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20 Star Flag - (1818-1819) (U.S.)

Last modified: 2015-05-09 by rick wyatt
Keywords: twenty | united states | william driver | great star |
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[U.S. 20 star flag 1818] image by Clay Moss, 23 December 2007

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Description of the flag

In 1818, five stars were added, bringing the total number of stars to 20. Congress proclaimed that one star for each new state would be added on the 4th of July following the state's admission to the union and there would be a return to thirteen stripes representing the thirteen original colonies.
Rick Wyatt, 5 April 1998

This flag flew from 4 July 1818 to 3 July, 1819. States 16 through 20 admitted to the Union were in sequential order, Tennessee 16, Ohio 17, Louisiana 18, Indiana 19, and Mississippi 20.

There was actually a bit of a lull between the 15 and 20 star flags. The US government couldn't exactly decide what to do with the flag each time a new state was added. It seemed impractical to add stars and stripes to the flag every time a new state was admitted to the Union. So, between 1796 when Tennessee was admitted, and 1817 when Mississippi joined, nothing was done. Finally in 1818, it was decided to go back to the original 13 stripe pattern and simply add stars to the canton each time a new state joined the Union.

Had this decision been made in 1796, there would have been a 16 star flag, and then later a 17, 18, and 19 star flag, and each of them with the exception of the 19 star flag would have flown more than a year. The 16 star flag would have flown 8 years, from 1796 to 1803. The 17 star flag would have flown 9 years from 1803 to 1812. The 18 star flag would have flown 5 years from 1812 to 1817, while the 19 star flag would have had a life span of 1 year, flying from 1817 to 1818.
Clay Moss, 23 February 2007

Officially, the flag took effect on July 4, but I believe the government started flying the 20-star flag immediately after bill was passed, in April. There were unofficial flags between the 15 and 20-star flags.

There was a proposal to arrange the stars in rows only at sea, and as a large star on land. This was never passed- only rows were official but a "Great Star" version was flown over the Capitol for a few months at least. Of course, "Great Star" versions continued to be used unofficially (at least) for the next century or so. Also, the first Navy regulations - rows, arrangement, 13-star boat flags, etc.- date from 1818, I believe.
Nathan Lamm, 24 February 2007


[U.S. 20 star jack 1818] image by Clay Moss, 23 February 2007

Variant star design

[U.S. 20 star flag 1818] image by Clay Moss, 23 December 2007

I'm persuaded that both this staggered row pattern and the regular pattern at the top of this page were probably frequent variants with the staggered pattern samples finding favor with the Navy.
Clay Moss, 23 February 2007

William Driver

The famous "Old Glory" of Capt. William Driver was a 20-star flag, made by his daughters and preserved by the captain after he retired to Nashville, Tennessee. He hid it from Confederate forces during the Civil War and it now reposes, faded badly, in a museum where no photographs are permitted. That flag has the conventional four rows of five stars each.
William Dunning, 31 March 1998

There is some disagreement among the sources about whether Captain Driver received 'Old Glory' in 1825 or 1831, but in either case, the flag would have been one of 24 stars, not 20, the 24 stars flag being official from 1822 until 1836. The original 'Old Glory has now been conserved, and accurate information on its details, including a photograph, is available from the Smithsonian Institution. It is no longer a 24 star flag, but was remade into a 34 star flag in 1860 or 1861.

Nor was the flag made by his daughters, who weren't born yet in 1824 or in 1831. The various tales have it made by his mother and/or a sewing circle in his home town of Salem, Massachusetts.
Deveraux Cannon, 21 August 2005

Great Star

[U.S. 20 Great Star flag] image by Blas Delgado Ortiz, 28 July 2001

This flag flew over the Capitol dome for at least six months of 1818.
Blas Delgado Ortiz, 27 July 2001

A 20 star 13 stripe flag with the stars in the "Great Star" pattern was raised in Washington D.C. on or shortly after 13 April 1818, less than two weeks after the adoption of the new flag law, which was adopted on 4 April 1818. However, in a strictly legal sense, the flag, under the terms of the law, was not official until 4 July 1818. Then, again, the prior flag flown there, which had 18 stars and 18 stripes, was not "official" under the 1795 flag law, even though used in an "official" capacity.

The actual text of the Flag Act of 1818 is:

Sect. 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That from and after the fourth day of July next, the flag of the United States be thirteen horizontal stripes, alternate red and white; that the union have twenty stars, white in a blue field.

Sect. 2. And be it further enacted, That on the admission of every State into the Union, one star be added to the union of the flag; and that such addition shall take effect on the fourth day of July next succeeding such admission.

Approved, April 4, 1818.

Devereaux Cannon, 21 August 2005