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History of the First Republic of Texas Flag


By Thomas Bruce Green

  2008 marked the 75th anniversary of the Texas Flag Act of August 31, 1933. When the Texas Legislature passed the 1933 Flag Act, it officially re-established the “Lone Star Flag” as the official flag of Texas; this flag had been unintentionally repealed by omission, in the Flag Act of September 1, 1875, so for 42 years Texas had no official flag. 

 

  The 1933 Flag Act also made major changes in the way the Texas flag was presented, including the positioning of the lone star in the blue field. This 1933 act also adopted a pledge to the Texas flag, which originally read: “Honor the Texas Flag of 1836; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one and indivisible.   The Texas state flag has been the state flag since Texas became the 28th State on February 19, 1846, not on December 29, 1845, as the history books say.  However, the Texas state flag was originally adopted as the Republic of Texas flag on January 25, 1839, when President Mirabeau Bonaparte Lamar signed the bill at the state capital in Houston, Texas.[i]  This makes the Texas state flag the oldest original state flag in the United States; with 48 of the states having all changed the design of their flags, and the second oldest flag of Hawaii, adopted in 1845.

 

  It was not officially announced, but the pledge to the Texas state flag was in error from the beginning, and it was not until 1951, that State Senator Searcy Bracewell introduced a bill to revise the pledge. The pledge had erroneously, and probably unknowingly, referred to the “Burnet Flag,” a blue flag with a large five-pointed gold star in the middle, that was approved on December 10, 1836.  The “Burnet Flag” was approved at the first meeting of the Republic of Texas Congress in Columbia, Texas, and signed into law by President Sam Houston. The 1933 Texas Legislature did not realize that the current “Lone Star Flag” had not been adopted until January 25, 1839. This error was finally corrected in 1965, when the reference to the “Texas flag of 1836” was removed from the pledge.  

 

  Another error in the pledge to the Texas state flag is that the Republic of Texas came into the Union by a simple majority vote on a joint resolution of both houses of the U.S. Congress and signed by President John Tyler on March 1, 1845. This offer of annexation was approved by the Republic of Texas on July 4, 1845, and the ordinance gave the state of Texas the right to divide itself into as many as five (5) separate states without approval of the U.S. Congress.[ii] This provision made both lines of our pledge inaccurate. The author has long suggested that a state-wide committee be formed to change the pledge to the Texas flag, or at least improve the pledge and make it accurate.

 

  These mistakes have long caused Texas historians and vexillologist to attempt to learn what the first Republic of Texas flag looked like.  First, lets us look at some additional details about the current Texas state flag.

 

THE CURRENT TEXAS STATE FLAG

 

  As mentioned above, the current state of Texas flag first came into being on January 25, 1839, when President Lamar signed the bill at the new capital in Houston, Texas.  Prior to this date a Republic of Texas Senate committee had submitted a proposal on December 27, 1838, to revise the flag of the Republic of Texas.  Records show that this committee was chaired by Oliver Jones at this Third Congress of the Republic of Texas, held in Houston, Texas.  Other historians say this committee consisted of seven signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence: Lorenzo de Zavala, William B. Scates, Thomas Barnett, Sterling C. Robertson, Thomas J. Gazley, Richard Ellis and Committee Chairman Oliver Jones. One problem with this list of committee members is that Lorenzo de Zavala had died on November 15, 1836. The committee, whoever it consisted of, is said to have approved the design of Dr. Charles Bellinger Stewart for the national standard of the Republic of Texas.  Most people have never heard of Dr. Stewart who was secretary for the Provisional Governor Henry Smith and the second signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence. Texas Governor E. M. Pease once said of Dr. Stewart, “He was never a seeker after public position, but he never shirked responsibilities placed upon him.  He lived and died fond of his friends, loyal to his government and his country.”  The original drawing of the design for the flag was handed down to his son, Edmund Stewart and later to his granddaughter, Elizabeth Stewart Fling, until 1966, when the drawing was donated to the Texas State Archives.  The drawing has the approval signature of Republic of Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar, but his signature is upside down on the document, prompting some historians to doubt the authenticity of the drawing.  Senator William H. Wharton introduced a substitute bill on December 28, 1839, proposing the design of our current state flag; his bill does not mention Dr. Stewart, and like many elements of Texas history, no one is sure who designed the current state flag.  However, in 1997, the Texas House of Representatives passed H.R. 1123 which gives credit to Dr. Stewart for designing the current Texas state flag.  Descendants of Dr. Stewart continue to live in Texas, have many documents related to their ancestor and insist that he designed the current State of Texas flag.  The Conroe, Texas, Chapter of the Sons of The Republic of Texas is planning to place a historical marker on the Montgomery, Texas, grave site of Dr. Charles Stewart, honoring him as the designer of the flag of the State of Texas, and efforts continue to prove Dr. Stewart’s involvement.

