Flags across America

love-opera-victoria-bakerOne of The Bruce Museum’s current exhibits is entitled Flags across America and will run from now until September 22.

Darien native and artist Robert Carley witnessed the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 from his Stamford office and has since made it his quest to capture the essence of the American spirit by taking photographs of Old Glory in many different forms. This particular exhibit celebrates the American flag with more than 40 photographic prints and a video display of 60 additional photographs. For more information about the exhibit log onto www.brucemuseum.org

Some say that the design of the flag was inspired by George Washington’s coat of arms. George Washington inherited his arms from a long line of Washingtons stretching back into the northern England of the Middle Ages. The first of the line, Sir William de Hertburn, took the name of his estate after being granted the lordship of Wessyngton, later called Washington, in County Durham in about 1180.

In about 1203, his son, Sir Walter I de Wessyngton used a seal showing arms with a lion rampant, and Sir Walter III was still using a lion. But by 1346, Sir William IV’s seal had the now-famous design of two horizontal bars below three rowels of spurs, depicted as five-pointed stars.

There has been considerable learned inquiry over the years as to the reason for these changes. They seem to have been connected either with marital alliances made by the Washingtons with various powerful families or with the acquisition of feudal estates.

In any case, the same arms used by President Washington, silver with red bars and mullets, appear on a number of historic buildings across the north of England, notably in a 15th century window at Selby Abbey in Yorkshire.

They were confirmed to Lawrence Washington of Sulgrave Manor, Northamptonshire in 1592. They were later documented in the heralds’ visitation of Northamptonshire in 1619, and a description and drawing of them were included in a letter to President Washington from Sir Isaac Heard, Garter Principal King of Arms, on December 7, 1791.

Evidence of the Washington arms being used in Virginia dates back to 1735 at the latest, when they were carved on the tombstone of Major John Washington’s daughter, Elizabeth who was the President’s first cousin and who died in February of that year. George Washington himself was using these arms from a rather young age and continued to do so throughout his life.

Whether or not the Washington coat of arms was indeed the inspiration for the American flag or not I do not know, but it’s fascinating to ponder the myriad possibilities. It’s incredible to see history unravel itself at the mere mention of an ancient family crest.

 

Victoria Baker of Greenwich is an opera singer. Winner of many prestigious competitions, she has performed and worked with distinguished artists all over the world (notably at Lincoln Center). Should you have any questions that deserve answers and may be in print please call 531-7499 or email [email protected]

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