Archive for the ‘Texian Tees’ Category

(Part of a series explaining the history behind my Texian Tees. Other entries: the De Zavala Flag; the Burnet Flag; the Gonzales Flag (Old Come and Take It); and the San Jacinto Flag. Click here to see and buy the shirts!)

Ever since Alamo commander Buck Travis wrote, “I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls,” people have wondered exactly which flag he meant.

On October 13, 1835, in the coffee room at the Banks Arcade on Magazine Street in New Orleans, two companies of volunteers were formed to help Texas fight Mexico for its independence; they were later fitted out with weapons and grey uniforms. The first company entered Texas at the Gaines Ferry over the Sabine River, and on their way to St. Augustine, the troops were met by a group of local women who gave them a pale blue silk flag, bordered in gold (or maybe white) fringe. The Handbook of Texas also notes they were given a public dinner at St. Augustine, and in Nacogdoches, they were honored with roasted bear and champagne. (The second company came by ship, and they met up in San Antonio.)

Members of the Greys fought in battles from Bexar to San Jacinto, and this flag was captured at the Alamo. It is, says the Handbook, “the only flag still in existence that allegedly flew at the Alamo.” Some illustrations of the fort show this flag flying as well as a Texas-and-Coahuila flag. The Alamo web site describes the issue fully in its answer to the question “What flag flew over the Alamo during the siege and battle?”

There seems to be a remarkable amount of mystery about the flag’s present-day whereabouts, given that we’ve known who had it since 1836 (Santa Anna wrote a letter about it, and we have occasionally asked for it back, most recently in 1995).

And by the power of the Internet, I actually saw it earlier this year, on an interactive part of a Mexico museum’s website which allowed you to scoot around a panoramic view of the rooms. It wasn’t labeled or named on the website, but it was pretty clear what it was, there in the corner:

As of right now, the flag is no longer viewable on the website, so I presume that unseemly interest from an IP address in Texas prompted the museum to yank it down. No se preocupen, nuestros vecinos. Solamente quisé mirarla. Luckily, some other people have posted pictures, and more appear in books.

But let’s have no more of this “whereabouts unknown,” “said to be a mystery” stuff. We know where it is. And we’re pretty surely not getting it back!

About my design:

I’ve worked hard, using four photographs taken in different decades, to make my design as faithful as possible to the real flag that was captured on March 6, 1836. Several Web stores sell T-shirts carrying pictures of this flag (one actually uses a copyrighted drawing from a book), but I feel confident mine’s not only among the most accurate but also scaled properly to make a high-quality image at full size. That is, not a blown-up JPEG.

A stage midway through my reconstruction - you can see the deteriorated state of the lettering and particularly the eagle.

Doesn’t that uppermost typeface look modern? And there’s enough detail left, you can maybe see, to show the original outlined letters and drop shadows. I’ve studied typefaces for years — it was my hobby in junior high each month to choose a typeface and draw a wall-sized calendar page for myself — and have designed lettering for banners and posters, plus learned a lot about the use of typefaces in my design work at newspapers. So this was very familiar work to me.

A closeup of how I worked: starting with what was left, then reconstructing.

Each letter is drawn by hand. That alone makes it different from most versions for sale, which typically just use an existing typeface that’s in a similar style. I also use the original letter placement, except in about six cases where damage to the fabric had dragged a letter far out of place — those I restored to a more normal alignment and kerning, because once the rest of the design had been cleaned up, they were distracting.

For everybody who tries to reconstruct this flag, the eagle is a particular problem because it’s so very nearly worn away on the real thing. However, a plate in Robert Maberry’s “Texas Flags” shows an 1888 color engraving done in Mexico of various captured flags. It shows the Greys’ flag as having the eagle’s head down on the left side, tail down right, something like feet in between, and rays coming up from the eagle’s back. Other photos of the flag also reveal more detail. What you see on my finished shirt is an educated guess, at best. As when I worked on my San Jacinto flag shirt, I tried to think of what the original designer might have done, and used a lot of of detail to give a rich and finished final appearance.