 

  The “Lone Star Flag” remained the official flag of the Republic of Texas until February 19, 1846, when Texas became the 28th state of the United States, at which time it became the flag of the State of Texas.  The last president of the Republic of Texas, Anson Jones, lowered the Republic of Texas “Lone Star Flag” for the last time in Austin, Texas, on February 19, 1846, as the 28-star U.S. Flag (some say 27-star flag) was raised for the first time over Texas.  As President Anson Jones lowered the Republic of Texas flag for the last time, he concluded his very sad speech by saying, “The Republic of Texas is no more.”  The crowd is said to have stood in silence, as if in shock, for a short time as they reflected on the hard road many of them had endured over the previous 10 years.

 

The Republic of Texas Navy Flag

 

  Another official flag that has caused confusion is the “Republic of Texas Navy Flag.”  On April 9, 1836, just 12 days before the Battle of San Jacinto, the provisional president of the Republic of Texas, David G. Burnet authorized the “Republic of Texas Navy Flag.” The Texas Navy flag looks like several other flags, such as the flag of Chili, Liberia, and the U.S. flag, except the Texas Navy flag only has one large white star in the blue canton.  This flag is said to have been designed by the first commodore of the Republic of Texas Navy, Charles Hawkins, and is also called the “Hawkins Flag.”  Since the “Republic of Texas Navy Flag” received far more exposure during the 1830s and 1840s than the “Burnet Flag,” many people around the world knew about the Texas Navy flag long after Texas became the 28th state of the United States.  President David G. Burnet approved the Navy Flag in Mrs. William P. Harris’ home in Harrisburg, Texas, just before General Santa Anna arrived with his advance troops to capture the leaders, destroy and burn the town.  In fact, President Burnet and his cabinet narrowly escaped death when they were being evacuated from Harrisburg in a small rowboat.  The plan was to load President Burnet and his Cabinet aboard the side paddle-wheeler Cayuga for escape to Galveston, just as the Mexican advance troops arrived under the command of Colonel Juan N. Almonte.  As the Mexican troops were about to open fire on President Burnet and his cabinet, Colonel Almonte prevented his troops from shooting by striking the muskets of his troops with his sword just as they fired; all because he saw that Mrs. Burnet was in the rowboat.  Almonte was born in Mexico to a Native woman and a Priest from Spain, and had been trained never to shoot a woman.  This act of chivalry could have saved the future independence of Texas.  The Cayuga became the floating unofficial capital of the Republic of Texas for a few days, as had Mrs. Harris’ home.

 

The 1824 Flag

 

  Now, let us look at what the first Republic of Texas Flag might have looked like.  The first semi-official Republic of Texas flag was the “1824 Flag” probably made by Phillip Dimmitt for Stephen F. Austin in about 1830 when the Mexican government repealed the Mexican Constitution of 1824, which had allowed Stephen F. Austin to bring more than 8,000 settlers (mostly Americans) to settle in Mexican Texas.  Stephen F. Austin was probably the most honorable citizen in Texas in those early days, and his “1824 Flag” became a political flag representing the Peace Party, which meant that Austin wanted to live up to the conditions Mexico had placed on him before he could bring in his settlers.  It is interesting that the “1824 Flag” was officially adopted by the provisional government on November 29, 1835 and used by the first privateers on their ships during the early days of conflict at Anahuac, Texas.  This flag is also called the “Alamo Flag,” and is flown over the Alamo by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, but it was not the first flag flown in Texas and was probably not flying over the Alamo during the famous battle.

