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What Is the History of the State Flag of Rhode Island?

By S. Ashraf
Updated May 17, 2024
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Although not adopted by the legislature until 1877, the state flag of Rhode Island’s history dates as far back as the establishment of Rhode Island as a colony under King Charles II of England. Each element in the design represents some aspect of the history of the state. The flag itself is completely white, but edged with a golden fringe. Positioned in the middle of the white field is a golden anchor that is 22 inches (55.8 centimeters) high, and beneath the anchor is a dark blue ribbon with Rhode Island’s motto, “Hope,” written in gold letters. Surrounding the anchor and motto is a circle made up of 13 golden stars.

The anchor design echoes the earliest part of the Rhode Island’s history. In 1647, the anchor was adopted as Rhode Island’s colonial seal. As a symbol, the anchor dates even further back to 1643 when it was chosen as the colony’s seal upon the granting of the Cromwellian Patent, which established the Providence Plantations; interestingly, the official name of the state is actually the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. In 1664, the motto “Hope” was added to the seal when a more liberal charter was granted to the colony. These became part of the state flag of Rhode Island when it was decided to incorporate the state seal into the official design of the flag.

Some of the history of the state flag of Rhode Island is simply lost due to time and the lack of complete records being kept or preserved. Historians are unsure of the origin of the motto “Hope” on the seal and flag. Generally, researchers think the most likely explanation for both the anchor and the word "Hope" as flag symbols is that they were probably inspired by a phrase in the Bible referencing hope as an anchor of the soul.

The colors of the state flag of Rhode Island can also be dated to the colonial era. During the American Revolution, the colors blue and white were frequently seen on flags that were carried at war. In addition, these were popular flag colors in the War of 1812 as well as the Mexican War. In spite of what seems like the late adoption of a state flag in 1877, Rhode Island was actually one of the earliest states to design and adopt a flag. Only two of the other original colonies had adopted flags earlier: New Jersey and New York, both in 1876.

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Discussion Comments
By jcraig — On Feb 11, 2012

What I am wondering about the flag of the state of Rhode Island is whether or not they retained their royal colors after the Revolutionary War.

I know that when states made their own flags, the ones involved in the Revolution sought to make show that they played a role through the depiction in their flag and how they chose to break away from the British monarchy.

I know that the flag of the state of New York has symbolism in it that depicts the fall of the British monarchy during the war and I was wondering if the flag of the state of Rhode Island, which has apparently been around for a very long time and even predating the English Civil War, kept their royal symbol despite being a big part of the Revolution.

By kentuckycat — On Feb 11, 2012

@stl156 - Most of the time these colonies flew the British colors so people would know that it was a British colony and that they would have to answer to the powerful British Empire should something go amiss.

This was a simply strategy exhibited by the British to make sure that people knew that they were the ones in charge of that area and even if they thought of themselves as an independent state, they were still owned by the British Empire and had to answer to them in the end.

I guess the flag had a dual purpose strategy and this was the reason why the British would not allow many of their colonies to have their own flag, although there were a few exceptions like Rhode Island.

By stl156 — On Feb 10, 2012

@jmc88 - Right you are. There were very few flags back then that had their own colors to fly and I find it a little surprising that this is the case considering the British had such a large array of colonies during this time.

I guess they chose to fly the British flag to signify that they were a colony of Great Britain and owned by the king of England, but I do not see why they needed to do this, as the colonies all had cultures of their own and were able to support themselves without the British having to intervene and take care of them.

By jmc88 — On Feb 09, 2012

It seems to me that although the Rhode Island state flag was officially adopted in 1877, its history well precedes that time period and it seems like the history of the flag of the state of Rhode Island is quite long and historical.

I have heard of other state flags having a long history, but the flag of the state of Rhode Island goes back all the way to when the state was found not as an official state of the Union, but as a colony for the British monarchy.

This I find incredible considering that very few colonies had their own flag back then and most of the colonies just flew the British flag instead to signify their motherland.

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