OSWEGO, NY – There probably isn’t any place better to celebrate Flag Day than an historic site where hundreds of flags have flown over the centuries.
The history of the American flag, as well as Fort Ontario, was unfurled Friday at Fort Ontario.
A large crowd of mostly elementary students and their teachers from around the county and some re-enactors depicting different eras, filled the parade grounds to witness the Flag Day celebration.
“For 13 years after the Revolutionary War, the British continued to hold Fort Ontario,” Paul Lear, historic site manager, told the crowd. “It was a period of great tension, all along our borders.”
Fittingly, Ian Mumpton (dressed in period British military attire) sang “God Save the King.”
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 1781, portraying the American troops raised a 15-star American Flag.
Jennifer Emmons then sang “The Star Spangled Banner (including the second verse).
Members of the Oswego Elks presented the history of the flag and later Mayor Tom Gillen lead the crowd in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
The evolution of the American Flag marks the progression of the government of the American people, Lear noted.
From the landing of the Pilgrims in 1620 until 1775, the flag of England was the flag of the peoples of America, he explained.
“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,” he said. “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. 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 cerate a new flag.
This banner was first flown at Fort Stanwick, called Fort Schuyler at that time, in the city of Rome, NY, 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.
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 were probably hundreds of flags flown over Fort Ontario, both regimental, state, national and everything else.
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 in the Port City, “off and on,” throughout the 1700s, quite a long time,” Lear noted.
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 you 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; which reflects the common age of the buildings.
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 a happening place when we had a 48-star flag,” Lear told Oswego County Today. “It was even the site of the only refugee camp in America for those fleeing the Nazi Holocaust during World War II. That’s a very unique chapter in the fort’s history.”
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.
Fort Ontario is one of six historic sites and 18 parks in the Central Region administered by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
For more information about NYS Parks, visit www.nysparks.com or Fort Ontario at www.fortontario.com