 

 

The De Zavala Flag

 

  The flag that has caused the most confusion is called the “De Zavala Flag” named for the first Provisional Vice President of the Republic of Texas, Lorenzo de Zavala.  He is said to have proposed that the letters of T E X A S be added to the national standard during the convention held at Washington-on-the-Brazos which began on March 1, 1836. The Washington Convention records mention many conflicting comments about the design of the first proposed flag, but there is no evidence that this flag was ever made or flown, and in fact there is no mention in the records of the convention that Lorenzo de Zavala made such a motion.[iii]   Some historians say that portions of the records of the 1836 convention are missing, and this is why Lorenzo de Zavala is not mentioned as making such a motion in the convention records.  However, another member of the convention, Charles Taylor, did make such a motion.  The members of the convention must have considered at least one of the early flags flown in Texas as the national standard, regardless of whether or not the flag was official or not.  However, the “De Zavala Flag,” a blue flag with the five-pointed white star in the middle and the letters T E X A S spelled out around the points of the star has become one of the more well-known and displayed historic flags in modern day Texas, and in fact this flag is considered by most people to have been the first official Republic of Texas flag.  A similar flag, without the letters of T E X A S was the flag of West Florida in 1810, when the citizens of Baton Rouge revolted against Spanish rule in West Florida.  This was the first known flag to use a single five-pointed star as a lone star symbol for independence and was probably the inspiration for our “Lone Star Flag” in Texas some 25 years later.

 

  Some historians believe that Charles Taylor was talking about the “Republic of Texas Navy Flag” and that the letters of T E X A S were placed around the white star in the blue canton of this flag.  This scenario could be claimed regarding any of the early militia flags which were made before the March 1, 1836, convention began, and different historians have made just such a case for many of the early Militia flags.  To the author’s knowledge, there is no proof that any of these variations of these flags ever existed.

 

The Jane Long Flag

 

  The only early flag to fly in Texas which I believe could have been the flag that Charles Taylor was talking about during the 1836 Washington-on-the-Brazos convention was the “Jane Long Flag.”  Jane Long is known as the “Mother of Texas,” because she delivered her own baby, Mary James Long, during the winter of 1821, which was probably one of the coldest of all winters in Texas.  There is a story in the Richmond, Texas museum telling of Jane Long walking out on the ice on Galveston Bay to cut off the legs of a duck that had been frozen in the ice before it could fly away.  Whether or not this is a “Tall Texas Tale” or not is not important, but one should recall that the “Little Ice Age” had resulted in the year without a summer in 1815, and the weather in 1836 was much colder than we experienced during the month of March in modern times.  Jane Wilkinson was the wife of Dr. James Long who was from Natchez, Mississippi, and when Dr. Long invaded Nacogdoches in June of 1819, in an effort to free Texas from Spain he is said to have brought his wife’s solid red flag with a large five-pointed white star in the middle.  It is believed that Jane Long made this flag for her husband just for the invasion to free Texas from Spain. The first James Long invasion of Spanish Texas did not last long, as the Spanish army ran them back into Louisiana.  Dr. James Long then took his wife’s red flag with him to New Orleans and made it into the canton of his new flag which also included 13 red and white stripes, in order to attract more Americans to his cause.  This is the flag Dr. Long brought with him on his return to Texas in 1821, when he came first to Galveston Island in an effort to recruit the pirate, Jean Lafitte, to aid him in taking Texas from Spain.  Dr. James Long’s army took La Bahia under this flag and was mysteriously killed after he was captured and held prisoner in Mexico City, but his wife Jane Long remained on Bolivar Peninsula for some time, refusing to believe her husband had been killed.  Finally, the widow Jane Long moved to Columbia, Texas, and ran a boarding house for many years.  She never remarried, in spite of numerous offers of marriage from many of the notable men of early Texas.  She died on December 30, 1880, at the age of 82, and is buried next to President Mirabeau B. Lamar in the Richmond, Texas cemetery.

