Rare U.S. Flag to Be Conserved

FROM MDAH NEW RELEASES – A $12,500 grant from the Billups-Garth Foundation and contributions from dozens of individual donors will help fund the conservation and exhibition of one of the department’s rarest and most significant artifacts. The nearly two-hundred-year-old 20-Star United States flag was transported to specialists in West Virginia in January to undergo cleaning and stabilization that could take up to eighteen months.

In this photograph from 2001, then-director of the Department of Archives and History Elbert R. Hilliard discusses the recently acquired 20-Star United States flag with former Old Capitol Museum of Mississippi History director Donna Bailey Dye.

In this photograph from 2001, then-director of the Department of Archives and History Elbert R. Hilliard discusses the recently acquired 20-Star United States flag with former Old Capitol Museum of Mississippi History director Donna Bailey Dye.

The historic banner has been adopted as a symbol of Mississippi’s bicentennial celebration in 2017. Acquired by the department in 2001, the gauze flag’s fragile condition was evidence that it had flown aboard a ship. Its frayed edges and numerous holes throughout the blue canton and red-and-white striped field prevented its public display.

Textile Preservation Associates, experts who recently conserved the 11th Mississippi Cavalry Civil War flag for MDAH, will humidify the six-by-ten-foot banner to release dirt from the fabric and meticulously vacuum it. Finally, the flag will be flattened and mounted into a frame to protect the nearly two-century-old textile and allow it to be displayed upright.
Once the work is completed, the restored flag will travel the state in anticipation of Mississippi’s bicentennial celebration and the opening of the Museum of Mississippi History, where it will be on permanent display.

“The flag is in such fragile condition that every time it is touched pieces break away,” said MDAH curator of collections Cindy Gardner. “We are grateful to the Billups-Garth Foundation and our other donors for helping preserve this wonderful piece.”

There have been twenty-seven official flags of the United States of America. The 20-star flag used after Mississippi became a state was the third. The first flag featured thirteen stripes and thirteen stars in a circle to represent the original colonies. It flew for eighteen years, from 1777 until 1795. When Vermont and Kentucky became states, two stars and two stripes were added to the flag. This design was the first to be known as the “Star Spangled Banner,” and it flew from 1795 until 1818. With the inclusion of Tennessee, Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana, and Mississippi to the Union, five stars were added to the flag, but the number of stripes was dropped to thirteen, where it has stayed ever since. The 20-star flag became the official United States Flag on April 13, 1818, and remained such until July 4, 1819, when a 21-star flag was introduced to mark the statehood of Illinois.


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