OthersGive Me Liberty, or Give Me Death: The American...

Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Death: The American Flag Types


As you glance up on a sunny afternoon, you might find the star-spangled banner of the United States dancing proudly in the wind. As an emblematic symbol of freedom and unity, the American flag is more than just a fabric.

It’s the narrative of a nation. But did you know that there isn’t just one type of American flag? In fact, there have been 27 versions of the flag since its inception. 

Each version of the American flag tells a different story about the United States and its 13 original colonies.

To help you understand the different American flag types, we’ve written a guide. Keep reading if you’d like to find out more. 

The Dawn of the United States Flag

Before the formation of the United States of America, the land was primarily a collection of British colonies. It wasn’t until the American Revolution that the idea of a unified flag started to take hold.

People saw the symbolic gesture of a shared flag as an effective way to bring the colonies together. The original colonists understood the importance of a shared identity and common cause.

The first unofficial flags were diverse. They depicted varying images and designs that reflected the colonies’ individual characters.

However, the concept of a united front was the impetus for creating what we now know as the United States flag. This shared symbol was critical in fostering a sense of unity among the colonies. 

The Pine Tree Flag and Other Early Designs

One of the earliest known flags is the Pine Tree Flag. Some people also refer to it as the Appeal to Heaven Flag. People commonly used this flag during the 1775 revolutionary period.

Its design consisted of a white background with a green pine tree in the middle, which symbolizes liberty and resistance.

The phrase “An Appeal to Heaven” was inscribed above the tree. This phrase embodied the aspirations and desires of a people yearning for freedom.

Other notable early flag designs included the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, also known as the Gadsden Flag and the Grand Union Flag. This flag bore an uncanny resemblance to the British East India Company’s flag.

These designs were more than pieces of cloth. They were bold declarations of defiance against the British and embodied the courage and resilience of the early Americans.

The Flag Resolution of 1777

As the Revolutionary War progressed, the Continental Congress felt the need for a more unified and official flag.

It was during this time, on June 14, 1777, that the Flag Resolution was passed. This marked the birth of the first official United States flag.

This new design embodied a united American front. It represented the thirteen colonies that had come together to fight for their freedom. But it did not specify a particular arrangement for the stars. 

The Betsy Ross Controversy

One of the most well-known tales in American history is that of Betsy Ross and her contribution to the design of the first official United States flag.

As the story goes, Betsy Ross, a Philadelphia seamstress, was visited by General George Washington. He requested a flag design featuring thirteen stars in a circle.

Unfortunately, this tale is mired in controversy. It remains a topic of debate among historians, primarily because it was not recounted until nearly a century later by Ross’s own grandson.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding its veracity, the story of Betsy Ross and her purported creation of the first United States flag is an enduring part of American folklore.

Other Flags That Could Have Been

As we’ve explored, the journey to the first official United States flag was far from straightforward.

Along the way, several intriguing designs could have ended up being the national ensign. These designs have added even more color and variety to our nation’s vibrant history.

One notable contender was the Serapis Flag, also known as the John Paul Jones Flag.

This design came about after the naval battle between the American ship, the USS Bonhomme Richard, and the British ship, HMS Serapis. When the American ship was severely damaged, and the flag was lost to the sea.

But a new flag was quickly improvised, featuring a blue field with a red cross surrounded by thirteen stars. This impromptu symbol of resilience and determination is recognized as an important part of U.S. maritime history.

Another flag that left its mark was the Cowpens Flag, which was named after the Battle of Cowpens during the American Revolutionary War.

Its unique design featured thirteen alternating red and white stripes with a blue square in the corner. Inside the blue square was a larger circle of thirteen stars, with an inner circle of twelve stars and one star in the center.

This flag’s distinctive design symbolized the unity of the original thirteen colonies and could have been a strong contender as the national ensign.

For those interested in owning a piece of American History, you can find a unique flag at the Ultimate Flags Shop.

The POW/MIA Flag

The POW/MIA flag is a black-and-white flag developed by the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia.

It serves as a poignant reminder of the military personnel who were either prisoners of war (POWs) or are still missing in action (MIA).

It features a silhouette of a man, a watchtower with a guard, a strand of barbed wire, and the stark, powerful words: “You Are Not Forgotten.”

This flag is flown on specific days, like Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day.

The Thin Blue Line Flag

The Thin Blue Line Flag is another meaningful representation in the United States, primarily associated with law enforcement. The flag design includes a black-and-white American flag with a single blue stripe in the middle.

This blue line represents law enforcement officers, symbolizing their role in standing as a thin line that protects society from chaos and disorder. Over time, it has evolved to memorialize fallen law enforcement officers.

It also symbolizes the relationship of law enforcement with the community as protectors.

Other Thin Line Flags

Building off the Thin Blue Line concept, there are other thin line flags, each associated with different first responder groups and public service sectors.

For instance, the Thin Red Line Flag symbolizes firefighters’ courage. It represents the line they hold against fire and other dangers.

Similarly, the Thin White Line Flag is used to honor emergency medical services, the Thin Gold Line represents dispatchers, and the Thin Green Line stands for military and federal agents, park rangers, and border patrol.

State Flags

The national flag symbolizes the United States as a whole. And each of the 50 states has its own flag to represent its unique history, culture, and people.

State flags come in a variety of colors and designs, with each detail often holding symbolic meaning.

For example, the California state flag features a grizzly bear to symbolize strength, a star to signify sovereignty, and the phrase “California Republic.” On the other hand. 

And the Texas state flag consists of a single star (representing all of Texas) and stripes of white (representing purity) and red (for bravery).

Military Flags

Just as there are state flags, there are also specific flags for each branch of the United States military, including the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.

These military flags carry their own symbolism and heritage. For instance, the flag of the U.S. Marine Corps features the globe, eagle, and anchor.

These features symbolize defense readiness, national sovereignty, and service on land, in the air, and at sea.

Military flags are displayed in order of precedence, with the national ensign taking precedence over all. The order of the remaining flags is based on the date of establishment of each branch.

During peacetime, the United States flag is followed by the Army flag, Marine Corps flag, Navy flag, Air Force flag, and finally, the Coast Guard flag.

The Different American Flag Types

Contrary to what many people believe, there are many different American flag types. 

Every version of the American flag has colors and design features that symbolize different aspects of American independence.

Some of the most important early flag designs include the Pine Tree Flag and the Dawn of the Don’t Tread On Me Flag. There are also various types of military flags that exist. 

Do you want to find out more about American History? If so, make sure to check out the Education section of our website. 


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