“Rockingham” (1907) [3]

5482. The Bedford Flag. [^1]

All we positively know about this can be briefly stated:

(1) It is in the town library now and was in a Bedford attic for many years. [*1][*2]
(2) “It is of heavy durable crimson silk, but little faded with age.”
(3) “The device an armored arm, the hand grasping a sword, exquisitely painted a soft steel gray,” the arm issuing from clouds.
(4) “The Latin motto on the flag translated signifying ‘conquer or die.'”
(5) “It is one of the handsomest banners” (says Major L. A. Abbott, U.S.A., in his “Descendants of George Abbott,” 1906, volume 1, page 189, from which the foregoing quotations have been taken) “ever seen by the writer, after the experience of a lifetime as a professional soldier; the art, taste in combination and fabric, being superior to anything in its line of the present day.” [*3]

Any additions to the above seem to be uncertain and largely conjectural and mutually contradictory. My repeated appeals for real evidence that this flag was ever in battle have been fruitless. Accordingly, the following is substituted as a “ballon d’essai”: [*4]

The attempted identification with the “cornett” of the Three Country Troop of about 1660 is disposed of by Major Abbott (page 190), who says that it is “shown to be untrue by marked differences in drawing the devices.” [*5][*3] “It is absurd to suppose that the flag of any organization, so frequently in the field as the Three County Troop must have been, would have lasted a century.” [*6] It is more difficult to follow him in his surmise, “The motto ‘conquer or die,’ and the freshness of the flag even now, suggest that the Revolution may have been anticipated when the flag was ordered, together with its appropriate motto.” [*6] Fortunately these can be accounted for better now.

The device (3) is not a common one and is well shown in the colored illustration in Major Abbott’s book; [*7] this can be compared with the photo-print of a coin (a crown-piece) on page 152 of the (1907) “Proceedings of the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Philadelphia,” the text reading: [*8]

“The crown of 1622 of Christian of Halberstadt and Brunswick is known as the celebrated ‘God’s Friend and Priest’s Foe crown.'” “On the reverse, a mailed arm with sword, issuing from clouds, the inscription in French, ‘All with God.'” [*9] Space here fails to particularize the many and striking resemblances between the device on the Bedford flag and that on the Brunswick coin. Assuming these to be granted, it is next asked: what more natural device than this famous armored arm would be granted to one of the Brunswick organizations at or before the time when the duchy was seeking volunteers to fill up the quota of the troops it had, in 1776, agreed to supply under pressure of its overwhelming debt incurred during the seven years’ war? [^2]

If so, it is a far cry to Bedford till one reads the letters of the wife of the general commanding the Brunswick forces in America, Baroness Riedesel, especially the part relating to her experiences at Cambridge, Mass, while there for several months with her husband a prisoner of war. On page 143 of the quaint translation by Stone (1867, Boston Public Library, 4318 77), she records under date of 1778:

“As winter approached, however, we were ordered to Virginia. Now I was forced to reconsider how I could safely carry the colors of our German regiments still further, as we had made the Americans at Saratoga believe that they were burned up— a circumstance they at first took in bad part, though, afterwards, they tacitly overlooked it. But it was only the staves that had been burned, the colors having been thus far concealed. Now, my husband confided to me this secret, and intrusted me with their still further concealment. I, therefore, shut myself in with a right honorable tailor who helped me make a mattress in which we sewed every one of them.” [*10]

The last few words the translator has put too strongly (as comparison with the original German shows) but this is not material since she simply disposed of all that then were given her. The German troops were quartered at Winter Hill and there had been many desertions — both owing to the established practice by the Continental Congress and officers of offering inducements for desertion, and owing to the especial necessities of the neighboring farmers. What more probable than that a deserter, even if he had not then in his custody one of the smaller flags, should possess himself of one as a safeguard against being molested, since he, if apprehended, could give information of violation of the Saratoga terms of surrender, and could back up his charges by “showing a sample of the goods”? [*11] Simpler conjectures are that he had the flag packed away among his personal effects as its custodian or that he had it sewed as an interlining in his clothes as a more effectual method of concealment. Either of these theories would account for this flag being in Bedford, a farming town almost adjoining Winter Hill, and for its being neglected for many years (except so far as putting it upon a new staff as seems probable for some occasion now unknown). [*12]

The motto (4) is appropriate for mercenaries, but is not such a one as would be likely to commend itself to an American organization, the latter’s mottoes generally having some special fitness.

The material (2) is such as would then have been given to a troop in Brunswick, where (as in other North German States) great encouragement was given to silk raising and manufacture, after the seven years’ war, as part of the social and industrial revolt against the French. A bounty-fed industry would be likely to put such extraordinary pains in to making and dyeing when the result would thus come directly into the hands of the sovereign for him to bestow upon the troop.

The art of various kinds (5) would prop-

erly emanate from Brunswick and it was this item which puzzled most at the outset, the possible places where such a flag could be made appearing to be so few. When I had the unexpected good fortune to find that reference by Baroness Riedesel, it became probable that this flag really was in battle — in what we call Bennington and Saratoga — but on “the wrong side.”



  • “Notes and queries” answer, signed “Rockingham” (1907) [ no scan ]
    in The Boston evening transcript (28 December) Part Three: p 7


  1. [ paragraph break ]
  2. asked: ∨ asked



  1. The Bedford Flag “remained in the basement of the Town Hall”. (BFU) p 86
    Now known as Old Town Hall: 16 South Road
  2. Charles Lauriat — whose grandfather was Cyrus Page (whose grandfather was Nathaniel Page) — objected to “having it said that . . . the flag was ever kept in a ‘garret’”. (BFU) p 94
  3. cf. Abbott’s Descendants of George Abbott: Volume I (1906) pp 189-190
  4. “ballon d’essai”: [ French ]: trial balloon
  5. “cornett” (i.e., “cornet”): flag carried by a cornet
  6. cf. Abbott’s Descendants of George Abbott: Volume I (1906) p 190 (footnote)
  7. The device was, in fact, “very common throughout Europe”. (BFU) p 79
  8. cf. Proceedings of the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society (1907) p 152
  9. cf. Proceedings of the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society (1907) p 154
  10. cf. Stone’s Letters and journals relating to the war (1867) pp 143-144
  11. “molested”: bothered
  12. Bedford and Winter Hill (in Somerville) are a solid ten miles apart.
    (All of Lexington and all of Arlington lie between the two locales!)
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