The flags of the United States Navy carry deep symbolism and meaning, but have you ever wondered where their designs came from? It turns out that one of the most iconic symbols of the Navy, the American flag with the canton of 13 stars and stripes, was influenced by the Continental Navy Jack. This powerful symbol served as a rallying point for the young navy during the American Revolution and still holds significance today. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the history and symbolism of the Continental Navy Jack and how it influenced the development of the US Navy flag design.
History of the Continental Navy Jack
The Continental Navy Jack is an important part of American history that dates back to 1775. This flag was first raised on the Alfred, an American warship, at the beginning of the American Revolution. It featured 13 alternating red and white stripes and a rattlesnake with the words “Don’t Tread on Me” emblazoned across it. While many believe that this design was inspired by the Gadsden Flag, which is often associated with the American Revolution, the true origins of the Continental Navy Jack remain a mystery. What we do know, however, is that this flag played an important role in American naval history and ultimately influenced the design of the modern US Navy flag.
History of the US Navy Flag
The US Navy Flag, also known as the “Union Jack,” has a long and storied history. It evolved over time from the Grand Union Flag, which flew over George Washington’s headquarters during the American Revolution (source).
The design of the US Navy Flag features a blue field in the upper left corner with 50 white stars, one for each state, arranged in nine rows of stars. The remaining area of the flag is striped with alternating red and white stripes, symbolizing the original 13 colonies. This design was officially adopted as the US Navy’s flag in 1959, after three earlier revisions.
Prior to the current design, the US Navy used many different variations of flags. The first Navy Jack was introduced in 1775, featuring a rattlesnake and the slogan “Don’t Tread on Me,” which is also found on the Gadsden Flag (source). Other designs included the famous Betsy Ross Flag (source) and the Rhode Island Regiment Flag, which played a significant role in the Battle of Rhode Island (source).
The official US Navy Flag design history began in 1776 with the Grand Union Flag, which combined the British Union Jack with the 13 stripes representing the colonies. This was the first flag to fly over a US naval vessel. In 1777, the Stars and Stripes Flag, also known as the American Flag, was adopted by the Continental Congress as the official flag of the United States.
The US Navy continued to use the Grand Union Flag as their official flag for several years. In 1799, the Navy regulation required that the Union Jack be flown by American naval ships as a symbol of the new nation’s identity. The design of the Union Jack evolved over time, with the number of stars increasing as new states were added to the union.
In 1880, the design of the flag was revised to have the stars arranged in rows instead of a circle. This change allowed for the easy addition of new stars as new states joined the Union. The flag was again revised in 1916, but it was not until 1959 that the current design was officially adopted by the Secretary of the Navy.
The US Navy Flag has a rich history that spans over two centuries. It has evolved over time, with various designs and symbols representing the goals, values, and achievements of the US Navy.
Symbolism of the Continental Navy Jack
The Continental Navy Jack is a striking flag with its bold red and white stripes and a coiled rattlesnake in the center. The coiled rattlesnake is surrounded by 13 white stars on a navy blue background. The design was created in 1775 and carried by the ships of the Continental Navy during the Revolutionary War. The symbolism of the flag is powerful and multifaceted. The stripes represent the original 13 colonies, and the rattlesnake is a symbol used by Benjamin Franklin to represent the colonies’ determination to defend their territory against British aggression. The words “Don’t Tread on Me” emblazoned on the flag are a warning to any enemies of the United States that the country will protect its sovereignty fiercely. The Continental Navy Jack is a symbol of American independence, strength, and commitment to defending its principles.
Design and Colors
The Continental Navy Jack has a distinct design and color scheme that made it stand out during its time. Its design featured a jagged-edged blue field with 13 white five-pointed stars in the shape of a diagonal pattern. The stars were arranged in a way that formed two specific patterns. The top left corner had six stars forming a hexagon shape, while the bottom right corner had five stars forming a cross shape. The remaining two stars were positioned outside the two patterns on opposite corners of the blue field.
The color scheme of the Continental Navy Jack was also distinct. It had a navy blue field with white stars. This color scheme was not only aesthetically pleasing but also had significant symbolism that reflected the values and principles of the American Revolution. Navy blue represents loyalty, strength, and steadfastness, while white symbolizes purity, innocence, and vigilance.
This unique design and color scheme of the Continental Navy Jack have influenced the design of the US Navy flag, particularly the canton or the blue field on the top left corner of the flag. The current US Navy flag features a similar design of a blue field with white stars, albeit with a different arrangement. The blue field on the US Navy flag contains 50 stars, representing the 50 states of the US, arranged in nine rows of stars staggered horizontally and eleven rows of stars staggered vertically.
