In the 1800’s, our country was in its first century of development. We wondered, what did flag designs consist of during this time? Do time and style transitions have an effect on flag design? Or does history itself influence the way a flag is designed? We were curious. So we broke up state flags by decades to see the change and variation in design.
Starting with the 1800’s, we observe the designs of eight different state flags during that time to see what they have in common, if anything.
Hawaii – 1845
The Hawaii flag is the only state flag to feature the Union flag of the United Kingdom, a reflection of Hawaiian history when it was associated with the British Empire. The canton of the flag contains the Union flag of the UK. The field of the flag is composed of eight horizontal stripes symbolizing the eight major islands.
South Carolina – 1861
The flag of South Carolina is based off of one of the first Revolutionary War flags. In 2001 South Carolina’s flag was ranked 10th best designed state flag by the North American Vexillological Association. This flag holds a white crescent in the canton and a white palmetto tree on an indigo field.
North Carolina – 1885
North Carolina’s flag was designed by a former Confederate soldier and state Adjutant General, Johnston Jones. In 1885, Jones’ introduced a bill to replace the red field of the old flag with a blue field. The flag holds the dates of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence (May 20, 1775) and the Halifax Resolve (April 12, 1776). This is the first flag to introduce gilt (gold-color) to its flag colors.
Mississippi – 1894
Mississippi’s flag, while under much controversy lately, went under several adoptions before settling on the 1894 design. The flag is red, white and blue and has a red square union topped with a blue X lined with 13 five-point stars. The 13 stars symbolize the original states in the Union. The field of the flag is divided into one-third sections of blue, white and red (from top to bottom).
Alabama – 1895
The Alabama flag is represented by a crimson cross of St. Andrew on a field of white.
New Jersey – 1896
The Great Seal of the State of New Jersey is the central motif of the New Jersey Flag. The seal contains a horse’s head atop a helmet to represent New Jersey as a self-governing state. Beneath is a shield holding three plows within it representing why the state’s nickname is “Garden State”. The goddesses embody the state motto of “Liberty and Prosperity”. This is the first flag to not solely been a variation of the colors red, white and blue.
On the Connecticut flag stands a white baroque shield with three grapevines with bunches of purple grapes on each. The banner below the shield translates from Latin to “He who transplanted still sustains”, the state motto. The flag field is azure blue and flies at 5.5 ft tall and 4.33 ft wide.
The Rhode Island flag again has the state motto on it; “HOPE” written in gold inspired by the biblical verse “hope he have as an anchor of the soul”. Above the motto is a golden anchor, both are surrounded by the 13 stars to represent the 13 colonies and Rhode Island’s position as the 13th state to ratify the Constitution. The flag is frequently depicted with golden fringe around the edges while the field of the flag is white.
Now that we have observed these eight flags of the 1800’s, a pattern seems to follow the first 49 years in the shape of red, white and blue themed flags. After 1894, flag designs started to shift and embody the states unique qualities such as their state mottos and seals.