And, also as with the San Jacinto flag, I really had fun researching and recreating this! Once again I’d like to apologize for how expensive these print-on-demand shirts are. I actually only make a few dollars per shirt. But at least it’s high-quality printing — and I’ve worked hard to make sure the design is high-quality too.

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(Part of a series explaining the history behind my Texian Tees. Other entries: the De Zavala Flag; the Burnet Flag; the Gonzales Flag (Old Come and Take It); and the New Orleans Greys Flag. Click here to see and buy the shirts!)

It’s with sheer glee that I introduce my latest design. I’ve been working on this for weeks (in my spare time), even making a reconnaissance trip to see the flag itself and take its picture. I believe wholeheartedly that this is the best representation you’re going to find on a shirt of the San Jacinto battle flag. I’m very proud!

My research indicated that this image of seated Liberty with a staff, shield and Phrygian cap traces its roots through British coinage back to the Roman Empire — so I have restored the rock she originally probably sat on, as well as the plow and wheat sheaves on her shield. Read my full report on the symbolism in the flag here.

Now, my research also led me to believe that this design might have been adopted when the flag was repainted, and so it might not be quite what originally flew at the April 21, 1836 battle in which Sam Houston’s army routed Santa Anna’s troops and won independence for Texas. But this is the design that’s on the flag now, so that’s what I used.

As I was working, my mind wandered over what artistic choices James Beard might have made, if he truly did paint this for the Newport Rifles company, headed from Kentucky to Texas, back in 1835, and what it meant to the people who saw it then. I visited the state Capitol and pondered how cool it was that this icon of Texas independence hangs right there with the state representatives while the Lege is in session. I tracked down to my own satisfaction why Liberty is seated that way, and chatted with a coin expert in Switzerland about liberty-goddess images through the centuries.

The San Jacinto flag is very different from a lot of the other early Texas flags; no bold blocks of color, no Lone Star. And years ago when I first saw it, I wondered what exactly it meant to those early Texians.  Now I understand a little better, and, at least to my eyes, it will never be a muddy, stained, obscure image again.

About my design:

I worked at creating a clean new version of the original stylized design, more or less as I think it would have looked when first painted. That is to say, the age spots and wear are all gone; I’ve researched what her symbolic devices are in order to fill damaged areas with a high-quality image; and because many Texans are used to the aged-cream background the flag has today, I’ve designed my image so that you can choose to place it on a cream-colored shirt or on a pale blue shirt, since the original flag was blue.

Click to buy the shirt!

Short link for this entry: http://bit.ly/sanjacinto

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Compared to the stars, blocks of color and occasional cannon of other early Texas flags, the San Jacinto flag is a complex mass of symbolism. Here’s a reproduction (which I have kinda brightened up) of the image at the center of the actual, refurbished flag, from Robert Maberry’s 2001 book “Texas Flags”:

It’s clear that the image carries special meaning, but to modern eyes (at least mine) it’s not clear what. Well, the sword and the “Liberty or Death” motto are pretty unambiguous. But what’s the lumpy red thing on the spear, and why is she crouching, and who is she?

You can make out a shield at bottom right, which Maberry says is decorated with wheat sheaves and a plow. Clear enough, that’s for the settlers and farmers.

The red doohickey on the pole, Maberry says, is a Phrygian-style liberty cap, and after some research I have concluded that our Revolutionary forebears would burst into tears if they knew their descendants had forgotten what it was. Red, conical, felt. Traditionally supposed to have been worn by slaves in ancient Rome once they were freed. Very big with the Revolutionary Americans, also the French, whose “Marianne” wears one. It gets a nod in “Rip Van Winkle” (1819), where it’s referred to humorously as a kind of “red night-cap” atop a pole in such a way that it’s clear Washington Irving expects everybody to get the reference.

This led me to a path of research that showed me just who the lady is, and why she’s sitting down. She’s an Americanized version of “seated Britannia,” a traditional depiction of a goddess who embodies Britain, but who actually goes back to the days when the Roman empire had just slapped a great big wall across the island. Emperor Hadrian’s coins first use seated Britannia to represent Britain — a military province, as shown by the shield and spear — perched on a rock, possibly to show subjugation to Rome.

