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North Carolina State Library
NORTH CAROLINA HISTORICAL COMMISSION
BULLBTIN No. 14
THE NORTH CAROLINA STATE FLAG
THE NORTH CAROLINA STATE FLAG
W . R. E D M O N D S
RALEIGH, N. C.
EowiBoe 4 BBOUOHTON PRINTING CO.,
North Carolina State Library
The North Carolina Historical Commission
J . BBYAN GBIMES, Chairman.
W. J . PEELE. M. C. S. NOBLE.
I). H . HILL. THOMAS M . PITTMAN.
E. D. " W". CONNOR, Secretary, Raleigh.
The North Carolina Historical Commission receives numerous
inquiries concerning the history of the State flag of North
Carolina and the significance of the dates which appear on it.
In response to these inquiries the Historical Commission has
issued this bulletin. It was prepared in 1911 by Mr. W. R. Edmonds,
at that time a member of the staff of the Historical Commission,
now an attorney of High Point. The sketch was afterwards
published in The University of North Carolina Magazine,
new series, vol. 29, No. 3, from which it is here reprinted, with
copies of recent acts of the General Assembly relating to the
State flag, and copies of the " Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence,"
May 20, 1775, the Halifax Resolutions of April 12,
1776, and the Ordinance of Secession, May 20, 1861.
R. D. W. CONNOR,
Secretary of the North Carolina Historical Commission.
The State Flag of North Carolina
The flag is an emblem of great antiquity and has commanded
respect and reverence from practically all nations from earliest
times. History traces it to divine origin, the early peoples of
the earth attributing to it strange, mysterious, and supernatural
powers. Indeed, our first recorded references to the
standard and the banner, of which our present flag is but a
modified form, are from sacred rather than from secular sources.
" We are told that it was around the banner that the prophets of
old rallied their armies and under which the hosts of Israel
were led to war, believing, as they did, that it carried with it
divine favor and protection.
Since that time all nations and all peoples have had their
flags and emblems, though the ancient superstition regarding
their divine merits and supernatural powers has disappeared
from among civilized peoples. The flag now, the world over,
possesses the same meaning and has a uniform significance
to all nations wherever found. It stands as the symbol of
strength and unity, representing the national spirit and patriotism
of the people over whom it floats. In both lord and
subject, the ruler and the ruled, it commands respect, inspires
patriotism, and instills loyalty both in peace and in war.
In this country we have a national flag which stands as the
emblem of our strength and unity as a nation, a living representation
of our national spirit and honor. In addition to our
national flag, each of the different States in the Union has a
" State flag" symbolic of its own individuality and domestic
ideals. Every State in the American Union has a flag of some
kind, each expressive of some particular trait, or commemorative
of some historical event, of the people over which it floats.
The flags of most of the States, however, consist of the coat of
arms of that State upon some suitably colored field. It is said
that the first State flag of North Carolina was built on this
model, but so far as we can learn from the records the first
legislation on this subject establishing and recognizing a " State
flag" was in the year 1861.
The constitutional convention of 1861, which declared for
secession from the Union, adopted what it termed a State flag.
This existed until 1885. On May 20, 1861, the Convention
adopted the resolution of secession which declared the State
out of the Union. On that same day Col. John D. Whitford,
a member of the Convention from Craven County, introduced
the following ordinance, which was passed and referred to a
select committee of seven:
" Be it ordained that the flag of this State shall be a blue field
with a white V thereon, and a star, incircling which shall be the
words ' Surgit astrum, May 20th, 1775.' "
Colonel Whitford was made chairman of the committee to
which this ordinance was referred. The committee secured
the aid and advice of William Jarl Brown, an artist of Raleigh.
Brown prepared and submitted a model to this committee. And
this model was adopted by the convention on the 22d day of
June, 1861. It will be observed that the Brown model, to be
hereafter explained, was vastly different from the one originally
proposed by Colonel Whitford. Here is the ordinance as it
appears on the Journals of the Convention:
" AN ORDINANCE IN RELATION TO A STATE FLAG.
" Be It ordained by this Convention, and it is hereby ordained
by the authority of the same, That the Flag of North Carolina shall
consist of a red field with a white star in center, and with the inscription,
above the star, in a semi- circular form, of ' May 20th,
1775,' and below the star, in a semi- circular form, of ' May 20th,
1861.' That there shall he two bars of equal width, and the length
of the field shall be equal to the bar, the width of the field being
equal to both bars; the first bar shall be blue, and the second shall
be white; and the length of the flag shall be one- third more than
its width. ( Ratified the 22d day of June, 1861. ) " i
This State flag, adopted in 1861, is said to have been issued
to the first ten regiments of State troops during the summer
of that year and was borne by them throughout the war, being
the only flag, except the National and Confederate colors, used
by the North Carolina troops during the Civil War. This flag
existed until 1885, when the Legislature of that year adopted a
' Journal of the Convention of 1881, p. 153.
