By Frank Howard
September 17, 1995
Flags first showed up in ancient Egypt as streamers hung from long spears. These streamers had several functions: they gave combatants a rallying point, they showed the Generals the positions of their men, and they showed archers the wind direction. But the first reason was none of the above! It was to show "our" Gods which were "our" men on the battlefield. To be recognized as "our" battle streamer there must be some distinctive design. The early Roman streamers carried words and "seals" which were difficult to see in the midst of a battle. Distinctive colors became important. Size and shape became important as the Romans began carrying their square flags hanging downwards from crosstaffs on long poles.
These "battle" flags or streamers became more important as it was realized soldiers who could no longer see their flag felt themselves lost and fought with less vigor or gave up. As these flags became more important their symbols became more distinctive. There are many neat stories of how these symbols came into being.
One such story involves the 750 year old flag of Denmark. It seems King Valdemar the Victorious saw a white cross of clouds in the red sky just before his army won a battle. From 1219 on the flag of Denmark has been a white cross on a field of red!
Of course many of our modern flags date back to the Heraldry system of the Middle Ages. Then there were set rules as to which colors could be used and what the positions of the colors meant. There are only seven of the basic colors which fit in the rules. Think about it - most modern flags utilize colors from those basic 7 colors defined several hundred years ago.
But we are not interested in the vexillology of world flags, just those of Florida. Most of us are aware of the five national flags that have flown over Florida. But there are others - a good many others! More than a dozen, at least.
Two of those flags are not well remembered by us today as we tend to remember the more colorful or legendary and not often the actual. The first is the flag of the Confederacy. Most everyone thinks of the Stars and Bars or Southern Cross flag as the Flag of the Confederacy. That flag was the equivalent of today's Union Jack or the Naval ship's flag (this flag is composed of just the Blue Field of White Stars - no stripes or border).
The Southern Cross occupied this same position as it was the Navy Jack of the Confederacy and also the Field for the WHITE flag of the Confederacy. (The final Confederate flag had a red vertical bar on its fly end. It was a definite need as the furled or draped flag frequently looked all white and as such was thought to be a Flag of Surrender. This bar was not officially added until a month before the end of the war and therefore that flag may not have flown over Florida.)
The more likely Confederate flag to fly over Florida during the early part of the war (shown on the cover of The Wakulla Area Digest April 1994) is the three striped flag with a blue field of 7 (to 11) stars (one for each of the seceding states). This flag was too easily mistaken for the U. S. Flag and was not carried into battle.
The other of the two unremembered flags was the flag of Florida, the Sovereign Nation! Florida seceded from the Union in January of 1861. It did not enter the Confederacy until September of 1861. The first flag to fly during that time was flown at Pensacola by the Commander there. It was simply the old U. S. Flag with the blue field of stars removed and a blue field with a single Star of Florida substituted. Of course this is the same flag that flew some 25 years earlier over the Lone Star State (Country?) of Texas.
State Government reacted more slowly and did not come up with a flag until six months later. That flag only had three stripes, one white and two red. Its square field of blue occupied the entire hoist side of the flag and contained a version of the state seal and the motto "In God Is Our Trust Florida ".
In 1810 there was a very strange flag flying over parts of "West" Florida. Displaying only a single white star on a field of sky blue, it was called the "Bonnie Blue" and survived only three months. Recall in that day West Florida extended to Texas. So this Flag is more remembered in Louisiana and Mississippi. Those states contain the part of Florida in revolt against Spain in 1810.
Another flag which, strangely enough, flew in 1799 over a place called Tallahassa Taloofa (near the present day Tallahassee Mall in Tallahassee), was the Flag of Muskogee which was an attempt by William Bowles to take a portion of middle Florida away from the Spanish. The flag had an English type cross and colors with a single Indian symbol on it. It lasted about 2 years.
Some form of Mexican flag was also raised over Amelia Island as an adventurer from South American revolutions took over the island in 1817 for a few months.
San Marcos de Apalache (St. Marks) flew a flag called the Burgundian Saltire. It is an x-shaped rough or knobby red cross stylized to represent rough branches crossed on a white field. You see this flag when you go to the old fort at St. Marks. You can also see a remnant of this device in our present State Flag as it exists as the red "X" on a field of white with the Great Seal of Florida added in the center of the X. This red X was added (in 1899) to the former Seal on a white flag to give it color.
In this century two new flags have flown over parts of Florida; The flag of the Seminole Tribe and the striped flag of the Miccosukee Tribe. This latter flag caries a stripe in the appropriate color for each of the four compass directions. It is in keeping with a native tradition of the circle of life. Both flags date from the 1960's.
Spain had no single official flag in 1513 when Juan Ponce de Leon landed on the place he labeled Pascua Florida. But since he was a representative of the King he probably flew the Castle and Lions flag of that king.