by John Trowbridge, Kentucky National Guard
Today marks the 102nd anniversary of the flag of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The Kentucky National Guard has played a major role in the development of the State’s flag.
In the early
history of the Commonwealth, flags representing various countries flew across
the land that would eventually become Kentucky.
Spanish and French explorers to the region carried their countries
flag. France once a held ownership over a
portion of the state until the French and Indian War, when the land was ceded
to Great Britain. The British flag flew
over the area until the Revolutionary War. During the war the flag of the thirteen
stars and stripes flew over the forts and towns in the bluegrass. During the period leading up statehood, the
flag of the Commonwealth of Virginia, flew over Kentucky County, at the time a
part of Virginia.
In 1792, when
Kentucky became the 15th State in the Union, the state adopted the
flag as the unofficial state flag, the
fifteen stars and fifteen stripes on the flag signified its new statehood
status. With westward expansion, came the
addition of stars and modification of the flag, Kentucky would retain it for
the next few decades.
In a letter dated November
13, 1851, to Governor Lazarus W. Powell, William F. Gaines, who had served as
the Color Sergeant of the Second Kentucky Foot Volunteers at the Battle of
Buena Vista, Mexico, made the following comments concerning the Kentucky’s
involvement in future conflicts and the banner the Kentuckians would carry:
sons in all future trials, whether in repelling the invasion of foreign foes,
or struggling with more dangerous enemies—ever be found, gathering with
enthusiasm under the standard of their beloved Kentucky, with the inscription
upon its broad folds, United we stand, Divided we fall, and battling for their
country—their whole country—The Union, one and inseparable.
During the Civil
War, Confederate and Union flags flew over the Commonwealth. Following the war the Stars and Stripes was once
again Kentucky’s unofficial state flag. In
1880, Joseph P. Nuckols, the Adjutant General, appointed a Special Committee to
consider and report on a design for a flag to be utilized by the State Guard:
HEADQUARTERS KENTUCKY STATE GUARD
May 24th, 1880.
By Command of Governor Blackburn.
June 15th, 1880.
STATE GUARD FLAG.
Blue Silk, with the Arms of the State of Kentucky
embroidered in silk, on the centre, surmounted by an Eagle, proper, wings
distended, holding in his beak a scroll inscribed with the legend, “United We
Stand, Divided We Fall,” and in his talons, dexter and sinister, respectively,
an olive branch, and bundle of arrows.
Underneath the arms, in gold embroidery, or gilt, the Regimental, or
Battalion number with letters, “K. S. G.’, and the name of Battalion where
there is other designation. Fringe of
gold or yellow silk. Cords and tassels,
blue and white silk intermixed.
Unattached Companies will carry the State Guard flag, with Company name,
and letters, K. S. G. underneath the arms.
The Battalions, or regimental flag will be six feet and the Staff, by
Six feet—Six inches fly. The Pike or
Staff including spear and finial, will be nine feet six inches in length.
By Command of Luke P. Blackburn,
In his 1880, Report of the Adjutant and Inspector General,
to the Governor Blackburn, General Nuckols reported on the new State Flag:
The State Flag.
It is a singular fact that the
State had never, prior to your administration, adopted, by legislative action
or Executive authority, this important emblem of sovereignty. Most of the older States, perhaps all of them,
have their separate State colors, generally a blue field, with the arms of the
State in the centre. A board of
officers, consisting of Captain John H. Leathers and Captain George K. Speed,
Louisville Legion, and Captain M. H. Crump, Bowling Green Guards, was convened by
general order to consider and report a flag designed for use of the State
Guard. Their report was adopted, with
some modifications, and by general order a State flag has been prescribed for
the State Guard and the Reserve Militia when called into service. Each Battalion will be entitled to the State
flag and National colors. The flag thus
adopted is a blue field, with arms of the State embroidered in the centre,
surmounted by an eagle.
I trust your
Excellency may find it convenient and agreeable, at no very distant day, to
order for each battalion and detached company in the State Guard a State flag,
to be furnished and paid for out of the Military Fund, as I can conceive of no
more appropriate or useful application of said fund.
During a farewell
ceremony at Camp Collier located at Lexington, Kentucky, on May 25, 1898, the
Second Regiment, Kentucky Volunteers were presented with a Kentucky State flag,
The “State Flag” was described as follows:
It is made of
heavy dark blue silk with the coat-of-arms of Kentucky painted on both
sides. Above this is a wide scroll of
white with the motto of the D.A.R., “Home and Country,” upon it, the letters
touched with red. Beneath the seal is
the motto of the State and below this another and larger scroll with the
inscription, “Second Regiment Infantry, U. S. V.”
