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Flag Day Observed At Historic Fort Ontario

A group of students helps the Elks display six of the flags of our nation.
A group of students helps the Elks display six of the flags of our nation.

OSWEGO, NY – Fort Ontario was invaded Tuesday by hundreds of elementary students.

The history of the American flag, as well as the fort, was unfurled for te annual Oswego Elks’ Flag Day ceremonies. Over the centuries, hundreds of flags have flown there over the centuries.

A large crowd, mostly students and their teachers as well as some re-enactors, filled the parade grounds to witness the Flag Day celebration.

It was the largest ever crowd at a Flag Day event, according to Paul Lear, historic site manager.

Members of the military interpretive unit of the Continental Arms Collectors Association, representing the 1st New York Regiment of 1782, fire their rifles during a demonstration at the fort.
Members of the military interpretive unit of the Continental Arms Collectors Association, representing the 1st New York Regiment of 1782, fire their rifles during a demonstration at the fort.

“For 13 years after the Revolutionary War, the British continued to hold Fort Ontario,” Lear told the crowd. “It was a period of great tension, all along our borders.”

The British didn’t relinquish control of the fort until 1796.

Re-enactors, dressed as British soldiers, lowered the King’s Colors from the fort’s flagpole. Moments later, members of the military interpretive unit of the Continental Arm and Collector’s Association, representing the 1st New York Regiment of 1782, portraying the American troops raised a 15-star American Flag.

Members of the Oswego Elks presented the history of the flag and later lead the crowd in reciting the Pledge of Alegiance.

The evolution of the American Flag marks the progression of the government of the nation.

From the landing of the Pilgrims in 1620 until 1775, the flag of England was the flag of the peoples of America.

In 1775, the Pine Tree flag was adopted by the colonies, and this was the banner carried by the Continental forces in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

The southern colonies in 1776 and 1777 used the snake (Don’t Tread On Me) flag.

In the latter part of 1775, the Continental Congress appointed a committee to consider the question of a single flag for the 13 colonies.

An interpretive unit representing British soldiers who served at Fort Ontario sings God Save the King as their flag is displayed in the background.
An interpretive unit representing British soldiers who served at Fort Ontario sings God Save the King as their flag is displayed in the background.

That committee recommended a design of 13 alternate stripes of red and white with an azure field in the upper corner bearing the red cross of St. George and the white cross of St. Andrew.

This flag later evolved into the banner with 13 alternating red and blue stripes signifying the colonies. It also had 13 blue stars on a white field.

In May or June of 1776, a committee commissioned Betsy Ross to create a new flag.

This banner was first flown at Fort Stanwick, called Fort Schuyler at that time, in the city of Rome, Aug. 3, 1777, and was under fire three days later in the Battle of Orinskany during a British and Indian attack.

In 1796, when the US took possession of Fort Ontario, a 15 star -15 stripe flag was flown from the northwest bastion.

This would be the scene of a fierce fight in 1814 when British troops stormed the fort.

American marksmen picked off three attackers scaling the flagpole before the fourth ripped off the large garrison flag and replaced it with the British.

This captured flag is still in existence and housed in a castle in Scotland as a war trophy.

Rick Smith of the Oswego Elks Lodge passes out flag pins to the elementary students prior to the Flag Day ceremony at the fort on Tuesday.
Rick Smith of the Oswego Elks Lodge passes out flag pins to the elementary students prior to the Flag Day ceremony at the fort on Tuesday.

Two stars and stripes were added to recognize Vermont and Kentucky becoming states. This flag was used during the War of 1812.

It is the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write what has become our national anthem.

The Congress on April 14, 1818, adopted a resolution that on or after July 4, 1818, the number of stripes should be 13 and the blue field should carry one star for each of the 20 states in the union and that a new star should be added for each new state.

Since 1918, there has been no change in the flag design except for 28 new stars.

This flag of 48 stars flew over this nation for 47 years until just before the Vietnam War.

The last two stars were added in honor of Alaska and Hawaii.

There have been probably hundreds of flags flown over Fort Ontario, regimental, state, national and everything else.

Two students bundle up to stay warm as they watch the program.
Two students bundle up to stay warm as they watch the program.

The first flag was a French flag probably brought with the Jesuit missionary Father Joseph Poncet in 1653 when he passed through this area on his way to Quebec from Albany.

Other flags included British flags, a white flag (the battle flag of the French Navy), and various stages of the American Flag.

Around 1727 the first British flag was flown around the Port City; it would fly here, off and on, throughout the 1700s.

There were seven battles fought at the fort between 1755 and 1814.

It wasn’t until the 1830s and 1840s that the American Army came back and rebuilt Fort Ontario pretty much into what visitors see today.

The fort’s period flag has 37 stars, representing how many states were in the union in 1868, right after the Civil War.

That is the interpretive period at the fort, which reflects the common age of the buildings.

Susan Wojakowski, a history interpreter from near Potsdam, tends to her cooking fire. Her demonstrations show how life was during the early to mid 1800s.
Susan Wojakowski, a history interpreter from near Potsdam, tends to her cooking fire. Her demonstrations show how life was during the early to mid 1800s.

During the 1930s and 1940s, the fort flew a 48-star flag as it was home to thousands of troops and military police.

It was also the site of the only refugee camp in America for those fleeing the Nazi Holocaust during World War II.

Also displayed was the State Parks, Recreation and Historical Preservation flag that has been flown at the fort since the state took it over as a park more than 50 years ago.

Susan Wojakowski, an interpreter from near Potsdam, made the journey south to, among other things, demonstrate of beef stew was cooked hundreds of years ago.

“This is just a perfect place for events like these,” she said as she tended to the kettle cooking in an open fire. “You are surrounded by history. It’s such a treasure; it has to be preserved.”

Donald Austin, Raiden Levea and Cole Sweeney tried their hand at using 1860s period (faux) weaponry.

“We learned about the flags and how to safely hold a gun (flintlock rifle),” Donald said. “Which ways to face so you know which way to go when you march.”

Cole Sweeney, left, performs a weapons drill (with mock weapon) that soldiers at the fort practiced centuries ago. Looking on are his fellow elementary classmates Donald Austin and Raiden Levea, right. They are practicing under the watchful eye of one of the interpreters
Cole Sweeney, left, performs a weapons drill (with mock weapon) that soldiers at the fort practiced centuries ago. Looking on are his fellow elementary classmates Donald Austin and Raiden Levea, right. They are practicing under the watchful eye of one of the interpreters.

Raiden agreed.

“We learned how to hold the gun and basically walk with the gun,” he said. “And we learned how they attacked with the bayonet.”

“I liked learning how to hold the gun and walk with it,” Cole added.

The three Fulton students said they enjoyed their visit to Fort Ontario and learned about the local history.

For more information, visit www.fortontario.com