The design and color scheme of the Continental Navy Jack were both functional and symbolic, representing the ideals of the American Revolution while distinguishing the American Navy from other navies during its time. The colors and design have since been adapted and evolved to represent the current US Navy Flag, which nevertheless remains a symbol of American military power and excellence.
The colors and design elements on the Continental Navy Jack were chosen intentionally to convey a specific meaning. The red and white stripes were a nod to the thirteen colonies that declared independence from Great Britain. The naval jack featured a coiled rattlesnake clutching 13 arrows in its right talon and bearing the slogan “Don’t Tread on Me” on a yellow background.
The rattlesnake, in particular, was a popular symbol of resistance during the Revolutionary War era. Its ability to strike quickly was seen as a metaphor for the colonies’ ability to defend themselves against outside threats. The 13 arrows represented the 13 original colonies, while the message “Don’t Tread on Me” communicated the colonies’ commitment to defending their rights and liberties.
When the US Navy adopted the Continental Navy Jack’s design elements into its own flag, it also adopted the same meaning behind those design elements. Today, the rattlesnake is still featured on some Navy insignias, such as the badges of Navy divers and explosive ordnance disposal technicians.
The symbolism behind the Continental Navy Jack’s design is still relevant to the Navy’s mission today. The Navy continues to defend the United States against threats both foreign and domestic, and the message of standing up for one’s rights and liberties is just as important now as it was during the Revolutionary War.
Evolution of the US Navy Flag Design
The US Navy Flag has undergone several changes in design throughout its history. Early Navy flags had variations of the 13-star flag, with some including an anchor or eagle in the center. In 1866, the Secretary of the Navy established the official design, which featured a blue field with 38 white stars arranged in a circular pattern surrounding the national emblem. This design underwent changes in 1880 and 1959, with the latter bringing back the 13-star pattern but with a different arrangement. Each change in design was influenced by factors such as the need for improved visibility or modernization, but the underlying symbolism of the flag remained the same as a representation of American values and the nation’s naval power.
Early Navy Flags
The early flags of the US Navy were simple and straightforward in design, with no standardized design until 1777. Before this, ships in the fleet flew multiple variations of flags, including different versions of the British Union Jack and the Continental Colors. The first national flag of the United States, known as the Grand Union Flag, was also flown by ships in the navy from 1775 to 1777.
Following the adoption of the first official flag of the United States in 1777, the US Navy began to use this same design on its own flag. The early Navy flag included 13 stripes, representing the 13 original colonies, and a Union Jack in the upper left corner. The words “AN APPEAL TO HEAVEN” were also sometimes included.
During the War of 1812, a new design feature was added to the Navy flag by Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. He added a blue canton with a circle of white stars, similar to the design of the national flag at the time. This version of the flag, known as the “Perry Flag,” eventually became the official flag of the US Navy.
The early Navy flags represented a sense of unity and pride in the young nation. The use of the Union Jack and the 13 stripes on the flag tied the Navy to the rest of the country, while the addition of the stars on the Perry Flag reinforced the idea of a strong, united nation.
Creation of the Official Flag
The creation of the official US Navy flag began in 1775, when the Continental Congress authorized the construction of a navy to accompany the already existing Continental Army. At first, ships were instructed to fly various flags while sailing under the command of the new navy. However, it was soon realized that a standard flag was needed to represent the newly-formed naval forces of America.
In 1777, the navy’s first official flag, known as the Continental Colors, was created. It featured a field of 13 alternating red and white stripes, representing the original colonies, along with the Continental Union flag, which displayed a field of blue with 13 white, five-pointed stars arranged in a circle. The Continental Union flag was placed in the top left corner of the stripes and took up roughly one-third of the flag’s area.
The Continental Colors flag was used until 1795, when a new design was created in response to the addition of two new states to the Union. The new design featured 15 stripes and 15 stars on the Union flag. This version of the flag flew over several notable events in American history, including the War of 1812 and the assault on Fort McHenry, which inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
However, the 15-stripe flag was eventually deemed too cumbersome and difficult to reproduce accurately, and in 1818 Congress decided to return to the original 13 stripes while adding a star for each new state. This design, still in use today, features a field of 50 white, five-pointed stars on a blue background in the top left corner, with 13 alternating red and white stripes filling the rest of the flag’s area.
The official flag of the US Navy, which bears the same design as the national flag, today plays a significant role in military ceremonies and serves as a symbol of American maritime power and national identity.