In the Flag Issue
of the October 1917, edition of National Geographic Magazine, the following
information and description is given for Kentucky’s State flag:
315. Kentucky—So far as a careful search of the
records of the State reveal, Kentucky has never by legislative action adopted
an official flag. In 1880, however, a
Board was convened by general order, under the Adjutant General, to consider
and report a flag design for the use of the State Guard. Its report was adopted with some
modification, and by general order a State flag was prescribed for the guard
and reserve militia when called into service.
This consists of a blue field with the arms of the State embroidered in
the center. On the escutcheon appear two
men apparently shaking hands. The
escutcheon is surmounted by an eagle bearing in its beak a streamer carrying
the legend, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”
It is said that the original intention of the seal was to represent two
friends in hunter’s garb, their right hands clasped, their left resting on each
other’s shoulders, their feet on the verge of a precipice, which gave
significance to the legend. But the
engravers for the State have uniformly dressed the figures more to suit their
ideals, with varying heraldic effect.
The escutcheon is supported by four United States flags, a drum, and a
March 26, 1918 the Kentucky Legislature passed an act authorizing and creating
an official state flag, 126 years after statehood and the adoption of the state
seal which appears on the flag. The
State flag Act was drawn up by Mrs. Sam Shackleford, of Frankfort, and
introduced in the House of Representatives on February 19, 1918 by Dr. J. E.
Lilly, of Union County. The flag was
designated to be of navy blue silk or bunting, with the seal of the
Commonwealth of Kentucky encircled by a wreath of goldenrod, embroidered,
printed or stamped on the center thereof.
Dimensions could vary.
AN ACT to provide
for a State Flag for the Commonwealth of Kentucky and to prescribe the design
Commonwealth of Kentucky has no official State Flag and whereas it is desirable
that such flag be provided for and adopted by law; now therefore
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the
Commonwealth of Kentucky:
One. That the official State Flag of the
Commonwealth of Kentucky shall be of navy blue silk or bunting, with the seal
of the Commonwealth of Kentucky encircled by a wreath of golden-rod,
embroidered, printed or stamped on the center thereof. The dimensions of the flag may vary.
Two. This act shall take effect from and after its
March 26, 1918.
first official state flag was made in early 1920, and used on March 30 at Camp
Zachary Taylor in Louisville, when the colors of the 84th Division
were turned over to Governor Edwin P. Morrow by Major General Charles P.
Summerall through Robert Worth Bingham.
The flag had been hastily constructed, and not very artistic in design. Mrs. W. B. Hoke of Louisville was chairman of
the committee to have the flag made, and Mrs. James B. Camp furnished the
design. The Bryan Pleating Company of
Louisville manufactured it.
the ceremony in 1920, Mr. Credo Harris of Louisville was sent the flag by
Kentucky’s Adjutant General James M. DeWeese to have something done to make it
better in a few details. Mr. Harris
called in the leading artists of Louisville and they met in the studio of
Charles Sneed Williams. In a letter
dated March 2, 1921, Mr. Harris wrote:
“The men thereupon took pencils, paper, and with an ear
harking to the legislative bill I read them in regard to a state flag, began
their work of remodeling. These results
were passed around, discussing and criticizing, until finally we all agreed
upon a combination of three drawings that really promised a beautiful
result. One of the men was delighted to
make the complete drawing in colors, and this I was to send to General DeWeese,
or the Governor, for approval. This was
somewhere about the last of May, and the thing isn’t finished yet.”
ever resulted in this attempt to make a better design, and the original flag
was placed in the custody of the Kentucky Historical Society.
Photo courtesy of the Kentucky Historical
the administration of Governor Flem D. Sampson, Adjutant General William H.
Jones, Jr. communicated with the Kentucky Historical Society for information on
the State flag. At that time, Mrs.
Jouett Taylor Cannon, secretary of the society, had Mrs. Jessie Cox, an art
teacher in the Frankfort schools, draw a design from the wording of the State
flag Act. This drawing is now in the
collection of the Kentucky Historical Society, and from it three flags were
made in Philadelphia. One was placed in
the Historical Society; one in the Adjutant General’s office. The third was loaned for some occasion in
Chicago, and was never returned. The
flag at the Historical Society was borrowed by State officials for the Hoover
inauguration, and was carried in the inaugural parade. The flag was somewhat damaged by rain, but
was returned to the society, where it remains.
