retaliated, in an action called, the Battle of the Riceboats. In the confusion, Governor Wright fled to the British ship, H.M.S. Scarborough and later sailed to England. (Wright Square in Brunswick is named for Royal Governor James Wright)

After the war bogged down in the North, the British Generals decided to implement their Southern Strategy. By mobilizing the Loyalist Militia in Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia, they expected to put down the rebellion, at least in the Southern colonies.  In late November 1778, Lt. Colonel Archibald Campbell and 3,000 British troops sailed from New York in a large flotilla of warships, all proudly flying the Red Ensign. Following the quick capture of Savannah, Governor Wright was able to return, after three years in exile, and re-establish the British Colonial government. Flying the Union Flag over official buildings in Savannah, the British implemented the first part their Southern Strategy. Two months later, when the British troops routed the Rebels at Brier Creek north of Savannah, they then controlled all of Georgia again, except for the “hornet’s nest” in Wilkes County. As Col. Campbell said: "I may venture to say I have ripped one star and one stripe from the rebel flag of America."

The Union Flag and Red Ensign continued to be displayed in Georgia until the British evacuation of Savannah in July 1782….Can you recall the name of the group which led the rebellious activities in Boston prior to the Revolution?

Answer is the Sons of Liberty- who also created an early American flag displayed in the colonies.

2-- Liberty Flags-- Display: Liberty, Taunton & American Liberty flags     

Joseph Warren, Paul Revere and Samuel Adams were among the members of the Sons of Liberty in Boston, or more commonly, called the Liberty Boys. Dedicated to colonial resistance, they protested the British Parliament’s punishment for what they called, our “Tea Party.”  The Liberty Boys organized mass rallies, first in Boston, and then in many different communities. Recognizing the need for a unique American flag, the Liberty Boys created this Sons of Liberty flag, and raised it on an Elm tree in Boston. When British soldiers cut down the tree, the flag was raised on a Liberty Pole, first in Boston and then throughout the colonies. The flag, also called Liberty flag with thirteen red and white stripes, signified the Unity of the Colonies against Parliament’s unfair duties and taxation, and was called the “Rebellious Stripes” flag by the British.

For over ten years, Liberty Boys met in Savannah to express their grievances against the British Crown. One of their meeting places, Peter Tondee's Tavern, was at the corner of Broughton and Whitaker streets. Have you heard of the “Savannah Sugar Party”? Disguised as sailors with blackened faces, the Liberty Boys went to the Battery, and recaptured sugar and molasses which had been seized by Governor Wright’s customs officials for non-payment of import duties.  Next, they liberated 600 pounds of gunpowder stored in the Royal Magazine. Then, the Liberty Boys raised the Liberty flag on a Liberty Pole in Johnson Square, and paraded under arms with fixed bayonets around the pole. Of course, “boys will be boys” —so they drank a series of toasts: first to “The King,” but second to “American Liberty.” This was the first Revolutionary flag displayed in the southern colonies.     (This Liberty Flag is displayed at the back of the historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Augusta along with other Revolutionary Flags.)

Unique Protest or Liberty flags appeared in each of the colonies—some with blue fields while others were red. On one, the Taunton flag, colonists defiantly defaced the British Red Ensign by adding “LIBERTY AND UNION” on its red field, reflecting the need to unify the 13 colonies.

The Liberty flag created in Georgia was a simple white banner with a red border and the words "AMERICAN LIBERTY" printed in bold red letters. A Georgia Navy Schooner, named Liberty and flying this America Liberty Flag, captured the first British vessel in Southern waters, a powder ship near Tybee Island. The Georgia Navy Galleys proudly flew this Liberty flag from their main mast when they patrolled the tidal rivers, including the Naval Victory at Frederica in April of 1778.

Based on Gov. Wright’s outstanding leadership, most Georgians favored King George, but news of the fighting at Lexington and Concord in 1775 caused alliances to dramatically change. Many Georgians joined those in other colonies to begin the Fight for Independence…………General George Washington needed a flag to celebrate the formation of the Continental Army.  Can anyone recall the name of that flag?

