A Flag from the Past & Future?
The flag of the U.S. state of Maine from 1901 to 1909 was the first official flag to be used to represent the state other than its militia; it was later replaced by a more standard military-style flag in 1909. The flag has recently seen a revival of interest due to local Maine vexillologists advocating for its re-adoption and businesses selling reproductions of it. There is a movement to have Maine readopt this flag design.
Although the official pattern for “Embroidered or Painted Bunting” was published by the Legislature, the 1901 legislative document simply states “buff charged with the emblem of the State, a pine tree proper in the center and the polar star (a mullet of five points), in blue in the upper corner.” As long as this criterion is met, the flag should be considered a Maine state flag. Some flags today might have stylized pine trees or various shades of “buff” (beige). The pine tree is a traditional symbol of New England and has been featured on New England flags since at least 1686, notably the Pine Tree Flag, although the White Pine as a symbol probably is derived from Native American usage going back to the Iroquois Tree of the Great Peace which was first used more than 800 years ago.
A modern popular version of the flag uses a tree design from the Maine merchant and marine flag.
Although Maine had a semi-official militia flag from the 1820s to at least the 1860s, an official design was first proposed at the time the State House was being enlarged.
On March 6, 1901, An act to establish a State Flag was read in the State House of Representatives and referred to the Military Affairs Committee. It was read the next day in the State Senate and also referred to Military Affairs. The first draft of this act reads as follows:
The State Flag is hereby declared to be blue, charged with the Arms of the State in the colors and as described in the Resolves of the State of Maine from 1820 to 1828, Volume I, Chapter IV. Resolve for providing a Seal, June 9th, 1820, Description of the Device, &c., of the Seal and Arms of the State of Maine.
The Military Affairs Committee read their report on this act in the House on March 15 and in the Senate on March 19; this report contained a new draft and was read by Frederick Walls of Vinalhaven (born North Searsmont, Me., 1844; died Vinalhaven, March 15, 1921, son of Jacob Walls and Eliza Thompson) with the recommendation, ought to pass. The new draft reads as follows:
The State Flag is hereby declared to be buff charged with the emblem of the State, a pine tree proper in the center and the polar star (a mullet of five points), in blue in the upper corner. The star to be equidistant from the hoist and upper border of the flag, the distance from the two borders to the center of the star equal to about one quarter the hoist. This distance and the size of the star being proportionate to the size of the flag.
This act passed both houses and on March 21, 1901 was Engrossed – Chapter 233 – State Law.
The flag, a simple combination of a buff ground bearing a Pine Tree in the center and a blue star in the canton, was the creation of Adjutant General John T. Richards. In its 26 March 1901 edition, on page 5, The Kennebec Journal reported that “He did not word the description according to the terms used in heraldry because they might be blind to many who are not familiar with them, but the bill in simple comprehensive language set forth General Richards’ design.”
The paper went on to explain “The design as adopted is preferable in many aspects to the State coat-of-arms … Maine is everywhere known as ‘The Pine Tree State’ and what could be more appropriate than … the tree should be one of the features of the flag? … Were a flag bearing the pine tree carried through any city the people would say ‘There is Maine’.”
“Besides being the most appropriate in design, the State flag will be a thing of beauty. The background of buff, the old colonial color, will harmonize perfectly with the green of the tree and the blue pole star and altogether will form a beautiful emblem most fitting in appearance and sentiment to be the standard of the old State of Maine.”
The design was also used by the militia both as a military flag and as the design for the buttons of the new uniforms. The Maine Railroad Company, known as “The Pine Tree Line”, also used a variant on its conductors’ uniform buttons. The design was also used by the people of Maine in various capacities, such as at the “Old Home Week” celebrations in 1901 and later and in various cities such as Boston and New York that had active Maine State Clubs. The State of Maine launch “Sea Gull” reportedly used it as a jack in 1904. Even as the Maine Legislature decided to change the flag in 1909, it was proudly displayed by the Hon. F.E. Timberlake at his Rangeley “camp”, Marsquamosy Lodge.
Only one existing contemporary example of the 1901 flag is known to exist today. It is a small silk flag made about 1908 by the A. Kimball Co. of New York, likely for the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition, which was held in 1909. There are three known copies of this flag, one each in California, Maryland, and Maine.
A new law was later enacted on February 23, 1909, modeled on the first draft and supposedly after flags used in the Civil War, which revised the original:
§206. State flag. The flag to be known as the official flag of the State shall be of blue, of the same color as the blue field in the flag of the United States, and of the following dimensions and designs; to wit, the length or height of the staff to be 9 feet, including brass spearhead and ferrule; the fly of said flag to be 5 feet 6 inches, and to be 4 feet 4 inches on the staff; in the center of the flag there shall be embroidered in silk on both sides of the flag the coat of arms of the State, in proportionate size; the edges to be trimmed with knotted fringe of yellow silk, 2 1/2 inches wide; a cord, with tassels, to be attached to the staff at the spearhead, to be 8 feet 6 inches long and composed of white and blue silk strands. A flag made in accordance with the description given in this section shall be kept in the office of the Adjutant General as a model.
The 1909 flag is described in minute detail, including specific size, embroidery in silk, pole, spearhead, fringe, cord and tassel; there are no flags known to exist that meet these legal descriptions. The supposed model flag in the Adjutant General’s office is made of printed synthetic materials and is mounted on a pole shorter than nine feet and includes purple trees in the forest behind the white pine and moose.
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