1961, Major Taylor L. Davidson, while serving on the staff of Major General
Arthur Y. Lloyd, The Adjutant General of Kentucky, took it upon himself to do
something about the Commonwealth’s official colors. He, with the blessing of Governor Bert Combs
and General Lloyd, consulted with the Kentucky Historical Society and traced
every history of early designs for the flag.
Mr. Harold Collins, artist with the Kentucky Department of Public
Information, was asked to produce three designs in color. The best features of the three designs were
selected and concurrence was obtained from the Governor. A final color original was purchased from a
Louisville artist upon the request of Major Davidson. After much consultation, the colors and
design were accepted and Major Davidson drafted a new bill; describing the flag
in detail. The Kentucky General Assembly
enacted this bill into law during its 1962 session, and Section 2.030 Kentucky
Revised Statutes, became the legal authority for the State flag. A line drawing of the flag was submitted with
the bill and was printed in the statute, being the first and only illustration
to grace the pages of Kentucky’s statutes.
relating to the official flag of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Section 1. Section 2.030 of the Kentucky Revised
Statutes is amended to read as follows:
The official state
flag of the Commonwealth of Kentucky shall be of navy blue silk, nylon, wool or
cotton bunting, or some other suitable material, with the Seal of the
Commonwealth encircled by a wreath, the lower half of which shall be goldenrod
in bloom and the upper half the words “Commonwealth of Kentucky”, embroidered,
printed, painted, or stamped on the center thereof. The dimensions of the flag may vary [.], but
the length shall be one and nine-tenths times the width and the diameter of the
seal and encirclement shall be approximately two-thirds the width of the flag.
Section 2. The approved official drawings of the state
flag shall be permanently retained in the files of the office of the Secretary
of State. All state flags for official
use of the Commonwealth shall conform as to color and design with these
Section 3. The flying of the state flag at all state
buildings and installations including public school buildings, National Guard
Armories, state parks and other such buildings is considered proper and
March 19, 1962.
Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of
Commonwealth of Kentucky
During the 1930’s the Kentucky
Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy composed a pledge of
allegiance to the flag of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, it was never adopted by
the State as the pledge for the State flag:
“To the flag blue and gold of Kentucky State, We
pledge our allegiance, and now consecrate Our efforts in making this truth
known to all – “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”
March 29, 2000, the Kentucky General Assembly approved a pledge of allegiance
to the flag of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
The pledge was composed by a fifth grade class from Pulaski County
The following shall be the
official pledge of allegiance to the flag of the Commonwealth of Kentucky:
allegiance to the Kentucky flag, and to the Sovereign State for which it
stands, one Commonwealth, blessed with diversity, natural wealth, beauty, and
grace from on High.”
official seal of the Commonwealth of Kentucky was adopted on December 20, 1792,
six months after statehood. The seal is
a simple rendition of two men, one in buckskin, and the other in more formal
dress. The two men are facing each other
and clasping hands. The outer ring of
the seal is adorned with the words, “COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY”, and within the
inner circle the motto, “UNITED WE STAND, DIVIDED WE FALL.”
The official act
of the Kentucky General Assembly stated:
“Be it enacted by the General Assembly, that the Governor be empowered
and is hereby required to provide at the public charge a seal for this
Commonwealth; and procure the same to be engraved with the following device,
viz.: ‘Two friends embracing, with the name of the state over their heads and
around about the following motto: United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”
Thus was born the basic emblem that
would later adorn the official flag of the Commonwealth. A precise history of the heraldic meaning of
the emblem is not available. Over the past
two centuries various versions have pictured both men dressed in buckskin, or
both in formal dress, men with and without hats, men with beards, men with
wigs, and hand clasps that have ranged from a simple handshake to full
embrace. As to the motto, that matter is
somewhat more distinct. It seems as
though Governor Isaac Shelby, Kentucky’s first governor, and a veteran of the
American Revolution, had a fondness for a ballad written in 1768 by a Maryland
patriot, John Dickinson, entitled, LIBERTY SONG, which included these four
By uniting we
dividing we fall.
KRS 2.020 State seal.
seal of the Commonwealth shall have upon it the device, two (2) friends
embracing each other, with the words, “Commonwealth of Kentucky” over their heads
and around them the words, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”
KRS 2.030 State flag.
2009 Ky. Acts ch. 4, sec. 1, effective June 25, 2009.
– Amended 2002 Ky. Acts ch.
196, sec. 1, effective July 15, 2002. -- Amended 1962 Ky. Acts ch. 114,
secs. 1, 2, 3, and 4, effective
June 14, 1962. -- Recodified
1942 Ky. Acts ch.
208, sec. 1, effective October 1, 1942, from Ky. Stat. sec. 4618m.