J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

New Englanders’ “Appeal to Heaven”

Paul Lunt, lieutenant of a company from Newburyport at the siege of Boston, wrote in his diary for 18 July 1775:

This morning a Manifesto from the Grand Continental Congress was read by the Rev. Mr. Leonard, chaplain to the Connecticut forces upon Prospect Hill in Charlestown, to those troops encamped upon and near said hill.

Our standard was presented in the midst of the regiments with this inscription upon it, “Appeal to Heaven;” after which Mr. Leonard made a short prayer, and then were dismissed by the discharge of a cannon, three cheers, and a war whoop by the Indians.
In his essay on the life of the Honorable Major-General Israel Putnam, former aide David Humphreys later described this flag as:
the new Standard, lately sent from Connecticut. . . .

On one side was inscribed in large letters, of Gold “An Appeal To Heaven,” and on the other were delineated the armorial bearings of Connecticut, which without supporters or crest, consist unostentatiously of three Vines: with this motto, “Qui transtulit, sustinet” [He who transplants, sustains]
By the fall, other New England units had adopted this flag, or at least the English motto on it. On 20 Oct 1775, Gen. George Washington’s military secretary, Joseph Reed (shown above, courtesy of the U.S. Army’s Center for Military History), wrote to the colonels who were in Beverly arming schooners to attack British supply ships with this instruction:
Please to fix upon some particular color for a flag, and a signal by which our vessels may know one another. What do you think of a flag with a white ground, a tree in the middle, the motto “Appeal to Heaven”? This is the flag of our floating batteries.
The ships those men were equipping did adopt that flag. We know that from sources in London reporting on the capture of one such ship, the brig Washington, out of Plymouth. The descriptions were:
  • Sir Hugh Palliser to the Earl of Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty, 6 January 1776: “Captain Medows has brought the American vessel’s colours, it is a white field with a green pine tree in the middle: the motto, Appeal to Heaven.”
  • London Chronicle: “In the Admiralty office is the flag of a provincial privateer. The field is white bunting; on the middle is a green pine-tree, and upon the opposite side is the motto, ‘Appeal to Heaven.’”
  • Almon’s Remembrancer, item dated 6 Jan 1776: “Captain Meadows has likewise brought her colours, which are a pale green palm-tree, upon a white field, with this motto, ‘We appeal to heaven.’”
(I have to think an error crept into that last description; would New Englanders have taken pride in a “pale green palm-tree”? Or were palms and pines interchangeable?)

No actual period examples of this flag survive, to my knowledge. All the designs in flag books are guesses at what they looked like.


Peter Ansoff said...

There is an intriguing postscript to the story of the brig Washington's flag. Lord Sandwich sent it to King George III for his inspection, with a recommendation that it be presented to Admiral John Montagu. (Montagu's son George had commanded the frigate that captured the Washington.) What happened next? Did the King present it to Admiral Montagu? Is it possible that it still exists somewhere in private hands?

J. L. Bell said...

Interesting indeed.

Since you’ve published an article on this flag, Peter, I’m glad you didn’t see any big hole in this brief telling.