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April 9, 2014

Revolutionary War flag could fetch millions at auction

MANCHESTER, Mass. — It was nearly 240 years ago that the Manchester Company of the Essex County Militia in Massachusetts took off for the Lexington Alarm.

As they marched toward the first Revolutionary War battle on April 19, 1775, the minutemen carried a 60-by-63-inch red flag with 13 ivory stripes affixed to its top left corner, seven on one side and six on the other, representing the 13 United Colonies.

The men who marched that day never saw battle, since the alarm ended before they reached Lexington. But that bright red silk flag they carried, now called the Forster Flag, still exists.

The Forster Flag, said to be the earliest existing flag designed to represent the 13 original colonies, is up for auction through Doyle New York, an auction and appraising company in New York City.

What does it cost to own this iconic piece of American history? A whopping $1 million to $3 million, according to Doyle.

The flag is being offered to benefit the Whitney Smith Flag Research Collection in the Dolph Brisco Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin, according to Doyle. Money raised through the auction will go toward an endowment for the center’s flag collection, John Huss, president of the Manchester Historical Museum, said.

“Obviously, it’s something we would love to have,” Huss said. The museum will not be making a bid, he added. He said it would be great if the flag made its way back to New England, noting that he hopes it stays within the United States.

Though Huss said he doesn’t know where the flag was made, he said there’s a theory that the flag once sported a British Union Jack in its canton, or top left corner. This was removed and replaced with a red silk square onto which the strips of ivory representing the colonies was sewn, he said. The flag itself was made of two red silk strips sewn together.

Flags were crucial for battle during the revolution, Huss said. If a soldier became separated from his group, he could look for the flag to find his way back, Huss said. This explains why the flag is around five feet long.

“It was something that was critical,” Huss said. “That’s where ‘Rally around the flag’ comes from.”

The flag being offered for auction was named after Samuel Forster, a second lieutenant for the Manchester Company. It remained in Manchester’s Forster family for two centuries until it was sold to the Flag Heritage Foundation in 1975. For a time, Huss said, the flag was draped over a captured British drum at the Massachusetts Statehouse.

Arianna MacNeill can be reached at 978-675-2710 or at amacneill@gloucestertimes.com.

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