Queen Elizabeth issued a Royal Charter to trade in the Indian Ocean in 1600 to the newly formed English East India Company.  The EIC adopted a flag of thirteen red and white stripes with the flag of England (St George’s Cross) in the canton.  This flag was chosen because many of the East India Company’s shareholders were Masons, and the number thirteen is considered powerful in Freemasonry.

This flag caused problems for the East India Company at first because of confusion regarding Saint George’s Cross. In Japan in 1616, the Company’s ships were turned away because the cross on the flag was viewed as a symbol of Christianity (which it is).  Japan had banned Christianity in 1614 and the consequently the Shogun, consequently banned the Company from using the flag, believing the cross on it to be an endorsement of Christianity.  The Company’s trading rivals, the Dutch East India Company, argued on the Company’s behalf that the cross was a symbol of the English nation and not of Christianity, but the Tonkinese insisted on banning the flying of the flag unless the cross was removed.

When King James VI of Scotland ascended to the English throne, he unified the monarchy of England and Scotland.  In tribute to this unification, he created a combined flag of both nations, to be used for a united British state. However, the Parliament of England and Parliament of Scotland were reluctant to unite, and wished that the countries remain separate. The king retained his flag for personal use as the King’s Colors. In 1668, adopted a new flag including the King’s Colors in the canton.  The King’s Colors were later formally adopted as the flag of Great Britain when the Kingdom of Great Britain was formed by the Acts of Union 1707 at the behest of Queen Anne.

The flag of the East India Company is said to have inspired the 1775 Grand Union Flag which you can see today at Williamsburg.  Benjamin Franklin once gave a speech endorsing the adoption of the EIC flag by the United States as their national flag. “While the field of your flag must be new in the details of its design, it need not be entirely new in its elements. There is already in use a flag, I refer to the flag of the East India Company.” This flag was used before the Declaration of Independence and was a way of symbolizing American loyalty to the Crown as well as the aspiration of self-governance.  Early in the conflict, Franklin, like many others at the Continental Congress, believed that the Colonies could, like the East India Company, to be self-governing and yet under the protection of the Crown.

Of course, many other Americans were aware of the abuses of the East India Company and hoped to distance themselves from any association with that corporation.  The Boston Tea Party was an obvious expression of this aim.  Unlike the sacking of Governor Hutchinson’s residence, the Boston Tea party was a rebellion not directed at the Crown but rather the beneficiary of Parliamentary corruption.  Having the EIC flag at the vanguard of a Continental Army presented serious concerns in Boston.  Furthermore, with the rejection of the Olive Branch Petition and subsequent Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress, the myth of Crown protection was permanently shattered.  On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution which stated that the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes with a canton of thirteen stars following a design submitted by Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey. 

Thank God we don’t pledge allegiance to the EIC flag!!!  Ours is about freedom not profit.

Published by Michael Carver

My goal is to bring history alive through interactive portrayal of ordinary American life in the late 18th Century (1750—1799) My persona are: Journeyman Brewer; Cordwainer (leather tradesman but not cobbler), Statesman and Orator; Chandler (candle and soap maker); Gentleman Scientist; and, Soldier in either the British Regular Army, the Centennial Army, or one of the various Militia. Let me help you experience history 1st hand!

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