The 1880 Design Change
The 1880 design change for the US Navy Flag marked a significant shift in its evolution. The change was the result of a significant redesign effort by Admiral George Dewey, who wanted to introduce a more modern and distinctive design that would distinguish the US Navy from other naval powers. The new design featured a blue field with 13 white stars arranged in a configuration that represented the original 13 colonies of the United States. The stars were arranged in a circle to symbolize the unity of the country, with one large star placed above them to represent national leadership.
Another significant aspect of the 1880 design change was the introduction of two red stripes on the flag’s fly end, in addition to the original white stripes. These stripes were intended to represent valor and sacrifice. The red color was chosen to symbolize the blood shed by those who had fought for the country.
The 1880 design change also featured some alterations to the previous design’s features. For example, the eagle facing the arrows and olive branch on the shield was changed to face towards the arrows, symbolizing a willingness to engage in war if necessary. The anchor, which had previously been placed below the eagle, was moved to be placed in the center of the design.
The 1880 design change represented a significant departure from the previous US Navy Flag designs. The introduction of the 13 stars on the blue field, the addition of the red stripes, and the alteration of various design features demonstrated a concerted effort to create a more modern, distinctive, and symbolic design.
The 1959 Design Change
In 1959, the design of the US Navy Flag underwent a significant change. This update was done in response to the launch of the first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus. The updated design was officially adopted by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on April 24, 1959.
The new design featured a bright blue background and a ⚓️ naval seal in the center, surrounded by 13 white stars in a circular pattern. The words “United States Navy” were added in bold white letters above the seal. The seal itself depicted a bald eagle with its wings spread, sitting atop an anchor, and clutching a striped shield in its talons. The eagle symbolized the United States, while the anchor represented the Navy. The shield was divided into three sections, each with its own symbolic meaning.
The top section of the shield featured an American Bald Eagle with outstretched wings, representing the country. The eagle clutched a cluster of arrows in its talons, a symbol of war. The middle section of the shield featured a naval vessel on a blue background, representing sea power. The bottom section of the shield featured an insignia of the United States Marine Corps, depicting an American Bald Eagle perched upon a globe and anchor, representing readiness to serve across the globe.
The design alterations were significant, updating the navy’s emblem to reflect its modern-day role and image. The use of stars, the bald eagle, and the anchor are longstanding symbols in US Navy history. They have become emblematic of the nation’s maritime power and were essential to the updated design. The new design served to maintain the traditional symbols while incorporating contemporary features, ensuring that the US Navy continues to be recognized as a powerful force, both past and present.
Continental Navy Jack Influence on Current US Navy Flag Design
The Continental Navy Jack, with its striking design and bold colors, has had a lasting influence on the design of the US Navy Flag. One of the most obvious similarities is the use of the 13 stripes, representing the original 13 colonies. The canton of the Navy Flag features a cluster of stars, which have increased over time as new states were added to the Union. This is similar to the cluster of stars in the upper-left corner of the Continental Navy Jack, although the number of stars varied depending on the number of colonies at the time. Additionally, the use of the “Don’t Tread on Me” phrase on the Continental Navy Jack has been carried over to the current flag in the form of the motto “Don’t Give Up the Ship,” which is prominently displayed on some versions of the flag. The influence of the Continental Navy Jack can also be seen in the design of other US Navy symbols, such as the Navy Seal and the Navy Jack, which both feature elements of the original design. The bold and iconic design of the Continental Navy Jack continues to inspire and influence the modern US Navy Flag.
Similarities in Design and Colors
When examining the Continental Navy Jack and the modern US Navy Flag, it’s clear that there are several similarities in design and colors that suggest a clear influence of the former on the latter.
Both flags use a dark blue field as their backdrop with a pattern of white stars in the canton, or upper-left corner. Additionally, the US Navy Flag includes stripes of alternating red and white across the rest of the field, while the Continental Navy Jack features the image of a coiled rattlesnake, bearing the motto “Don’t Tread on Me,” instead of stripes.
Despite this difference, the overall visual impact of the flags is quite similar, with the stark contrast between the dark blue and the white stars drawing the viewer’s eye. This similarity in design is not likely a coincidence, as the creators of the modern US Navy Flag would have been well aware of the symbolism and impact of the Continental Navy Jack.
The use of the rattlesnake on the Continental Navy Jack was intended to evoke a sense of American independence and strength. This same sentiment is carried forth in the modern US Navy Flag, which is seen worldwide as a symbol of American military power, dedication, and excellence.
It’s clear that the similarities in design and color between these two flags demonstrate a clear link between the Continental Navy Jack and the modern US Navy Flag. By drawing on the visual impact and symbolic power of the former, the creators of the latter were able to create a flag that has come to represent one of the most powerful naval forces in the world.
