On January 2nd Washington and his newly organized Continental Army were encircling the city of Boston in an attempt to drive out the British army who had occupied it for eight years. On the day the flag was hoisted copies of King George the III’s speech to parliament regarding the rebellious trouble-makers were being distributed through the colonies. The king promised swift military action to suppress the rebellion. “When the unhappy and deluded multitude, against whom this force will be directed, shall become sensible of their error, I shall be ready to receive the misled with tenderness and mercy!” the king stated.
George Washington got a laugh out of the king’s speech. Not only for its haughty language but also because of the timing of the flag raising. On January 4th Washington wrote a letter to fellow revolutionary Joseph Reed: “We are at length favored with a sight of his Majesty’s most gracious speech, breathing sentiments of tenderness and compassion for his deluded American subjects... and, farcical enough we gave great joy to them (the red coats I mean) without knowing it or intending it, for on that day which gave being to our new army, (but before the proclamation came to hand,) we had hoisted the union flag in compliment to the United Colonies. But, behold, it was received at Boston as a token of the deep impression the speech had made upon us, and as a signal of submission... By this time I presume they begin to think it strange that we have not made a formal surrender of our lines.” Instead of surrendering the lines, Washington lengthened them to encircle Boston. Two months later on March 17th 11,000 British soldiers and 1,000 loyalists left the city and headed for Novia Scotia. Washington took Boston without a battle.
The Grand Union Flag was used for the first year of the Revolutionary War. It was retired in 1777 when a new flag was designed consisting of stars on a blue field that replaced the British Union Jack. To see how the United States flag has changed through the years, click here.