 

  Jane Long was famous enough in early Texas so that men could have been familiar with her red flag with the large white star in the middle, and this could have been the flag that Charles Taylor was talking about when he made his motion to add the letters of T E X A S to the national standard in March of 1836.[iv]   By way of proof, the author has located several early newspapers that describe the “Republic of Texas Flag” as a red flag with a large white star in the middle and two of the articles describe the letters of T E X A S around the points in the star.

 

  One newspaper describing the Republic of Texas flag with the letters of T E X A S around the points of the star is the June 30, 1836, issue of the “New York American.”  This issue of the newspaper simply states that, “The Texas flag as a plain red ground, with a single white star, of five points, and between the points the letters T E X A S.”  There are no other details, only the above statement.[v]   

Another Example - June 25, 1836 Philadelphia Inquirer  - Page 2

First Republic of Texas Flag

 

  A second newspaper, or magazine describing the Republic of Texas flag is the July 7, 1836, issue of the “Army and Navy Chronicle” published in Washington, D.C., by B. Homans.  Page eight of this magazine describes the Republic of Texas flag as a plain red ground, with a single white, five-pointed star, and the letters T E X A S between the points.[vi] 

 

  A third news paper describing the Republic of Texas flag is the April 27, 1836, issue of the “Evening Post.” The author has been unable to locate a copy of this newspaper, but extensive information about this newspaper article is discussed in Volume 18 of the “Southwestern Historical Quarterly.” The newspaper published a lengthy article about an April 26, 1836, meeting held in New York City at the Masonic Hall to raise money for Texas’ defense.  The meeting was presided over by Samuel Swartwout, Esq.  Speaking at this meeting were the Mayor of New York City, the Governor of South Carolina and the three Texian Commissioners, Stephen F. Austin, Branch T. Archer and William H. Wharton.  Samuel Swartwout, Esq. was a partner of Col. James Morgan, who brought Emily D. West (The Yellow Rose of Texas) to Texas with him.  Col. Morgan is said to have given Samuel Swartwout, Esq. the red and white candy-striped tent where General Santa Anna is said to have spent the night with Emily West the night before the Battle of San Jacinto.  The newspaper states that the Texian standard stood behind the chair of the president, Samuel Swartwout, Esq., and was a blood red flag with a large white star.[vii]   This describes the Jane Long flag.

 

  With the knowledge that Jane Long was well-known in early Texas, and with the information in these newspaper articles, it seems clear to the author that the first Republic of Texas Flag was a red flag with a large five-pointed white star in the middle, with the letters T E X A S between the points of the star possibly added at the Convention of 1836 at Washington-on-the-Brazos.  

 

 

Compiled by Thomas Bruce Green, KSJ

Former Hill Country District Representative, Sons of the Republic of Texas

Founding President of the New Braunfels SRT Chapter

Former President of the New Braunfels SAR Chapter

Former President of the Texas Society Sons of the American Revolution

Texas Society SAR National Trustee

Admiral in the Texas Navy

 

 

 

 

 

 



Endnotes

 

[i] Charles A. Spain, Jr., “Flags of the Republic of Texas,” Handbook of Texas History, Volume 2, pages 1020 – 1024.

