Oldest American flag in existence once captured by soldiers from Niagara-on-the-Lake


Published February 23, 2023 at 10:27 am

One of the oldest American flags in existence was once property of British soldiers crossing into America in the War of 1812 and capturing Old Fort Niagara in Lewiston, New York. It now has a permanent homes in the Smithsonian Institute. (Photo: Smithsonian Institute)

It is considered one of the oldest – if not the oldest – American flags still in existence. And once upon a time, it was the property of British soldiers who crossed into Lewiston, New York, from Niagara-on-the-Lake and captured Fort Niagara on the American side.

Given its age, it now resides in the world-famous Smithsonian Institute but for many decades, it wasn’t even on North American soil.

When the British stormed and captured Fort Niagara in 1813, the huge flag, 22 feet tall and 36 feet wide, was shipped to Britain as essentially a spoil of war – a cloth trophy, if you will.

From England, it found its way to Scotland where it wasn’t rediscovered by the Americans until 1993 – 180 years later.

With 15 stars and 15 stripes, the flag represented the 15 states in America at the time. The marks on the flag, which look like topography for a cluster of islands, are just stains. Remember that particular flag has lasted a long time and travelled many miles.

The flag was oversized for a reason. It was the brainchild of a young American officer, Major George Armistead, who led a successful assault that captured Fort George across the river in Newark, now known as Niagara-on-the-Lake.

He deliberately commissioned the giant flag for Fort Niagara because he wanted a flag “so big that the British (soldiers) would have no difficulty seeing it from a distance.”

As for Fort Niagara, it’s still around. Originally built by the French, it was lost to the British and eventually ceded back to the Americans.

Old Fort Niagara served as a training station and active barracks from the Civil War until the last army units were withdrawn in 1963.

The original fort was restored between 1929 and 1934 and continues to be operated today by the Old Fort Niagara Association, Inc., in cooperation with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

With a history that spans more than 300 years, Fort Niagara is the oldest continuously occupied military site in America.

Originally built by the French, Old Fort Niagara, located just outside of Lewiston, New York, was once the home of that oversized American flag, thought to be perhaps the oldest in existence.

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