History Revisited: The state flag and the story of local bragging rights

When it comes to community “bragging rights,” Groton undoubtedly can compete with the best in the United States.

Some of Groton’s more noteworthy and distinguished points of interest include:

1) Designing and building the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear submarine;

2) Home for many years to the Global Research and Development Center for Pfizer Inc., one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies;

3) Home town of two winners of the Boston Marathon (John J. Kelly in 1957 and Amby Burfoot in 1968);

4) Home to the United States Navy Submarine Base New London, the country’s first submarine base;

5) Home town of Fran Mainella, director of the National Parks Service from 2001 to 2006; and

6) Site of the United States Submarine Veterans World War II National Submarine Memorial East.

Very seldom is it mentioned that Groton, thanks to one of its patriotic organizations, can be credited with having been the designer of the flag of the State of Connecticut.

As a bit of historical background, the use of flags can be traced back to about 1,000 B.C.E. when Egyptians used some crude forms of flags, made from wood or metal, for identification and signaling purposes.

The use of flags to identify countries became commonplace in the 18th century, and adaptation of most state flags can be traced back to the early 1890s, when many states wanted to have their own unique emblem displayed at the World’s Columbian [States] Fair held in Chicago in 1893.

Unfortunately, as far as can be determined, no flag representing Connecticut was on display at that fair.

Now, let’s fast forward a few years to 1895 when Abby Day Slocumb, a founder of the Groton/Stonington chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, subsequently named the Anna Warner Bailey Chapter, was placed in charge of the chapter’s newly acquired monument house at Fort Griswold Battlefield in Groton.

While preparing the house for the display of numerous relics related to the Battle of Groton Heights, and other local historical items, Slocumb sought to display the state flag for decorative purposes at the house. She subsequently learned that, although there were at least 35 different designs from flags carried by various groups of Connecticut troops/militia from colonial times to the present which had been considered for the state flag, none had ever been officially adopted by the Connecticut legislature.

In May 1895, Slocumb, who was widely known and respected within political and governmental circles, submitted a letter to the then Governor of Connecticut, Owen Vincent Coffin, requesting the adoption of a state flag. Slocumb, with the concurrence of the Groton DAR chapter, provided the governor with drawings of two suggested designs for the flag. Governor Coffin referred the matter to the state’s House of Representatives, who in turned referred it to its Committee on Military Affairs.

One of the designs submitted by Slocumb depicted the core elements contained in what was known as the Colonial Seal that had been adopted by the state in 1711. The core elements included three grape vines, with full fruitage, said to be the symbols of the power of “Knowledge,” “Liberty” and “Religion,” or possibly representing the three original colonies of Connecticut (New Haven, Saybrook and Hartford). The grapes were considered to be symbolic of good luck, felicity and peace.

The design also contained a streaming banner displaying the Latin phrase Qui Transtulit Sustinet (“He who is transplanted still sustains”). The grape vines and banner were all placed within the borders of an ornamental coat of arms-type shield.

The second design displayed the three grape vines surrounded by a more elaborate shield but also displayed the United States colors (flag) on the left side of the shield and corn stalks on the right side. It should be noted that nothing could be found to justify or explain the presence of the corn stalks.

The Committee of Military Affairs, after receiving a great deal of resistance from the Connecticut Chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic, a large Civil War veterans’ organization, rejected the second design.

The basic shield design proposed by the DAR received general approval by the House of Representatives committee, which in turn submitted legislation to adopt the design, with some modifications, such as moving the streamer banner outside the shield and incorporating a more rococo designed shield (more ornate, asymmetrical and curvy).

On Aug. 12, 1897, the state legislature voted to adopt the modified DAR flag design as the official standard of the State of Connecticut.

At a special ceremony held at the state Capitol on Aug. 13, 1897, Slocomb and a contingent of members of the DAR’s Groton/Stonington Anna Warner Bailey Chapter presented Connecticut Governor Lorrin A. Cooke with the newly designed flag. Shortly after presentation, the flag was unfurled and flown above the Capitol building.

Thus, the next time you observe the flag of the State of Connecticut, I hope you will remember that the origin of its basic design was initiated here in Groton.

Jim Streeter is the Groton town historian.

courtesy of the Jim Streeter Collection
courtesy of the Jim Streeter Collection

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