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Stonington Looks To Save Its Historic Battle Flag

Stonington - One hundred ninety-four years ago, the Stonington battle flag flew over a battery of three cannons operated by residents who managed to stave off an attack on the borough by British ships during the War of 1812.

On Saturday, the more than 200-year-old relic was being prepared for long-term storage to preserve what remains of it.

The flag is one of the town's oldest and most beloved artifacts, a sentiment that was clearly seen in the careful cleaning it underwent in the basement of the historical society's Woolworth Library.

With their hands in soft white gloves, society members Mary DiCecco and Scotty Breed maneuvered a weak vacuum hose over a fiberglass screen on top of the flag, meant to protect the original sheep's wool fibers during the cleaning.

Susan Jerome, collections manager of historic textiles and costume collection at the University of Rhode Island, supervised the process to rid the flag of dirt and dust.

”What we're doing now is slowing down the aging process,” said Jerome. “Over the course of hundreds of years, it's just lost bits and pieces.”

The flag will later be covered with a sheet of muslin and rolled onto a drum.

According to the historical society, the 11-by-18-foot flag was crafted by women in the sewing circle of the Stonington Congregational Church as a standard flag for the local 8th Company of the 30th Connecticut Regiment. It consisted of 16 stars and 16 stripes, leading historians to believe it was made between 1796, when Tennessee entered the union, and 1803, when Ohio became the 17th state.

While the flag has a storied past, its future is uncertain.

For the foreseeable future, it will be stored in the climate-controlled basement of the library to keep it away from sunlight and other harmful effects to slow its deterioration.

But when or if the flag will be displayed again is a question that can't yet be answered.

”The plan now is to store it as safely and securely as we can,” said Mary Beth Baker, director of the historical society. “[We're] preserving it so maybe there will be something left of it in 100 years. There's thousands of people to come who will want to see it.”

The flag was last on public display in a glass case in the Ocean Bank building, leased by this historical society and close to the battle site. Because the glass display case was not airtight, however, the flag was affected by sunlight and particles in the air from the building's old furnace.

It was taken down in 2004 for a detailed analysis and for recommendations by URI staff on how to preserve it.

Baker is considering having a replica of the flag crafted, using the analysis to find similar wool, for display.

She said it's difficult finding a balance between preservation and the public's affection because the flag's importance to the town.

”It's an icon of local patriotism and endurance a symbol of national unity and the will to survive as a country,” Baker said. “If we don't take care of these things, they won't be here.”
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