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The faded and fragile blue silk flag, also known as the Commander-in-Chief standard, that marked General George Washington’s presence on the battlefield during the Revolutionary War was on display over Flag Day weekend in 2018, marking its first public display in Philadelphia since the war itself and its first appearance in Pennsylvania in decades. 

Image 061418 Washington Standard Headquarters Flag Exhibit Flag Day

The rare flag measures approximately two feet by three feet and features 13 white, six-pointed stars representing the 13 colonies on a blue field. It is believed to be the earliest surviving 13-star American flag. Due to deterioration that results from light exposure, the flag can only be displayed on special occasions.

“Revolutionary Americans adopted various symbols to represent the new republic that they created after the Declaration of Independence,” said Dr. R. Scott Stephenson, then-Vice President of Collections, Exhibitions and Programs for the Museum. “Washington's Standard includes a blue field with thirteen white stars representing a new constellation, which Congress adopted in 1777 as a component of the now familiar ‘Star-Spangled Banner.’”

In the early 20th century, descendants of George Washington’s sister, Betty Washington Lewis, donated the flag to the Valley Forge Historical Society. The society transferred the collection, including the Standard, to the Museum in 2003.

The Museum displayed a replica of the Commander-in-Chief’s Standard, which traveled into space with astronaut John Glenn as part of the lead up to the 1999 bicentennial commemorations of Washington’s death in 1799. He and the other members of the Discovery crew traveled 3.6 million miles and orbited the earth 134 times. The flag accompanied them on the entire journey.