Inspired by the “Unity Stripes” of the Liberty flag, this flag—called Grand Union was created by adding six white horizontal stripes to the red field of the British Red Ensign. The Union symbol in the top left corner recognized the continuing sovereignty of Great Britain while the stripes represented the unified 13 colonies. Remember this was a year before Americans decided to declare Independence. Although never sanctioned by the Continental Congress, the Grand Union flag, also called Continental Colors, became the first American national flag. It was also raised on the Liberty Pole in Johnson Square in Savannah………I will describe two early American national flags, one of which became our first official flag.   


3--American National Flags- Display: Betsy Ross & Hopkinson flags

It took a month for the Declaration of Independence to reach Savannah, where the entire document was read in three large public gatherings—at the Assembly House, the Liberty Pole in Johnson Square, and at the Battery. There citizens marched around bonfires, carrying a coffin encased in the British Union Jack. These festivities signaled the official beginning of the American Revolution in Georgia.

The Grand Union, with its British symbol, was no longer acceptable, so at the request of a Continental Congressional committee, a Philadelphia seamstress, Betsy Ross prepared this flag in early 1776. One of the Committee members, General George Washington had showed her a design that included six-pointed stars, but she demonstrated how to cut a five-pointed star in a single snip and proudly unfolded the perfect star. This flag included the red and white unity stripes of the Grand Union flag, but the Union Jack was replaced with thirteen stars in a circle, signifying equality among the American states. This Betsy Ross flag was soon displayed in all the colonies- including at Savannah.

On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress authorized the First Official Flag:  “Be it resolved that the flag of the thirteen United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

Unfortunately, the resolution contained no illustration of the shape and arrangement of the stars. This led to wide interpretation, and flags were proposed with both five and six pointed stars that were arranged in rows, a square - and one with the thirteen individual stars creating one large star.

Congressman Francis Hopkinson designed a flag with six-pointed white stars in staggered rows in the blue canton with a red and white striped field. Congress approved the flag, commonly called the Hopkinson flag, as the First Official Flag of the United States of America. In a letter to Congress, Hopkinson stated that he had not requested compensation for the flag’s design, but “was now looking for a reward: a Quarter Cask of the Public Wine.”

When I gave this presentation to DAR Chapters last summer, I was asked,                            “why George Washington favored the six pointed star?” I learned that Washington did not want the public to think he recommended five-pointed stars which are featured on his family coat-of-arms. So he favored six-pointed ones.

Both the Hopkinson and the Betsy Ross flags became known as the Stars and Stripes, and were displayed at Fort Morris by Colonel John McIntosh during the British Demand for Surrender in November 1778 and during other Revolutionary battles in Georgia. Ironically today, the first official Hopkinson Flag is virtually unknown, but the unofficial       Betsy Ross Flag is the most widely recognized flag of the American Revolution. 

As you know, the British were our enemies, along with their German Hessian mercenaries. Can you recall which foreign country came to our aid and helped us win the Revolutionary War? –

Answer is The Kingdom of France.  Two key American Francophiles, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, were convinced that America’s fate was linked with the people of France, or better the money of King Louis XVI. Let me describe the two French flags and how the French assisted us during the Revolutionary War in Georgia.                                        

4-- French Flags- Banner of France & French White Ensign 

Starting in 1776, France, Spain and the Dutch Republic had secretly provided supplies, ammunition and weapons to Americans. A British invasion from Canada, ended in the capture of the British army at the Battle of Saratoga in New York in 1777. That American victory proved to be the turning point of the Revolution; it persuaded France and their allies to enter the war openly, thus balancing the military strength of Great Britain. The American Revolutionary War which began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Thirteen Colonies, gradually grew into a world war with Britain on one side and the newly formed United States, France, Netherlands and Spain on the other.  

Before the French Revolution in 1790, France had no official national flag, but the Royal Bourbon Government had many flags. The French Infantry fought under this Banner of France, a flag with a white field superimposed by three large gold fleurdelisé, which means “Flower of the Lily.” 

Paintings of the French naval fleet at Yorktown illustrate ships flying this French White Ensign- some with plain all-white banners with no discernible “charge” and others flying this flag with multiple small gold fleurdelisé (charges) in rows on the white field. (The plain all-white banner has become the flag to indicate surrender, and some – especially the British-- attribute that designation to the all-white French White Ensign, because of the frequent defeats of French military forces.)

