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Jun 17, 2019 9:35 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East End May Lay Claim To The First American Flag

Jun 18, 2019 2:34 PM

Betsy Ross sewed the seams of the first American flag—13 alternating red and white stripes, with 13 five-pointed stars on a blue background in the upper left corner, representing the original 13 colonies seceding from British rule.At least that’s the way the story always has been told.

In 1929, a worn trunk on its last legs was found in a dilapidated barn that was about to be torn down, having been purchased from the Hulbert family by the Topping Rose family. The barn was located on the corner of Main Street and the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike, on the property on which the Topping Rose House sits today.

In that trunk rested a frayed and tattered flag, folded neatly, as if someone had purposely put it there. That ragged flag—with 13 red and white alternating stripes, and 13 stars on a blue background in the upper left corner—bore an uncanny resemblance to what many considered at the time to be “the first American flag.”

With one big difference: It came nearly 20 years before Betsy Ross took up her needle and thread.

It’s a controversial debate to this day: Did Captain John Hulbert, a Bridgehampton resident who crafted ropes for whaling ships in Sag Harbor, actually create the design for the American flag during the American Revolutionary War, in 1775?

Records show that Capt. Hulbert of the 3rd New York Regiment, commanded by Colonel James Clinton, was ordered, with his 200-man militia—men from East Hampton and Southampton—to march to Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York to take the fort from the British.

In 1775, Fort Ticonderoga was in disrepair and manned by British forces, who used the base as a supply and communication link between Canada, which they had taken over after their victory in the Seven Years’ War, and New York. Less than a month after the Revolutionary War began, the British soldiers were surprised by a small Patriot force that eventually captured the fort.

The battle of Fort Ticonderoga began on May 10, 1775, and ended two days later, gaining the Patriot forces a supply of cannons and other firearms, and thus a leg up against the British.

The records show that when Capt. Hulbert and his men arrived at Fort Ticonderoga, they weren’t needed, because the battle had already been won. Capt. Hulbert and his men were ordered to escort a group of British prisoners to the Second Continental Congress at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia.

It is said that upon Capt. Hulbert’s arrival, Francis Hopkinson, who created the first U.S. coin and signed the Declaration of Independence, watched the parade of prisoners from atop a balcony with other politicians and signers of the Declaration of Independence. The belief is that Capt. Hulbert had his militia’s flag flying at the parade—and Mr. Hopkinson, who drew his own design for one of the first American flags, is believed to have taken the idea from Capt. Hulbert. There is no proof, although the Hulbert flag and Hopkinson flag look strikingly similar.

During the Revolution, it was common for militias to carry their own flags, each with a distinctive design, such as stripes, a pine tree, an animal, a snake or a crescent.

On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes as the first official national flag of the newly independent United States. Mr. Hopkinson was recognized as the designer of the flag, and journals of the Continental Congress support that.

The Flag Act of 1777 stated that “the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

White was to signify purity and innocence; red, hardiness and valor; and blue, vigilance, perseverance and justice.

The first documented use of the Betsy Ross flag was not until 1792.

Currently, the original Hulbert flag sits behind a glass casing at the Suffolk County Historical Society Museum in Riverhead.

According to Victoria Berger, executive director of the museum, through fiber analysis and chemical dating processes, it is commonly believed that the Hulbert flag dates to around the same time as the origins of the Betsy Ross flag, rather than pre-dating it—but the controversy still boils. Although the Hulbert flag has been examined by numerous experts and historians, division remains over the oral tradition of the flag’s origins.

Julie Greene, Southampton Town historian and archivist at the Bridgehampton Museum, explained that a fiber analysis has been completed on the Hulbert flag, but there are people who still believe it to be the first American flag.

Jack Youngs, president of the Sag Harbor Historical Society, said last week that he, too, believes the Hulbert flag to be the first American flag.

“The Hulbert flag has six points on each star. That is a key right there,” Mr. Youngs said noting that the Hopkinson flag had six points as well.

“Francis Hopkinson was standing on a balcony and watching all of the men march by with different flags,” Mr. Youngs said of what some believe was inspiration, from Capt. Hulbert, for the flag Mr. Hopkinson designed.

“Each militia had their own flag,” he explained. “But Hulbert’s had red and white stripes, a blue background and stars.”

The Gadsden flag, which is a historical American flag with a yellow field depicting a rattlesnake coiled and ready to strike with the words “Don’t Tread on Me,” was another militia flag designed in 1775 during the Revolution, Mr. Youngs added.

He noted that Revolutionary War captains would cut pieces of a militia’s flag to give to lieutenants and sergeants.

After the Revolutionary War, Capt. Hulbert, who was in his late 30s, started building houses. Including some that exist today, including 6 Union Street, which is known as the Morpurgo House, and what is today the Yardley and Pino Funeral Home in Sag Harbor. President Chester Arthur, the 21st president, used to visit Sag Harbor and stay in a home built by Capt. Hulbert.

“I think it’s true,” Mr. Youngs said. “I think John Hulbert created the design and made the flag in Bridgehampton.”

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Are replicas of this fine flag available? They were during the Bicentennial. It would be great to see more of them around.
Someone is trying to submit a 13-star flag as the original. 5-pointed stars arranged horizontally in a 3-2-3-2-3 pattern looking a lot like the Star Spangled Banner of 15 stars and stripes.
It is used in the US Olympic Committee logo.
Didn’t Betsy Ross introduce the 5-pointed star as a manufacturing shortcut?
Anyway, I have no problem believing that ...more
By bluelightning (21), Hampton Bays on Jun 18, 19 5:05 PM