The Vermont Historical Society celebrated the 100th birthday of the current state flag on Thursday. The Green Mountain State actually didn’t have an official state flag at all until it had already been a state for more than a decade.
The original state flag, adopted in 1804, had 17 stars and 17 stripes to symbolize the 17 states that were part of the Union at the time. America’s national flag also used to include one star and one stripe per state.
“A little bit after that, the U.S. Congress decided adding on extra stripes is not going to be practical,” Historical Society public relations and guest services coordinator Andrew Liptak said. “So, in 1818 they basically said, ‘let’s go back to 13 stripes and we’ll add a new star for each one’.”
Vermont followed suit in 1837 with a flag showing 13 stripes, one large star and the state coat of arms. This design lasted until 1923.
“Legislators, earlier in that session that year, had decided that the current version wasn’t very recognizable,” Liptak said. “It looked a lot like the American flag.”
On June 1, 1923, they voted to replace it with a design based on some of the regimental banners Vermont soldiers flew in the Civil War. It was commonly called ‘the governor’s flag’.
“After the Civil War, some governor — we don’t know which one — had begun to carry this same design out for official appearances,” Liptak added.
The Historical Society recently acquired a pair of early 20th century carved wooden items. They’re in storage in Barre.
“These are gangway boards,” collections manager Teresa Greene said. “They would have gone on either side of a gangway on the side of a ship.”
One of the gangway boards serves as an excellent physical representation of what the second state flag looked like before it was discontinued exactly a century ago.
“As far as we know, there is not an extant fabric example of the (early) Vermont state flags,” Greene said. “So this is a really great piece.”
The state Curator’s Office owns the Civil War banners shown in this story. They can be seen displayed on the walls of the former Vermont Supreme Court chamber inside the State House in Montpelier. Other regimental banners are in the Historical Society’s archives in Barre.