The Grand Union Flag was the flag of the American colonies during the early years of the American Revolutionary War. It was used specifically by the armies and navy of the American colonies until the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution in 1777 and created the new official flag of USA.
In 1775, the American Revolutionary War broke out. This war was fought between the 13 American colonies who wanted to be independent, and the British forces who wanted to retain colonial control over the colonies.
Soon after the war broke out, a Continental Congress was created by the American colonies. This Congress served as a sort of government of the colonies. As the American army slowly came into being, Congress realized that it needed a flag of its own to distinguish the colonial army from the British army.
In December, 1775, the American warship ‘Alfred’ hoisted the Grand Union flag on the ship. The flag was then called ‘Continental Colors’. This was the first time this flag was used by the newly-born USA.
The Grand Union flag was not nearly as detailed or well-designed as the official American flag which was later adopted. The Grand Union flag simply comprised of 13 alternating red and white stripes. And the upper left corner or canton of the flag featured a small British Union Flag.
This design was meant that although the American colonies were originally British, they now had a unique identity of their own, represented by the red and white stripes. Later when the official American flag was created, the red and white stripes remained a part of the design while the British Union Flag was replaced by white stars representing the states.
According to some historical traditions, George Washington’s Continental Army raised the Grand Union Flag on January 1, 1776. At the time, the Continental Army was laying siege to Charlestown which was under British army’s control.
Some source states that when the Continental Army raised the Grand Union Flag, the British army in the city thought that the Continental Army was willing to surrender. This was of course only a mistake and the Grand Union flag, although it looked like the British union flag, was simply the new flag of the American colonies.
The Grand Union Flag continued to be used by the American army, navy and official authorities from the end of 1775 until 1777. In 1777, the Second Continental Congress decided that the American colonies should now have a proper flag of their own. So on June 14, 1777, the Congress passed the Flag Resolution.
As per this resolution, a new American flag was adopted which retained the white-and-red stripes of the Grand Union Flag but changed the canton area. The new canton area now had white stars on a blue background. As this design was adopted as the new official flag of USA, the older Grand Union Flag was no longer used and was gradually abandoned.