As just stated, the Legislature of 1885 adopted a new State
flag. The bill, which was introduced by General Johnstone
Jones on the 5th of February, 1885, passed its final reading
one month later after little or no debate. This act reads as
" AN ACT TO ESTABLISH A STATE FLAG.
" The General Assembly of North Carolina do enact:
" SECTION 1. That the flag of North Carolina shall consist of a
blue union, containing in the center thereof a white star with the
letter N in gilt on the left and the letter C in gilt on the right of
said star, the circle containing the same to be one- third the width
of the union.
" SEC. 2. That the fly of the flag shall consist of two equally proportioned
bars; the upper bar to be red, the lower bar to be white;
that the length of the bars horizontally shall be equal to the perpendicular
length of the union, and the total length of the flag shall
be one- third more than its width.
" SEC. 3. That above the star in the center of the union there shall
be a gilt scroll in semi- circular form, containing in black letters
this inscription: ' May 20th, 1775,' and that below the star there
shall be a similar scroll containing in black letters the inscription:
April 12th, 1776.'
" In the General Assembly read three times and ratified this 9th
day of March, A. D. 1885."
Perhaps, it may be of interest to make a passing reference
to the significance of the dates found on each flag. The first
date, " May 20th, 1775," refers to the Mecklenburg Declaration
of Independence, 1 the authenticity of which we shall not here
stop either to doubt or to defend. The second date appearing
on the State flag of 1861 is that of " May 20th, 1861." This date
commemorated the secession of the State from the Union; 2 but
as the cause of secession was defeated this date no longer represented
anything after the Civil War. So when a new flag was
adopted in 1885, this date was removed, and another, " April
12th, 1776," took its place. This date commemorates the adoption
of the Halifax Eesolutions3— a document that places the
Old North State in the very front rank, both in point of time
and in spirit, among those that demanded unconditional freedom
and absolute independence from foreign power. This doc-
' See p! 10.
• See p. 13.
• See p. 14.
ument stands out as one of the great landmarks in the annals
of North Carolina history.
Since 1885 there has been no change in our State flag. For
the most part, it has remained unknown and a stranger to the
good people of our State. However, as we become more intelligent,
and, therefore, more patriotic and public spirited, the
emblem of the Old North State will assume a station of greater
prominence among our people. One hopeful sign of this increased
interest was the Act passed by the Legislature of 1907,
requiring the State flag to be floated from all State institutions,
public buildings and courthouses. 1 In addition to this, many
public and private schools, fraternal orders and other organizations
now float the State flag. This is right. The people of
the State should become acquainted with the emblem of that
government to which they owe allegiance and from which they
" See p. 10.
An Act to Promote Loyalty and Greater Respect for
the Sovereignty of the Statei
The General Assembly of North Carolina do enact:
SECTION 1. That for the purpose of promoting greater loyalty
and respect to the State, and inasmuch as a special act of
the Legislature has adopted an emblem of our government
known as the Worth Carolina State flag, that it is meet and
proper that it shall be given greater prominence.
SEC. 2. That the board of trustees or managers of the several
State institutions and public buildings shall provide a North
Carolina flag, of such dimensions and material as they may
deem best, and the same shall be displayed from a staff upon
the top of each and every such building at all times except during
inclement weather, and upon the death of any State officer
or any prominent citizen the flag shall be put at half- mast until
the burial of such person shall have taken place.
SEC. 3. That the Board of County Commissioners of the
several counties in this State shall likewise authorize the procuring
of a North Carolina flag, to be displayed either on a staff
upon the top, or draped behind the Judge's stand, in each and
every courthouse in the State, and that the State flag shall be
displayed at each and every term of Court held, and on such
other public occasions as the Commissioners may deem proper.
SEC. 4. That no State flag shall be allowed in or over any
building here mentioned that does not conform to section five
thousand three hundred and twenty- one of the Revisal of one
thousand nine hundred and five. 2
SEC. 5. That this act shall be in force from and after its
In the General Assembly read three times, and ratified this
the 9th day of March, A. D. 1907.
' Chap. 838, Public Laws of 1907.
• See p. 10.
Chapter 114, Revisal of 1905
SECTION 5321. STATE FLAG. The flag of North Carolina
shall consist of a blue union, containing in the center thereof a
white star with the letter " N " in gilt on the left and the letter
" C" in gilt on the right of said star, the circle containing the
same to be one- third the width of said union. The fly of the flag
shall consist of two equally proportioned bars, the upper bar to
be red, the lower bar to be white; the length of the bars horizontally
shall be equal to the perpendicular length of the union,
and the total length of the flag shall be one- third more than its
width. Above the star in the center of the union there shall be
a gilt scroll in semi- circular form, containing in black letters
this inscription: " May 20th, 1775," and below the star there
shall be a similar scroll containing in black letters the inscription:
" April 12th, 1776."
The " Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence"
May 20, 1775
1. Resolved, that whosoever directly or indirectly abetted or
in any way, form or manner countenanced the unchartered and
dangerous invasion of our rights as claimed by Great Britain
is an enemy to this country, to America and to the inherent and
and inalienable rights of man.
2. Resolved, that we the citizens of Mecklenburg County do
hereby dissolve the political bands which have connected us to
the mother country and hereby absolve ourselves from all allegiance
to the British Crown and abjure all political connection,
contract, or association with that nation who have wantonly
trampled on our rights and liberties and inhumanly shed
the blood of American patriots at Lexington.
3. Resolved, that we do hereby declare ourselves a free and
independent people, are and of right ought to be a sovereign and
self- governing association under the control of no power other
than that of our God and the General Government of the Congress,
to the maintenance of which independence we solemnly
pledge to each other our mutual cooperation, our lives, our
fortunes and our most sacred honor.
4. Resolved, that as we now acknowledge the existence and
control of no law or legal officer, civil or military, within this
county, we do hereby ordain and adopt as a rule of life all,
each and every of our former laws— wherein nevertheless the
Crown of Great Britain never can be considered as holding
rights, privileges, immunities, or authority therein.
5. Resolved, that it is further decreed that all, each and every
Military Officer in this county is hereby reinstated in his former
command and authority, he acting conformably to these regulations.
And that every member present of this delegation shall
henceforth be a civil officer, viz, a justice of the peace in the
character of a " committee man" to issue process, hear and determine
all matters of controvery according to said adopted
laws and to preserve peace, union and harmony in said county,
and to use every exertion to spread the love of country and fire
of freedom throughout America, until a more general and organized
government be established in this Province.
Ordinance of Secession
May 20, 1861
An ordinance dissolving the union between the State of North
Carolina and the other States united with her under the compact
of Government, Entitled " the Constitution of the United
" We, the people of the State of North Carolina in Convention
assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and
ordained, that the ordinance adopted by the State of North Carolina
in the Convention of 1789, whereby the Constitution of
the United States was ratified and adopted; and also all acts
and parts of acts of the General Assembly, ratifying and adopting
amendments to the said Constitution, are hereby repealed,
rescinded and abrogated.
" We do further declare and ordain, that the Union now
subsisting between the State of North Carolina and the other
States, under the title of " The United States of America," is
hereby dissolved, and that the State of North Carolina is in full
possession and exercise of all those rights of sovereignty which
belong and appertain to a free and independent State.
Halifax Independence Resolutions
April 12, 1776
It appears to your committee1 that, pursuant to the plan concerted
by the British Ministry for subjugating America, the
King and Parliament of Great Britain have usurped a power
over the persons and properties of the people unlimited and
uncontrolled; and disregarding their humble petitions for peace,
liberty and safety, have made divers legislative acts, denouncing
war, famine, and every species of calamity, against the
Continent in general. That the British fleets and armies have
been, and still are daily employed in destroying the people, and
committing the most horrid devastations on the country. That
Governors in different Colonies have declared protection to
slaves, who should imbrue their hands in the blood of their
masters. That the ships belonging to America are declared
prizes of war, and many of them have been violently seized
and confiscated. In consequence of all which multitudes of the
people have been destroyed, or from easy circumstances reduced
to the most lamentable distress.
And, whereas, the moderation hitherto manifested by the
United Colonies and their sincere desire to be reconciled to the
mother country on constitutional principles, have procured no
mitigation of the aforesaid wrongs and usurpations, and no
hopes remain of obtaining redress by those means alone which
have been hitherto tried, your committee are of opinion that
the House should enter into the following resolve, to wit:
Resolved, that the delegates for this Colony in the Continental
Congress be impowered to concur with the delegates of the
other Colonies in declaring Independency, and forming foreign
alliances, reserving to this Colony the sole and exclusive right
» At the session appointed, viz: of the Provincial Congress, April 8,1776, the following committee was
Cornelius Harnett. Alien Jones, Thomas Burke, Abner Nash, John Kinchen, Thomas
Person and Thomas Jones, " to take into consideration the usurpations and violences attempted
and committed by the King and Parliament of Britain against America, and the
further measures to be taken for frustrating the same, and for the better defense of this
Province." Their report, known as the " Halifax Resolutions," was submitted to Congress
April 12, 1776, and unanimously adopted. It was the first step taken by any of the
Colonies in favor of a Declaration of Independence.
of forming a constitution and laws for this Colony, and of appointing
delegates from time to time ( under the direction of a
general representation thereof), to meet the delegates of the
other Colonies for such purposes as shall be hereafter pointed
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