 

[ii]  A Joint Resolution of the U.S. Congress, dated March 1, 1845.  President John Tyler signed the Joint Resolution this date, and it provided for Texas to form four additional states out of her territory.  On July 4, 1845 a convention of the Republic of Texas officials voted to accept the Offer of Annexation from the United States.  Richard Bache, the grandson of Benjamin Franklin, was the only elected official to vote “NO.”  The Offer of Annexation included a requirement that the Republic of Texas submit an approved State Constitution before January 1, 1846. The Republic of Texas approved a State Constitution on October 13, 1845, and State of Texas officials were elected on the third Monday in December of 1845, which was December 21, 1845.  The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives approved the State of Texas Constitution, and on December 29, 1845, the newly elected U.S. President James K. Polk signed the Texas Admission Act, which said in affect that all conditions that were required for statehood had been met, and Texas was admitted to the Union.  Even though the election of state officials was held on December 21, 1845, President Anson Jones did not call for a meeting of the state officials until he received official word that annexation had been approved by the U.S.A.  This official notice of approval of annexation arrived in Texas in early January of 1846, and on January 12, 1846, President Anson Jones issued a proclamation to all newly elected State of Texas officials to meet in Austin, Texas on February 16, 1846.  The first day was spent organizing the State House of Representatives and the State Senate, which then met and counted the votes cast for State officials, and declared J. Pinckney Henderson as Governor of the State of Texas and Nicholas H. Darnell as Lieutenant Governor.  Darnell declined the office when he learned that sufficient votes to elect his opponent had been cast but not received in a timely manner.  A. C. Horton then was declared lieutenant governor of the State of Texas.  Sam Houston and Thomas Jefferson Rusk were elected State Senators and David Kaufman was elected the first U.S. Representative for the state of Texas.

 

[iii]  March 1836 Convention records do not show that Lorenzo de Zavala made a motion to add the letters of TEXAS around the star in the national standard, but some historians around the state say that a portion of the 1836 Convention records are missing and those missing records show that Lorenzo de Zavala made such a motion.  It is interesting that these same 1836 Convention records show that Charles Taylor did make a similar motion.

 

[iv]  Telegraph and Texas Register, August 30, 1836 issue, Volume 1, No. 27 published by Gail Borden and his brother Thomas.  On the right hand column of page 2 of this issue is an article which first appeared in the July 20, 1836, issue of the Courier and Enquirer, and the July 20, 1836, issue of the Albany Argus, both New York newspapers.  The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 18, No. 4, Pages 368 - 385 has a scholarly article entitled, “New York and the Independence of Texas.”  Page 377 of this article describes the July 18, 1836, meeting at the American Hotel in New York City where many influential men of the day were present to raise money for the Republic of Texas.  The Telegraph and Texas Register tells that behind Samuel Swartwout, the president of the group was the Texas standard with a blood red field and a large white star.  This describes the “Jane Long Flag” without the letters of           T E X A S which could have been added between the points on the star after the March 1836 Convention.

 

[v]  New-York American June 30, 1836, issue Vol. XVIII, No. 5532. On the right hand column of the second page toward the bottom of the column is a simple statement; “TEXIAN FLAG – The Texian flag is a plain red ground, with a single white star, of five points, and between the points the letters T E X A S.”  This is the first mention the author has seen of the letters of T E X A S being placed between the points of the white star on a red flag, and it makes sense that the red Jane Long Flag might have been considered the national standard that Charles Taylor was talking about when he made the motion to add the letters of T E X A S to the national standard at the March 1836 Convention.

 

[vi]  Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 49, Number 3, page 390.  This article by Colonel M. L. Crimmins discusses the Republic of Texas flag described in the July 7, 1836, issue of the Army and Navy Chronicle, Volume III, July through December 1836, page 8.  This magazine describes the Republic of Texas flag as plain red ground, with a single white five-pointed star, and the letters T E X A S between the points.

 

[vii]  Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 18, No. 4, page 376 again talks about Samuel Swartwout presiding over a meeting of ardent friends of Texas in New York City where the three Texas Commissioners, Stephen F. Austin, Brach T. Archer and William Wharton were present as discussed in the April 27, 1836 issue of the Evening Post.  The Journal of Commerce is also quoted as making a passionate plea for our Texas brethren, whose case at this moment is deplorable in the extreme.