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Each week on the Junior Curators blog, we travel back in time to a different place in Tennessee history. Stories may be about a famous person, place or event from Tennessee’s past. They will include things like priceless artifacts, pictures, videos, and even some games. Be sure to better understand the story by answering the questions at the end of each post.
After learning the story, be sure to share what you've learned with your parents, family, or friends. Try making your own exhibit about it, shooting a movie, or writing a story about it. Let your creativity run wild!
by Jennifer Watts
On June 1, 1796, Tennessee became the sixteenth state in the United States of America. It has been two hundred and twenty-five years since that date. As part of our state’s anniversary, the Tennessee State Museum is highlighting some of our artifacts on display that tell the story of Tennessee’s people, history, and culture. The artifact we would like to highlight today is the thirteen-star U.S. flag currently displayed in the ‘Forging a Nation’ gallery. Though faded over the years, this flag still stands as a symbol of American independence at the time.
Thirteen-Star United States Flag, Tennessee State Museum Collection.
The thirteen-star flag is still iconic for many people. It reminds us of the early days of our nation. The original flag was designed with thirteen stripes of alternating red and white. It had a field of blue with thirteen six-pointed stars. There was no set pattern as to how they were positioned. The stars were to represent the nation as a “new constellation”. The original flag symbolized the original colonies.
The colonies became the base of the new nation. This flag was used from 1777 till 1795. Then, the country began to grow. Two new states were added. Vermont in 1791 and Kentucky in 1792. The government passed the Flag Act of 1795 to represent the growing nation. They added two more stripes and two new stars for the new states. The stars were also changed to be five- pointed instead of the six-pointed stars like before. Today, this version of the flag is known as the Star-Spangled Banner. Below is the original flag that was raised over Fort McHenry on the morning of September 14, 1814. It was the sign of the defeat of the British at the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812. It was this flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem “The Star-Spangled Banner” that eventually became our National Anthem in 1931.
The Original Star-Spangled Banner, Smithsonian: National Museum of American History.
So, is there a sixteen-star flag to represent Tennessee in 1796? The answer is NO! From 1795 to 1818 no extra stars or stripes were added to the flag. Unlike with the fourteenth and fifteenth states, the flag remained the same. The Flag Act of 1818 was the next change. It reduced the stripes from fifteen back to the original thirteen red and white stripes. It also set the standard of adding one new star for each new state. That means the flag went from fifteen stars to twenty overnight. The new stars stood for: Tennessee in 1796, Ohio in 1803, Louisiana in 1812, Indiana in 1816, and Mississippi in 1817.
The thirteen-star flag on display at the museum is there to show visitors how Tennesseans were a part of the fight for independence. It was the early settlers of our state, like John Sevier, Tennessee’s first governor, that volunteered and defeated the British forces at the Battle of King’s Mountain in 1780 during the American Revolution. This flag is still an important part of telling Tennessee’s story 225 years later.
Additional U.S. Flag Fun Facts
New stars are added on July 4th following the states addition to the Union.
June 24, 1912 - President William Howard Taft’s Executive Order 1556 stated how the flag was to be laid out and the stars were to be placed in six rows of eight (48 states). One point of the star must be pointing up.
January 3, 1959 - President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Executive Order 10798 stated the stars were to be placed in seven rows of seven stars with them staggered vertically and horizontally (49 states).
August 21, 1959 - President Eisenhower’s Executive Order 10834 stated the stars be placed in nine rows of stars staggered horizontally and eleven rows of stars staggered vertically (50 states).
Anniversary - a celebration on the date a specific event took place.
Iconic - a widely known person, place, or event.
Constellation - a collection of related things (usually stars) forming a pattern.
Symbolized - an item used to represent something else.
What are the years that the thirteen-star flag was used?
Was there ever a sixteen-star flag to represent Tennessee’s addition to the nation?
Why do you think they stopped adding stars and stripes to the flag from 1795 to 1818?
The United States has a flag and so do all 50 states. Why are flags such important symbols to have?
Create your own flag that represents you. Any color, any shape, any design you want. Be creative!
Make a handprint U.S. flag using acrylic, nontoxic paint. Make sure to get an adult to help you!
Paint your fingers red then white, alternating the colors as you go. Then paint your palm blue. Spread your fingers out and firmly press on to a piece of paper. Once the paint is dry, paint your thumb white and press it on the blue to make stars.
Tennessee Social Studies Standard(s)
SSP.01 Gather information from a variety of sources, including: printed materials (e.g., literary texts, newspapers, political cartoons, autobiographies, speeches, letters, personal journals), graphic representations (e.g., maps, timelines, charts, artwork), artifacts and media and technology sources.
K.12 Identify the following state and national symbols: American flag, Tennessee flag, and the words of the Pledge of Allegiance.
Jennifer Watts is an Educator at the Tennessee State Museum.