In September 1779, almost one year after Savannah had been captured by the British, a squadron of French Navy warships flying the French White Ensign and commanded by Count Henri d’Estaing, arrived off the Georgia coast. Four thousand French Infantry carrying the Banner of France disembarked near Savannah, and were joined by 1,500 American troops under Major General Benjamin Lincoln, flying the “Stars and Stripes.”

Admiral d’Estaing demanded the immediate surrender of Savannah, but British General Augustine Prevost refused. d’Estaing’s month-long delay in commencing the combined Allied attack allowed Prevost to complete British defensive fortifications around the city.

The Franco-American frontal assault on the Spring Hill Redoubt, a location near the current Savannah History Museum, began in the early morning of October 9th. British artillery and musketry ripped the attackers. The French battle cry, “Vive le roi!"  was countered by the sounds of Scottish bagpipes.  British, Loyalist, and Hessian defenders cut down the few French and Americans who reached the parapet. The attackers were unable to get inside the redoubt, and the Siege of Savannah culminated in almost 1,000 Americans and French killed. After the failure of the Franco-American attack, British retained control of Savannah until their evacuation in July of 1782.

Although the Franco-American attempt to retake Savannah was a stunning defeat, a French naval victory near the Chesapeake Bay led to a siege by combined French and Continental armies, forcing British General Cornwallis to surrender at Yorktown, Virginia in 1781.                                                                            

5-- Regimental flags – Display two flags: Pulaski Legion & Fort Moultrie

Military units carried Regimental flags which were used extensively in recruiting and training. But their primary use was to signal the battle movements of units during the battle, and also to provide inspiration to rally troops at important points. I will describe two of the American Regimental flags displayed during the ill-fated Franco- American assault at Savannah which honorably reflect the actions of two heroes who were mortally wounded during the battle-- Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski and Sergeant William Jasper.

This is the Banner of the Pulaski Legion- On one side are the letters “U.S.” encircled with words (in Latin): “United in Virtue and Force.”  

On the other side, “No Allegiance to King” appears over the symbol of the “All-seeing Eye” with thirteen eight-pointed stars. The “Eye” signified that God favored the prosperity of the United 13 States. Moravian Nuns in Pennsylvania made the square banner of crimson silk for Pulaski, and attached to a cavalry lance, it was always carried in the vanguard of the Pulaski Legion.   

During the Siege of Savannah, General Casimir Pulaski, Polish-born commander of the Legion, received a mortal wound while conducting a reconnaissance in search of a breach in the British lines. Two days later, Pulaski, considered the “Father of American Cavalry,” died of his wounds.

This Flag (Fort Moultrie Flag) was commissioned by Colonel William Moultrie for the South Carolina Minutemen to prepare for war with Britain. A white heraldic symbol, like a crescent moon, is displayed with the word “LIBERTY” on a dark blue field.

During the battle of Sullivan's Island, this regimental flag fell when the bearer was killed, but Sergeant William Jasper, displaying great heroism, retrieved and hoisted the flag, claiming, “We cannot fight without a flag,” thus rallying the Patriots for the successful defense against the British fleet. When Fort Sullivan was renamed to honor Colonel Moultrie, the flag became known as the Fort Moultrie Flag and has evolved into the flag of the state of South Carolina.

Three years later during the Siege of Savannah, Sergeant William Jasper received a mortal wound while attempting to plant his regimental blue flag upon the British entrenchments. In Madison Square in Savannah, a dramatic monument portrays Sergeant Jasper’s attempt to raise the flag to motivate the American and French troops.      

The American Revolution greatly affected the hearts and minds of Georgians who sought to memorialize these two Patriots, General Casimir Pulaski and Sergeant William Jasper, by naming counties for them, along with 62 other figures evocative of these historic times. With this rich inheritance, Georgians demonstrate honor for the named Patriots, as well as the many other men and women who fought and supported the American Revolution.

Bill Ramsaur, Marshes of Glynn Chapter,  Georgia Society Sons of the American Revolution