The New Year’s Day Raising of the Union Flag on Prospect Hill

On New Year’s Day, Monday, January 1, 1776, British officers approached the American lines in Roxbury under a flag of truce. At least one of the men was carrying copies of a broadside for distribution among the soldiers of the Continental Army. This was King George III’s speech, delivered before Parliament back on October 27, 1775. It had been published with the hope of putting the fear of God into the rebel army.

The king declared that the colonists’  “strongest protestations of loyalty to me” were both absurd and offensive given that they were presently engaged in a “rebellious war . . . carried for the purpose of establishing an independent Empire.” The colonists must either return to the British fold or admit that they were engaged in a war of independence.

The reaction among the army was rage and indignation. The speech was burned in public by the soldiers. Its charges of traitorous rebellion and its ominous reference to “foreign assistance”, assuredly ended any hope of reconciliation or a short war. The effect of the King’s speech on George Washington was profound.

If nothing else could “satisfy a tyrant and his diabolical ministry,” he wrote to Joseph Reed, “we were determined to shake off all connections with a state so unjust and unnatural. This I would tell them, not under covert, but in words as clear as the sun in its meridian brightness.”

As it happened, Washington had already acted to strengthen the solidarity and resolve of his troops.  January 1 was the first day of “a new army, which in every point of view is entirely continental.” He stressed the hope that “the importance of the great Cause we are engaged in will be deeply impressed upon every man’s mind.” Everything “dear and valuable to freemen” was at stake.

To celebrate this event, Washington replaced the large red flag previously raised by Israel Putnam on the heights of Prospect Hill. With the crash of a 13-gun salute, he raised a new flag — a flag of thirteen red and white stripes, with the British colors (the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew) represented in the upper corner. The works at Prospect Hill were the equal of any fortification in Boston being situated on a large outcropping with a commanding view of the Mystic River and all of Boston Harbor.  Prospect Hill

Soon after the Battle of Chelsea Creek, Israel Putnam’s men had transformed the British schooner Diana’s seventy-five foot mainmast into a flag pole, and it was from this tar-stained pine that the Union flag of the Continental Army proudly waved. When the British in Boston saw it flying from Prospect Hill, they at first mistook it for a flag of surrender.

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Prospect Hill and the Union Flag today. 

It has been argued that the Somerville, Massachusetts annual New Year’s Day flag ceremony on Prospect Hill commemorates something that never really happened. There are others who claim it is accurate.

Resources:

https://patch.com/massachusetts/somerville/research-upholds-traditional-prospect-hill-flag-story

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Bunker Hill A City, A Siege, A Revolution. 2013Penguin Books, New York, NY.

McCullough, David. 1776. 2005: Simon & Schuster, New York, NY.

 

20 Quotes from George Washington and His Generals

 

General George Washington

“Remember officers and soldiers that you are free men, fighting for the blessings of liberty.”

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George Washington

 

 

General Benedict Arnold

What do you think would be my fate if my misguided countrymen were to take me prisoner?”

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Benedict Arnold

 

General John Cadwalader

“General Howe is certainly gone to New York, unless the whole is a scheme to amuse and surprise.”

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John Cadwalader

 

General Thomas Conway

“Heaven has been determined to save your Country, or a weak General and bad Councellors would have ruined it.”

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Thomas Conway

 

General Christopher Gadsden

“What I can do for my country, I am willing to do.”

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Christopher Gadsden

 

General Horatio Gates 

“If Old England is not by this lesson taught humility, then she is an obstinate old slut, bent upon her ruin.”

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Horatio Gates

 

General Nathanael Greene 

“We fight, get beat, rise and fight again.”

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Nathanael Greene

 

General William Heath

“I have never been afraid of the force of the enemy. They must be well watched. They, like the Frenchman, look one way and row the other.”

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William Heath

 

General Johann De Kalb 

“I thank you for your sympathy – I die the death I always prayed for – the death of a soldier fighting for the rights of man.”  

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Johann De Kalb

 

General Henry Knox

“We want great men who, when fortune frowns, will not be discouraged.”

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Henry Knox

 

General Marquis de Lafayette 

“I am persuaded that the human race was created to be free and that I was born to serve that cause.”

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Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette

 

General Charles Lee

“I…lament with you that fatal indecision of mind which in war is a much greater disqualification than stupidity…”

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Charles Lee

 

General Benjamin Lincoln 

We must have black troops, and a limitless number of them too – paid and treated like their white brothers.”

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Benjamin Lincoln

 

General Hugh Mercer

“For my part I have but one object in view, and that is the success of the cause. God can witness how cheerfully I would lay down my life to secure it!”

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Hugh Mercer

 

General Thomas Mifflin

“There can be no right to power, except what is either founded upon, or speedily obtains the hearty consent of the body of the people.”

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Thomas Mifflin

 

General Richard Montgomery

“I shall endeavour to discharge my duty to society, considering myself only as the citizen, moved by the melancholy necessity of taking up arms for the public safety.”

Richard Montgomery
Richard Montgomery

 

General Philip Schuyler

“I have done all that could be done, as far as the means were in my power, to injure the enemy and to inspire confidence in the soldiers of our army.”

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Philip Schuyler

 

General John Stark

“Live Free Or Die; Death Is Not The Worst Of Evils.”

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John Stark

 

General Freidrich von Steuben

“With regard to military discipline, I may safely say that no such thing existed in the Continental Army.”

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Freidrich von Steuben

 

General Anthony Wayne

“Issue the orders Sir, and I will storm Hell.”

Anthony Wayne
Anthony Wayne

 

 

** Featured Image “George Washington and his Generals” painted by Jane Sutherland.