Flag Day Observed At Historic Fort Ontario

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.

Members of the Oswego Elks display several flags, representing the evolution of the American Flag.The history of the American flag, as well as Fort Ontario, unfurled for visitors Saturday.

A large crowd, some re-enactors, 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.”

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

As he spoke, re-enactors dressed as British soldiers lowered the King’s Colors from the fort’s flagpole.

George Clark of the Continental Arms Collectors Association, interpretative unit, raises the American Flag at Fort Ontario after lowering the King’s Colors.Moments later, members of the Continental Arms Collectors Association, interpretative unit, raised a 15-star American Flag. A color guard fired a musket salute as the flag was raised.

Dave Dirk, president of the Oswego Veterans Council, served as MC for the program.

He led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance and then Jenny Emmons, of Fort Ontario, sang the Star Spangled Banner.

Dirk then introduced Colleen Rinaldo, Americanism committee chair for the Oswego Elks, who presented the history of the flag.

“The evolution of the American Flag marks the progression of the government of the American people,” she said.

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

Jenny Emmons sings the national anthem. Looking on, from left are, Paul Lear, Dave Dirk, and Bridget Clark.“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,” she 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,” she said.

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.

Rich LaCrosse, historic site assistant at Fort Ontario, told about the many flags that are a part of the fort’s long history, including this French Flag from the 1600s.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.

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,” Rinaldo said.

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

Legislator Doug Malone, center, was among the large crowd at Fort Ontario to witness the Flag Day program.Bridget Clark, publicist for the Continental Arms Collectors Association, interpretative unit, told about that group and then members performed some drills for the crowd.

Rich LaCrosse, historic site assistant at Fort Ontario, helped conduct the Flag Day events; he explained about the various flags that flew over the fort.

“There were probably hundreds of flags flown here, both regimental, state, national and everything else,” he said.

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, he noted.

“It would fly here, off and on, throughout the 1700s, quite a long time,” he said.

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

“It’s not until the 1830s and 1840s that the American Army comes back and rebuilds Fort Ontario pretty much into what you see today,” he said.

The fort’s period flag has 37 stars, representing how many states were in the union in 1868, right after the Civil War; “That’s our interpretive period here because it reflects the common age of the buildings,” he added.

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,” he said. “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.