Bedford Flag

Bedford Minuteman Company

Bedford Flag

The Bedford Flag is the oldest existing flag in the United States, the second oldest in the western hemisphere and the only flag carried by the Minutemen at the battle of the North Bridge in Concord on April 19, 1775.

It had a long history before the Revolution, for it had been used as a standard of the Massachusetts Bay cavalry Troop for over 100 years and had seen service in the Indian Wars many times before that great day at the bridge.

In 1659, when the cavalry troop was organized, arrangements were made for a proper emblem. The flag was probably made in England for the Massachusetts Bay Colony sometime between 1660 and 1670. Records of the order for the flag, and a description of the proposed emblem, are in the British Museum.

The Bedford Flag is about 2½ feet square, handmade of red silk damask. The design is handpainted on both sides of the flag in silver and gold leaf. Extending from a cloud is an armor-clad arm holding a sword, with three cannon balls in the background. In a scroll is the motto VINVE AUT MORIRE (Conquer or die). On the reverse side, the motto begins at the bottom and the sword is in front of the scroll. This, in itself makes the flag unique.

The old flag which we so proudly own was called a "cornet", and was carried by a mounted officer, also called a Cornet. The Page family of Bedford had held a commission of Cornet for generations. In 1737, John Page was commissioned as a Cornet, or standard bearer. His son, Nathaniel, was a Minuteman, and although not commissioned, was called Cornet Page. It was Cornet Nathaniel Page that carried the old emblem to Concord on the morning of April 19, 1775.

At the centennial celebrations of April 19, 1775, Ralph Waldo Emerson read his poem about the flag:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.
In 1885, Cyrus Page, grandson to Cornet Nathaniel Page, gave to the Town of Bedford the flag, which had been in the custody of the Page family for over 150 years. Both the old Bedford Flag and the Commission of John Page in facsimile are in a specially constructed vault at the Bedford Public Library.

More about the Bedford Flag.

Bedford Minuteman Company
P.O. Box 1775
Bedford, MA 01730