The Proctor Flag
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Created for the very first American troops west of the Allegheny Mountains, comes a battle flag known as Proctor's flag. Proctor's flag, made in the fall of 1775, predates the Stars and Stripes by two years and is the only surviving "Don't tread on me" rattlesnake flag from the American Revolution.
On May 16, 1775, less than a month after Massachusetts militiamen faced down the King's troops at Lexington and Concord, the settlers of Westmoreland County Pennsylvania gathered at the courthouse in Hannastown, six miles north of present day Greensburg. Upon hearing the news, the leaders in Hanna's Town unanimously declared that it had "become the indispensable duty of every American... to resist and oppose the execution of it; that for us we will be ready to oppose it with our lives and fortunes." They further resolved to "form ourselves into a military body, to consist of companies to be made up out of the several townships under the following association, which is declared to be the association of Westmoreland County." At this meeting, these frontiersmen of the borderland, framed the famous Hannastown Resolves, a copy of which was sent to the Committee of Safety in Philadelphia. On July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia, the Declaration of Independence was framed, incorporating all the resolves that were proclaimed more than a year before in Hannastown.
The initial body of troops raised in western Pennsylvania was from among those men who met at Hannastown in the summer of 1775. Like their countrymen in New England, patriots near the Forks of the Ohio wasted little time in responding. Three Battalions of Riflemen were formed under the command of Colonel John Proctor, who was the Sheriff of Westmoreland County at the time. This was one of the military groups known as Associators, volunteers from Pennsylvania, where the Quakers did not wish for an active militia. The voluntary association had been established in 1747 by Benjamin Franklin, and also fought in the French and Indian War.
Proctor's flag was created to represent Colonel John Proctor's 'Independent Battalion, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania'. The flag of Col. John Proctor's battalion is actually two flags in one. First and foremost, it is a British flag known as a "red ensign." Flown over British naval ships and fortifications, it would have been a common sight throughout British North America. The ground is red silk, while the upper right quarter is occupied by the Union Flag, or Union Jack. On top of this British flag is painted, somewhat defiantly, a rattlesnake with the motto "DONT. TREAD. ON. ME." Snakes had been a symbol of the colonies since at least 1754, when Benjamin Franklin used one to make the case for the Albany Plan of Union, which warned the colonies to "Join, [against the French] or Die." For the people of Western Pennsylvania, the native rattlesnake was particularly significant and noted that the rattlesnake "never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders. She is, therefore, an emblem of magnanimity and true courage." The symbol served, just as the Hanna's Town Resolves, as a warning to would-be tyrants in Parliament and the Ministry not to tread on the rights of their fellow British subjects in America. Unlike the rattlesnake on other early flags, the snake on the Proctor flag faces right toward the symbol of the British Empire. The snake's thirteen rattles signify the American colonies. Above the snake is the monogram of John Proctor and the letters, "I.B.W.C.P." for Independent Battalion, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.
Photo Courtesy: The Fort Pitt Museum (Click for more pictures)
- Hook Backing
- 3x2 3/8"
- Re-release: 08/13/2020