HOPKINTON — With 21 stripes and 26 stars, the American Flag displayed in the atrium of Old Main at the former Lenox College seems eerily right at home. For this flag, a relic of the War of 1812 that had stripes and stars added as states joined the union, rests under glass in a building constructed before the Civil War.
That’s the theme of this weekend’s “Yesteryear Celebration” in Hopkinton — 200 years after the War of 1812 and 150 years from the midst of the War between the States.
Saturday festivities begin with breakfast (sausage gravy and biscuits) at 8 a.m., a kids parade at 10 and the flag raising (a different flag) ceremony beginning at 10:30 a.m. In addition, “The Fiery Trail,” a touring exhibit about Iowa and the Civil War is on display from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. For more information about the celebration see delcoiowahistory.org.
“It’s a wonder it has survived,” says Duane Kromminga of Hopkinton, vice president of the Delaware County Historical Society board.
“Yes, it is,” adds Donna Wall, longtime board member from Delhi.
They showed me the faded flag, displayed as if the wind is blowing through it, which was given to the historical society in 1982 by descendants of its early owner.
“The people we got the flag from have stated all along that this was a War of 1812 Flag,” says Duane, a Civil War re-enactor.
The story goes that in 1824, Joseph Buckingham, 14, of New Jersey took his rifle to a celebration on Staten Island in New York to meet Marquis de La Fayette, a famous French backer of the American Revolution and hero of that war. Buckingham won a shooting contest.
“The prize was this flag,” Donna says. “We assume it was a battle flag for a regiment.”
Buckingham passed his treasure down to son Willard Buckingham who later lived in Troy Mills with his wife, Anice. Their children lived in that area.
An examination of the flag reveals faded material that could easily be 200 years old, some battle damage and plenty of hand stitching. At that time no national standard existed for an official American Flag. As a result, since all were made by hand, the design was left up to each maker.
It’s impossible to tell what this flag looked like in the beginning and you see only nine stripes in the enclosed display case. But, historical information indicates that in addition to 26 stars — one in the center surrounded by 25 others in a circle — it has 21 stripes. It apparently began with 15 stripes, six added later.
Yet, a faded picture of Anice holding the flag appears to show 23 stripes.
“I’m confused myself,” Duane says. “That’s what I counted, too.”
A 1794 law decreed that flags have 15 stars and 15 stripes. During the War of 1812, the United States had 18 states. A law in 1818 called for 13 stripes and a star for each state. The law to arrange the stars in rows didn’t come about until 1912 when we had 48 states.
So, from the 15 stars and stripes flag we added Tennessee (1796), Ohio (1803) and Louisiana (1812). After the war we added Indiana, Mississippi and Illinois by 1818. That makes 21, but maybe somebody didn’t know about the new policy for stripes and added them for Alabama and Maine, too. And, to get to 26 stars, you’d have to account for Missouri (1821), Arkansas (1836) and Michigan (1837).
Mmmm. That’s enough of the history lesson today. All brought about by a 200-year-old American flag.
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