Stars and Stripes or Just Stars? History Buffs Disagree on When Stars Showed Up With Stripes
Barnabas Webb has been dead for nearly two centuries. But the Revolutionary War soldier—or, at least, the powder horn he used to carry gunpowder—is vexing the world of vexillologists, or flag researchers.
A Virginia innkeeper and history buff claims the engravings decorating Mr. Webb’s powder horn, which depict the end of the Siege of Boston in March 1776, contain the earliest known representation of the stars and stripes together on an American flag.
If correct, it could mean that Colonial Americans united stars and stripes more than a year before the 1777 Flag Act declared that the national flag should contain 13 stripes and 13 stars, potentially rewriting the early history of the Grand Old Flag.
But the claim is raising red flags among some historians of early America, who call it a star-spangled misstep.
John Millar, a Williamsburg, Va., innkeeper by day and architectural and tall-ships historian in his spare time, was perusing an issue of Early American Life, a magazine for enthusiasts of the era, last summer when he came across a photo of an 18th-century powder horn. Studying the images on the powder horn, which bears the date March 17-April 1776, he says he made a surprising discovery: A fingernail-size flag he believes depicts stars.