by David B. Martucci

New England is the north east corner of the United States, comprising the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. This region was originally inhabited by several Amerindian tribes; later it was the site of some of the earliest european settlements in North America. See map.

The history of the Pine Tree as a symbol of New England probably predates the european colonial settlements. In eastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire and the southern corner of Maine, there once lived a nomadic tribe of Amerindians known as the Penacook. "Penacook" is an Algonquin word meaning "Children of the Pine Tree." The Penacook people have been credited with teaching the Pilgrims, those settlers of the Plymouth Colony of Eastern Massachusetts, much needed survival skills when the colonists were starving to death during the winter of 1621-22. The forests surrounding the settlement were teeming with game and wild foods unfamiliar to the Pilgrims and it was the Penacooks who showed them these new things. According to some accounts, the Penacooks also taught the Pilgrims elementary democracy, which the Penacooks, in turn, had learned from the Five Nations (later six) of the Iroquois Confederacy. The emblem of the Iroquois from the begining of their history to the present day is the "Tree of the Great Peace," a White Pine Tree with an Eagle perched on the top of it.

In 1629, the Plymouth Colony adopted a seal that featured a shield with a Saint George's cross on it, in between the arms of which is a scene repeated four times of a human figure on one knee holding up something in offering (sometimes described as a heart or as a flame) between two trees.

Later, in 1639, the Massachusetts Bay settlers adopted a seal that featured an Amerindian in the center holding an unstrung bow and a down-pointed arrow (symbols of peace and the personal emblems of Samoset, who was one of the two Amerindians who had been captured by the English, taken to England and taught English and returned to New England in time to greet the Pilgrims in their own language, which they thought was a sign from God). Out of his mouth is a ribbon with the caption "Come over and help us" on it and on either side there are two trees. On the left is a Pine Tree and on the right is an Oak Tree. The Oak Tree is a traditional symbol of England; could the Pine be the traditional symbol of the natives of New England?

The Pine Tree has appeared on the Massachusetts Coat of Arms (Reverse) and Naval Flag; the first Seal of New Hampshire (1776); the Coat of Arms, Seal and present Flag of Vermont; the Coat of Arms, Seal, and all the Flags, past and present, of Maine.

Massachusetts Bay Colony was the scene of "The Great Migration" wherein thousands of religious dissenters came over to the New World to make a new life for themselves in the company of "saints" and other Puritans. Right off quick they passed laws regulating social behavior and the observance of the Sabbath and the ministers went to great pains to condemn the traditional "idols" of the established church (not to mention Popery). In 1636, following a sermon by Roger Williams (who was later ousted from Massachusetts for being too liberal and went on to found the Rhode Island Colony) condeming the cross as a symbol of the Anti-Christ, the Governor of the Colony, John Endicott, ordered the Standard Bearers of the Colony to remove the St. Georges Cross from their flags. Before this was done, however, the Great and General Court hauled Endicott in for examination, found that he had "exceeded the lymits of his calling" and punished him by forbiding him from holding public office for one full year! Then they gave the Standard Bearers permission to devise any kind of flag they wanted and, without exception, they removed the crosses from their flags. From that time on until sometime about 50 years later, the unofficial flag of Massachusetts Bay was Red with a White Canton.

Unofficial Massachusetts Bay Colony Flag, 1636-c.1686

More than a generation later, the Puritans having lost some of their hold on the beliefs of the Massachusetts settlers, the St. George's cross again begins to appear on the flags. In a manuscript, "Insignia Navalia by Lt. Gradon, 1686," an illustration of the "New England" Jack appears, a white flag with a red St. George's Cross with an Oak tree in the canton. Other documents from approximately this time period show the red ensign with the red St. George's Cross on a white canton and a green tree in the canton of the cross.

First Flag of New England, 1686-c.1707?

The species of tree in the earliest drawings apparently is not critical, sometimes looking like a Pine, sometimes like an Oak. It is described as the "Red Flag of New England," even though one source labels it as such immediately below an illustration colored blue! (the caption on the original document is in French and Dutch, not English, but I simulate it here in English.)

This illustration, of course, gave rise to all kinds of copycats who didn't read the caption and showed the New England Flag as blue, even though there is no contemporary New English or English source that show it that way. Sometimes, as shown above, the tree is replaced by a globe (again, not in any English source), probably because the artist couldn't tell what the illustration he was copying from was depicting.

After the Union of England and Scotland, there are a few pictures showing the New England Flag as a Red Ensign with the Union crosses in the Canton and a Pine Tree on a White Canton of the Union.

Second Flag of New England, c.1707?-1775

When the American Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, the Massachusetts Militia Men remembered their flag and modified it by removing the Cross of St. George and enlarging the Pine Tree. This flag is depicted in the famous painting by Jonathan Trumbell of "The Battle of Bunker Hill," which he painted in 1785, after the war was over. Trumbell was an officer in the Revolutionary Army and was in Massachusetts at the time of the battle, but he did not participate in that battle.

Third Flag of New England, 1775-?
("The Bunker Hill Flag")
Flag of Lincoln County, Maine, 1977-present

The Massachusetts Navy adopted a White Flag with a Green Pine Tree in the center and the motto "An Appeal To Heaven" below in 1775, probably intentionally the jack form of the New England Flag. This flag, minus the motto, was confirmed in 1971 as the Maritime Flag of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; a variant with the addition of a blue anchor, the State name and motto was adopted by the State of Maine in 1939 as that State's Maritime Flag. The Third New England Flag was adopted by Lincoln County, Maine as their flag in 1977. The Jack form of the First New England Flag was used by the Town of York, Maine as their flag during the 250th Anniversary of the founding of the Town on August 5, 1902.

One thing to note; there is a flag being touted as "THE Flag of New England" that is blue with the cross and tree in the canton and six stars in a circle in the fly. This flag has no basis in good history or good vexillology. It was invented by a Flag Company in Ipswich, Massachusetts strictly for commercial purposes and they have sold many to unsuspecting customers. The flag is accompanied by a copyright statement that says "NOT TO BE MANUFACTURED, PRINTED OR REPRODUCED WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION."

Not Really a Flag of New England

On 8 June 1998, K. Albert Ebinger, owner of the copyright on the above flag design, made a presentation to the New England Governor's Conference who, without realizing it was a proprietary design controlled for the profit of one person, adopted the design as the official New England Flag. IF YOU ARE NOT HAPPY WITH THIS SITUATION, PLEASE CONTACT THE NEW ENGLAND GOVERNOR'S CONFERENCE (NEGC Inc., 76 Summer St, Boston MA 02110-1226, 1-617-423-6900, FAX 1-617-423-7327,, OR YOUR FAVORITE NEW ENGLAND GOVERNOR(S) AND LET THEM KNOW HOW YOU FEEL.

The NEGC responded to NEVA's letter of concern, in part, "In 1998, Mr. Ebinger appeared before the New England Governors' Conference, in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada during the annual Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers and suggested the promotion of New England tourism would benefit from the use of a common symbol, such as his 'New England Flag'. At that meeting, the governors approved a motion to adopt the flag as the 'official emblem of the New England Conference'. They did not make any claims as to its legitimacy as an official or authentic flag of the six state region, nor did they adopt it as the official flag of the region."

Please contact me for further information, references, etc. regarding the Flags of New England and of Maine. There is information about Maine Flags on my Maine Flags pages.

Dave Martucci

240 Calderwood Rd
Washington, Maine 04574-3440 USA
1 (207) 845-2857

To the New England Vexillological Assn. Page

To the New England Journal of Vexillology Page

To the U.S. Flag History Page