A 13-Star American Flag associated with pre-statehood California

dated, "1840"

Emblazoned with a hand-painted eagle with outstretched wings, clutching branch and arrows in talons, beneath an arc of blue stars and above the hand-painted date, "1840," on a cotton canton, 10 hand-sewn wool and cotton stripes, cotton hoist, mounted and framed.

55 in. x 88 in. (sight)


Cowan's Auctions, December 9, 2010, lot 190.

Estimate $10,000-20,000

Note: The flag is accompanied by an oral tradition of a California origin, purportedly flown at Sutter's Fort (1839-1848), a trading and farming outpost at the junction of the Sacramento and American Rivers. The Fort was established by John Sutter (1803-1880), a Swiss pioneer and entrepreneur. It is unlikely that the flag flew over Sutter's Fort as California was then part of Mexico and John Sutter became a Mexican citizen to obtain his land grant. Sutter would have flown the flag of the Mexican Republic or the Mexican Civil flag as his loyalty and motivations were questioned by the Mexican leadership at the time. Indeed, Sutter threatened to fly the French national flag when having problems with Mexican authorities. Sutter did, however, offer hospitality and work to many American traders and trappers. The Flag could have been flown on a merchant ship that had contact with Sutter's Fort. We are grateful for the above information provided by Sutter's Fort State Historic Park and State Indian Museum, who have offered the following example of a merchant ship visiting Sutter's Fort: William Dane Phelps, a Boston sea captain who was engaged in California 1840-1842, took a small boat up the Sacramento River to visit Sutter while the Fort was being built in 1841. Phelps later recorded, "And this I claim to have been the first passage of a ship's boat on that river, and the first time that the Stars and Stripes waved over its waters."
The Flag is made in the tradition of the formal hand-painted patriotic banners and regimental Flags of the 19th century with hand-painted cantons depicting versions of the Great Seal of the United States. The remarkable canton of this Flag has interpreted and rendered the Great Seal with regional California and Mexican models: the Golden Eagle or Mexican Royal eagle modeled as the American Eagle, and the nopal cactus modeled as olive branches.

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