My Town, Somerville, MA. First Flag
My town: Somerville, Massachusetts, USA.
A little over twenty years ago I moved into the town of Somerville, Massachusetts. From the time I became a permanent resident here, I have been enchanted by this city. One of the things I love about Somerville is that it is a city that acts like a small community. It lives within four square miles. It is the home to eighty thousand people. It is a city where people from across the world live peacefully and harmoniously, with those generations that have been here from Somerville's beginnings. One of the greatest things about Somerville is that its people are unpretentious. It is all straight talk with them.
It is an old town, harkening back to the days of the American Revolution. In fact, it is the place in the entire US where the first flag was planted, as ordered by George Washington. Aside from the flag, Somerville is a wonder of early, as well as later, US architecture, which is why I am doing this and hubs to follow. I want to bring this town to the world because it deserves to be celebrated.
Something also unique about Somerville is that it boasts one of the largest and most vibrant artists' community in the US. That will be the subject of a future blog.
So, let's start at the beginning: the first flag on US soil, "The Grand Union".
Grand Union Flag
On January 1st, 1776, George Washington ordered The Grand Union flag to be raised on the liberty pole at Prospect Hill, near George Washington's headquarters in Cambridge, MA.
Prior to it being raised on Prospect Hill, it had flown aboard ships of the Colonial Fleet on the Delaware River. Its first day in the sun was December 3, 1775, when it was raised aboard Capt. Esek Hopkin's flagship Alfred by John Paul Jones, then a navy lieutenant, and was the unofficial national flag on July 4, 1776, Independence Day, until June 14, 1777, when the Continental Congress authorized the Stars and Stripes.
The picture below is unique. Here is the monument with no flag. Early on January 1st the flag that had flown the previous year is taken down (it is the only day of the year that the flag spends some time not flying), to be replaced by the new flag for the upcoming year.
But before the flag is raised, a parade. It begins at City Hall, where all gather in anticipation of General George Washington's arrival
Ah, John Adams is ready
The Brits are on the march ("Bloody Backs")
The general arrives. The parade is ready to start
The parade begins
The parade makes its way down Highland Ave.
And turns up and onto Greenville St.
where General Washington and the parade is arriving at Prospect Hill Monument
Gardner's Regiment turns onto Monroe St., where the Prospect Hill Monument resides.
Some of the interested crowd is already gathered
Waiting in anticipation for the Grand Union to be raised.
But just before it is raised, we see always flamboyant and loquacious Ben Franklin discoursing on whatever he was onto at the moment. Could it be he was talking to this interested scribe about his influence on the design of the Grand Union?
The presentation by COL (MA) Lawrence Willwerth.
Lawrence is a Citizen Soldier, US Army Retired, Lifelong Somerville Resident, Somerville Museum & Historic Somerville's Board Member.
236th ANNIVERSARY “FIRST FLAG” RAISING,
Prospect Hill, Somerville, MA
In December 1775, the siege of Boston had gone on for eight long months without any clear outcome. Reconciliation with the King had been unsuccessful. It was now Winter. The soldiers had not been paid, and they wanted to go home. Morale was low. How would it be possible to create the new Continental Army in January 1776 in front of the British lines during the middle of battle, as most enlistment ended December 31, 1775?
The new flag General George Washington requested, “The Great Union” arrived and was presented to his staff on January first 1776. Concurrently, General William Howe, Commander of British forces in Boston directed that copies of the King’s speech to Parliament declaring war on the colonies, be distributed to the American soldiers. In response, General Washington directed the new flag be flown from Prospect Hill, the highest visible point in the American fortifications. This visible display marked the beginning of the formation of the new Continental Army, reminding the British we would not be intimidated.
In January 1776, everything changed. The colonists, formerly angry British citizens, had been transformed to independent Americans! The “Great Union Flag”, now known as the “Grand Union Flag”, waved proudly from Prospect Hill. Many soldiers reenlisted and decided to stay in the army for the eight long years of the Revolutionary War. The Continental army was successfully created.
Later in January 1776, cannons previously captured from Fort Ticonderoga, NY and dragged on sleds 150 miles to Boston by Colonel Henry Knox, were emplaced in the American fortifications, resulting in the forced British army evacuation of Boston in March 1776. This first major military victory of the Revolution, combined with the publication of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” made it possible to realize our independence
And now, time to raise The Grand Union
General Washington pays close attention
John Adams pays particular attention
Interested insider Ben Franklin makes sure all is in order
As do all other interested and invested participants
American Legion, Post 19, for the salute of the Grand Union
A few pictures from the top of Prospect Monument. Overlooking Somerville
To the left of Somerville, from this view, Boston with the Zakim Bridge to its left