Mid-19th Century 13 Star Yacht Ensign



Mid-19th Century 13 Star Yacht Ensign – This early yacht ensign dates to the mid-19th century. The canton and the stripes of this flag are made of wool bunting that has been pieced with mid-19th century, machine, chain stitching. The stars and anchor are made of cotton and are double-appliquéd (on both sides of the canton) via hand-stitching. The hoist is constructed of a cotton canvas and has two early, brass grommets. The flag is in fair condition, exhibiting several areas of separation, fraying and evidence of outdoor use; the flag would be best displayed if mounted and framed.

Measurements: Length – 46.25”; Width – 27”

13 Star Yacht Ensigns: The medallion configuration, 13-star, 13-stripe flag with a canted center anchor was entered into official use in 1848, following an act of Congress, that made it the official signal for U.S. pleasure sailing vessels. The need for such a flag arose with the popularity of boating as a pastime for well-to-do Americans, and as a competitive sport, in addition to its longstanding utilitarian role as a vehicle of trade. In early America, all boats were subject to customs searches at every port. Without modern income tax, the federal government derived its revenues mostly from tariffs, so an accounting of foreign goods on ships was a critical venture. As yachting for pleasure became more prevalent, however, more and more time was spent searching boats that had no such inventory, wasting time for both customs officials and wealthy ship-owners.*

John Cox Stevens, a former president of the Jockey Club and future founder of the Union League Club, became the New York Yacht Club’s Commodore upon its founding in 1845. In 1847 he approached the secretary of the treasury and suggested that something be done to streamline the customs process for non-trade vessels. In 1848 legislation passed Congress requiring registration of these boats, which could then fly the “American Yachting Signal” to bypass customs. In the 1980’s the 1848 legislation was revoked, but the use of flags in this design continues to this day. *

13-star flags have been used throughout our nation’s history for a variety of purposes. In addition to their use on private yachts, the U.S. Navy used the 13-star count on small boats, both in the 18th century and through most or all of the 19th century, particularly the second half. The Navy’s use of the 13-star flag ended in 1916 following an executive order written by President Woodrow Wilson. Among other uses, 13-star flags were carried by soldiers during the Mexican and Civil Wars, used at patriotic events, including Lafayette’s visit in 1825-26, flown at the celebration of the nation’s centennial in 1876 and the sesquicentennial in 1926. *

* Courtesy of Jeff Bridgman –

Jeff Bridgman American Antiques and Antique American Flags