In a climate controlled vault, in Bedford, Massachusetts, lies the oldest existing flag in the country. It dates to the early 1700s. Said to be carried in the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War, the Bedford flag is one of the first battle flags of the United States.
The cornet carried the flag for the military unit. This position provided important communication between the captain and his troops in the field. The cornet used a flag to signal the captain’s directions to the rest of the unit who might not be able to hear commands during the heat of battle. Easy to spot, standing next to the captain at all times, many were lethally shot from beneath their flags.
Legend has it that Nathaniel Page, carried the Bedford flag into the Battle of Concord at the beginning of the Revolutionary War on April 19, 1775. Some historians debate the Bedford flag’s presence at the site, primarily because it was not noted in any written account. However, Nathaniel Page had given an account of the battle to his grandson Cyrus who later relayed it to historian, A. E. Brown. This family story included the flag. There is no other account to verify his claim, and that is why some historians discount the story.
There are, however, some facts that indicate Nathaniel Page told his grandson the truth. Town records confirm that Nathaniel’s grandfather, father and uncle all served as Bedford militia’s cornet, proving a Page family member had carried a cornet’s flag since as early as 1720. The presence of Nathaniel Page, the unit cornet, was well documented at the Battle of Concord. The flag was donated to the Bedford Museum by the Page family. Based on the floral pattern on the flag, the museum verified it originated in the early 1700s.
Originally the flag had silver fringe. In another interview with A.E. Brown, the daughter of Nathaniel Page said she removed it to make a dress in the early 1800s. She lamented, “I took that silver fringe from that old flag when I was a giddy girl, and trimmed a dress for a military ball. I was never more sorry for anything than that which resulted in the loss of the fringe.” When the flag was restored by the Textile Conservation Center in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1999-2000, they found a single remaining microscopic strand of the silver thread, giving more credibility to the Page family oral history.
Still, there are no written eye witness accounts of the flag at the Battle of Concord.