Use of the Jack in the Modern Navy
The use of the Continental Navy Jack extends beyond its influence on the design of the US Navy flag. Today, the Jack is still used in the modern Navy as a symbol of the United States’ naval heritage.
One way the Jack is used in the modern Navy is through its display on ships. According to naval regulations, the Jack is to be flown from the jackstaff on all ships during the following occasions: when anchored or moored, when underway, and on the national holiday of the Fourth of July. The Jack is also flown on all ships during times of war or national emergency.
In addition to its use on ships, the Jack is also incorporated into some Navy uniforms. Navy personnel have the option to wear a uniform with the Jack embroidered on the sleeve of the shirt or the back of the jacket. This not only serves as a nod to the Navy’s history but also provides a sense of unity and belonging to those who serve.
The Continental Navy Jack has also taken on a symbolic meaning in the Navy. It represents the Navy’s proud history and the sacrifices made by those who have served. It serves as a reminder of the long-standing traditions of the Navy and the important role it plays in protecting the nation’s interests.
The use of the Continental Navy Jack in the modern Navy showcases the importance of tradition and heritage in the Navy’s culture. It serves as a powerful symbol of the Navy’s history and the sacrifices made by those who have served. The Jack’s continued use in the Navy allows for a connection to the past while also serving as a source of motivation and pride for those who serve today.
After examining the history and symbolism of the Continental Navy Jack and the evolution of the US Navy Flag design, it is clear that the Jack has played a significant role in shaping the current flag. The striking resemblance between the Jack and the canton of the current flag suggests that the Jack was a source of inspiration for the final design.
The colors and symbols of the Jack, such as the rattlesnake and the “Don’t Tread on Me” message, embody the spirit of the early American navy and evoke a sense of patriotism and bravery. These same characteristics continue to be essential elements of the US Navy’s identity and mission today.
Furthermore, the influence of the Jack can be seen not only in the design of the flag but also in the continued use of the Jack itself. The Jack is still flown on US Navy ships as a symbol of pride and heritage, and as a reminder of the Navy’s crucial role in protecting American freedoms.
Overall, the Continental Navy Jack remains a prominent symbol of the early days of the US Navy and has had a lasting impact on the design and identity of the Navy today. Its continued use serves as a reminder of the Navy’s rich history and enduring commitment to defending the United States.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Continental Navy Jack and when was it created?
The Continental Navy Jack was a flag used by the Continental Navy during the American Revolution. It was first hoisted in December 1775.
Why did the Continental Navy use the Jack?
The Jack was used as a signal to identify American vessels and to show support for the cause of American independence. It was designed to reflect the patriotic spirit of the new nation.
What is the history behind the US Navy flag?
The US Navy flag has a long history dating back to the founding of the Navy in 1775. It has evolved over time to reflect the changing role and identity of the Navy.
What does the design and colors of the Continental Navy Jack represent?
The design features 13 white stars and 13 red and white stripes. The stars represent the 13 original colonies and the stripes represent the unity of the nation. The color red symbolizes valor and bravery, while white symbolizes purity and innocence.
How has the US Navy flag design evolved over time?
The early Navy flags were based on British naval flags. The first official US Navy flag was created in 1959. It featured the words “United States Navy” emblazoned on a blue background with gold fringe. In 1880, a new design was introduced which featured a blue canton with 13 white stars.
What was the significance of the 1880 design change?
The 1880 design change was significant because it incorporated the blue canton with 13 white stars, which was based on the Continental Navy Jack. This design change reflected a shift in the Navy’s identity towards a more patriotic and independent image.
Why was the 1959 design change made?
The 1959 design change was made to simplify the design and make it more recognizable from a distance. The new design features a blue background with the US Navy emblem in the center, which consists of an eagle and anchor surrounded by a rope.
What similarities can be seen in the design and colors of the Continental Navy Jack and the current US Navy flag?
The current US Navy flag features a blue canton with 50 white stars, which is similar to the blue canton with 13 stars on the Continental Navy Jack. The use of stars and stripes is also a common theme in both designs.
How is the Jack still used in the modern US Navy?
The Jack is still used in the modern US Navy as a ceremonial flag flown on special occasions, such as commissioning ceremonies and changes of command. It serves as a symbolic link to the Navy’s history and tradition.
What is the significance of the Continental Navy Jack’s influence on the current US Navy flag design?
The influence of the Continental Navy Jack on the current US Navy flag design serves as a reminder of the Navy’s patriotic roots and its role in the country’s fight for independence. It reflects the Navy’s pride and sense of identity as an American institution.