'Flags and Founding Documents, 1776-Today' Special Exhibition Kicks Off a Revolutionary Summer

  • May 20, 2021 12:41

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Flag exhibit. Museum of the American Revolution.
No Union With Slavery. Courtesy Jeff R. Bridgman American Antiques.

More than 40 American Flags Displayed with a Rare Printing of the U.S. Constitution and other Historic Documents Will Showcase the Nation’s Evolution at Philadelphia's Museum of the American Revolution

From one of the earliest known 13-star flags to a black-and-white-striped 23-star anti-slavery flag and a 1960s-70s-era flag featuring 50 stars in the shape of a peace sign, more than 40 rare American flags will go on display alongside historic documents beginning Flag Day Weekend, reflecting a growing and changing American nation. The special exhibition, Flags and Founding Documents, 1776 – Today, will be on view at the Museum of the American Revolution from Saturday, June 12 – Monday, September 6, 2021, as part of the Museum’s Revolutionary Summer

The flags—many of which have never been exhibited before—trace the evolution of the Stars and Stripes through the addition and subtraction of stars as new states joined the Union and the nation battled through the Civil War. The flags serve as a visual narrative of America's national story. The flags will be showcased alongside historic documents including early printings of more than 16 different state constitutions and the Choctaw Nation Constitution of 1838 to shed light on the triumphs and tensions that the United States faced as it expanded and worked toward creating a “more perfect Union.”

An 81-star flag made for the Centennial International Exposition in Philadelphia. Courtesy Jeff R. Bridgman American Antiques.
46-star flag created when Oklahoma joined the Union. Courtesy Jeff R. Bridgman American Antiques.

“I am thrilled to expand upon the successful 2019 exhibition of 13-star flags at the Museum to share this visually dynamic and historically significant collection of flags that illustrates the advance from 13 stars to 50 (plus a few surprises)," says Jeff R. Bridgman, a leading dealer in antique American flags and political textiles, who is curating the flag portion of the exhibit as well as loaning most of the flags to the museum.

Additionally, the display of documents will include rare printings of the Bill of Rights and the proposed U.S. Constitution of 1787 — one of fewer than 15 complete copies of this first printing that are known to have survived. The documents were previously displayed at the New-York Historical Society as Colonists, Citizens, Constitutions: Creating the American Republic, curated by Dr. James F. Hrdlicka. Together, these founding documents provide “a rare window into the ingenuity and complicated compromises that established the United States” and demonstrate “that the road to perfection is not necessarily linear” (The New York Times). A catalog created to accompany the exhibit, featuring a foreword by late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is now available in the Museum’s shop.

“It is my deepest wish that this exhibition will inspire all of us to have an impact on our future by participating in the governance of the United States. This is how we became a nation, and this is how we will keep our republic strong,” says Dorothy Tapper Goldman, a collector and philanthropist. The documents are on loan to the museum from the Dorothy Tapper Goldman Foundation.

A 1781 printed compilation of the 13 state constitutions of the new United States, on loan from the Rosenbach, Philadelphia, will be included in the exhibition to help share the story of Jewish Americans during the Revolutionary era. The compilation of constitutions includes handwritten annotations that analyze how each constitution affected Jewish Americans at the time. This extraordinary book speaks to the fact that as Jewish Revolutionaries fought for American rights, they also sought Jewish rights in America.

Key artifacts of the exhibit include:

  • A 13-star flag, circa 1800-1825, featuring a “Great Star” pattern—a star made out of stars—one of the earliest American flags known to survive.
  • A ca. 1846-48 flag, believed to have been carried during the Civil War, that was likely made to represent the 14 free states where slavery was illegal.
  • A large (nearly 9 ft. wide) anti-slavery flag ca. 1861 featuring 13 black and white stripes and 23 stars, which excluded the Confederate states from its star count. The flag reads “No Union With Slavery.”
  • An anti-Vietnam War version of the American national flag bearing 50 stars arranged in a peace symbol with a flattened bottom, almost in the shape of a mushroom cap.
  • A rare, original first printing of the proposed U.S. Constitution of 1787.
  • The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, printed by John Dunlap in 1776.
  • A printing of the Bill of Rights as Proposed by the House of Representatives (17 Amendments) in 1789.
  • The Constitution and Laws of the Choctaw Nation, written in 1838.
  • A printing of the Constitution of the Proposed State of Wyoming, which granted women the right to vote in 1889, three decades before the 19th Amendment.
  • The majority opinion of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney in the 1857 case of Dred Scott v. Sandford, which claimed that Black people could never become American citizens.

Throughout the run of the exhibit, visitors of all ages can enjoy pop-up talks with a Museum educator that will examine replica Revolutionary flags, how they were made, and who made them. At a discovery cart, visitors will learn the story of Rebecca Flower Young, who worked in Philadelphia making flags and drum cases for the Continental Army. Families can explore the exhibit using a printed Family Guide full of games and activities. At activity stations, visitors can express what’s meaningful to them by making their own flag and using movable magnetics to write their own constitution.

During Flag Day Weekend, Saturday, June 12 – Monday, June 14, each visitor to the Museum will receive a free miniature version of the Commander-in-Chief’s Standard, the flag that marked George Washington’s presence on the battlefield. Also beginning Flag Day Weekend, visitors can view a display of enormous handmade replica flags flown by navy ships at sea during the Revolutionary War with the debut of the True Colours Flag Project

Tickets and info: amrevmuseum.org

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