The Guilford Flag

By Healan Barrow

Guilford Flag
Photo courtesy of
NC Museum of History

According to the Bullock family history, Micajah Bullock brought home the flag that was flown at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781. That flag is now stored in the North Carolina Museum of History. However there is some controversy on whether the flag is an actual battle relic.

Al Hoilman, curator of Political and Socio-Economic History at the museum, has studied the reports on the controversy and believes the flag could have been flown at the battle. “It (story of the flag) smacks of truth to me,” he says.

The documented part of the story starts in 1854 when Micajah’s son Major Edward Bullock, 81, carried the flag in the dedication of the Mt. Energy Masonic Lodge and then gave the flag to the lodge, which carefully preserved it. In 1909, the flag found a new home at the North Carolina Grand Lodge of Masons. In the Lodge Proceedings for 1909, it says, “This flag is presented by…the two eldest male descendants of Micajah Bullock, who brought it home from the battlefields of North and South Carolina about the close of the war of the Revolution…This flag was brought home by our ancestor, and the family tradition says was carefully preserved in his home until the dedication of the lodge at Mt. Energy in April, 1854.”

The Grand Lodge gave the flag to the North Carolina Historical Commission in 1914. Hoilman says the flag is considered one of the earliest artifacts in the museum that was founded in 1903.

The flag’s connection to the Battle of Guilford Courthouse is mentioned in a family history compiled by the late Kathryn Bullock Royster, the great, great-granddaughter of Micajah Bullock. She states that Micajah Bullock was in the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge as well as in Guilford battle. He brought the flag back from that battle, she says.

The main controversy seems to center around the fragment of the flag that is missing. Most of the flag is still intact with 12 stripes, six red and six blue. The 13th stripe is partially missing. There are also fragments on the staff side of the flag that suggest that there were 14, perhaps 16 stripes at one time. There is also an indication that the missing stripes were deliberately removed.

In 1970 Grace Rogers Cooper, Curator in the Division of Textiles at the Smithsonian, examined the flag. In a letter, dated February 20, 1970, to the Archives and History Department, she wrote that the presence of 14 and perhaps more stripes indicated that the flag did not exist at the time of the Revolutionary War.

Another unique aspect about the flag is the field of stars, says Hoilman. “Eight-pointed stars are unusual in any flag,” he says, “and the field of stars is asymmetrical. In most flags the field is symmetrical.”

He noted that it has even been suggested that originally there were 15 stars and two were cut off, making the field appear asymmetrical. If this were the case he said, it would appear that the flag was made during the early 1790s when Vermont and Kentucky became states and Congress adopted the 15-star, 15-striped flag in 1794.

Hoilman doesn’t like this theory. “There is no hard evidence of 15 stars,” he said. “I don't buy that.” He added that “sixteen stripes and 15 stars don’t make sense.”

But it does make sense to look at the time in which the flag was supposedly made. “The militia locally put together their own impressions of the flag,” he said. “It could have been a militia flag which would add credence to the unusual design… I can understand why a flag of this peculiar design existed. There were all kinds of different designs in the 1770s. By 1790 the familiar red, white and blue was well established.”

Others have come to the same conclusion. In a July 1959 article in National Geographic Magazine (“New Stars for Old Glory,” pp. 86-121), author Lonnelle Aikman says, “… the land forces of that time usually bore their own state, regional and other devices… the designs differed sharply. How sharply can be seen by flags displayed as battle relics of Bennington, Guilford Courthouse and Cowpens.” On page 94 of the magazine there is a picture of the Guilford flag on display at the old NC Hall of History Museum.

Hoilman says that while he cannot definitively say the Guilford flag was flown in the Revolutionary War, he thinks that it was because of family and Masonic lodge accounts. He says he has no reason to believe the family story was fabricated. Also he noted that Micajah Bullock did serve in the Revolution. “I like to think it (the flag) is authentic,” he says.

At the Guilford Courthouse National Military park, a handmade replica of the flag is on display. In a description of the flag, it is noted that the flag is believed to have been carried at the battle.

Healan Barrow has been a member of Micajah Bullock Chapter, NSDAR, since 1985. She is the author of two Maryland town histories — “Sykesville Past and Present” (Greenberg Publishing Company, Inc. 1987); and with Kristine Stevens, “Olney: Echoes of the Past” (Family Line Publications, 1993.”
Photograph of the Guilford Flag is copyrighted and may not be reprinted, republished, or copied without permission from the North Carolina Museum of History.
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