At the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, the United States had no official, national flag. Tradition assigns the role “first flag” role to the design commonly named the Grand Union Flag, contending it was raised first by General Washington’s soldiers at Prospect Hill, at the Cambridge, Massachusetts, on New Year’s Day 1776. This traditional account probably is mistaken, confusing the use of two different flags (the British Union Flag and a red, striped flag) at Prospect Hill as a combined, single flag.
This flag is properly considered the de facto first naval ensign of the United States. It was first raised aboard Continental Navy Commodore Esek Hopkins’ flagship Alfred on the Delaware River on December 3, 1775, possibly (according to his claim) by the ship’s senior lieutenant John Paul Jones.
The origins of the design are unclear. It closely resembles the British East India Company (BEIC) flag of the same era, and an argument dating to Sir Charles Fawcett in 1937 holds that the BEIC flag indeed inspired the design. However, the BEIC flag could have from 9 to 13 stripes, and was not allowed to be flown outside the Indian Ocean. Both flags could have been easily constructed by adding white stripes to a British Red Ensign, a common flag throughout Britain and its colonies.
Another theory holds that the red-and-white stripe—and later, stars-and-stripes—motif of the flag may have been based on the Washington family coat-of-arms, which consisted of a shield “argent, two bars gules, above, three mullets gules” (a white shield with two red bars below three red stars).
More likely it was based on a flag of the Sons of Liberty, one of which consisted of 13 red and white alternating horizontal stripes.
From Wikipedia – the Free Encyclopedia