This image was recycled in 1672, when British coins of Charles II picked up the image of Britannia as a goddess with spear and shield, even keeping her seat on the rock. (The design was modeled directly on the Roman coin, using an image of a Scottish lady Charles II was lusting after.) She was used continuously on British coins for the next 300 years. In 1835, an American artist gave her a Yankee makeover with stars, stripes and the revolutionary hat on a stick. That image was used on U.S. coins from 1836 to 1891. Since James Henry Beard is supposed to have painted the San Jacinto flag in 1835 for Kentucky volunteers headed to help Texas fight Mexico…  either two artists had the same bright idea at the same time, or somebody’s got their dates mixed up. Our flag’s been repainted and refurbished a bit too much, so maybe somebody did the most recent repaint with a half-dollar in their hand. (Other versions do show up now and then.)

The visual evidence is compelling: This is a design that has pretty much been standardized since about 134 A.D.

Top photo: Heritage Auction Galleries. Middle photo: Courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group. Bottom photo: Courtesy of CNG Triton XIII Auction 2009. http://www.cngcoins.com. Chart by Sue Owen Whaley.

So there you have it: She’s a British (or Scottish) babe on a Roman rock, carrying an Anatolian hat on a stick. With perhaps a slightly French attitude toward upper-body clothing.

In case you’re wondering (I started to), the Statue of Liberty is sometimes said to be a depiction of the Roman goddess Libertas, but she was originally conceived as a colossal lighthouse in the form of an Egyptian woman with a torch, to stand on the Suez Canal. Egypt couldn’t afford her, and in 1870 Auguste Bartholdi retooled his plans, making her a gift to America. She was dedicated in 1886, and at least one source says she’s not wearing a Phrygian cap because it was a little too radical for the times, which saw a fair amount of monarchist sentiment going around in France.

And speaking of inspiring women, I cannot say enough about the knowledge and helpfulness of Dane Kurth, whose website www.wildwinds.com is a fantastic reference and a wealth of information on ancient coins. She tells me, “This (seated) figure of Britannia — as well as most of these female personifications — all hail from ancient depictions of Athena… Britannia, America, France, Italia etc… even Roma – all the same person, basically.” Thank you so much, Dane. Viva Helvetia!

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UPDATE: Well, it’s just as well my photo didn’t come out — it’s a copy of the flag that’s on display right now, as I learn is normal when the Lege is not in session. But I’m told the real flag is up at the Bullock museum. Revising my plans 🙂


Actually, I went yesterday. But I wanted to get a photo of the San Jacinto battle flag, which I’m already at work making into one of my Texian Tees.  (Here’s a photo that’s better — or at least more brightly lit — than the one I got.)  It’s a good thing I went, though, because just a few hours later, I learned that the House chambers, where the flag hangs, will soon be closed until November as part of renovations to the Capitol.

I always love visiting the Capitol, and I particularly like it when there are schoolkids going through:

Half of ’em with their faces tilted back, looking up into the dome. This is what they’re seeing:

And I didn’t notice till I was going through my film that the star design way up there at the tippy-top is the star from the (disputed) De Zavala flag.  Which fact I’ve of course now retconned into the sales pitch for my De Zavala flag T-shirt! A lovely shirt in very soft navy-blue cotton; I’m wearing mine right now, in fact.

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The De Zavala Flag

(Part of a series explaining the history behind my Texian Tees. Other entries: the Burnet Flag; the Johanna Troutman Flag; the Gonzales Flag (Old Come and Take It); and the New Orleans Greys Flag. Click here to see and buy the shirts!)

To me, this is easily the most beautiful of the early Texas flags… if it really existed. Some say it was designed by Lorenzo de Zavala, Texas’ first vice president and a drafter of her constitution. Others say it was invented nearly a century later. Even the Texas Almanac says there’s “no historical evidence” for it, while noting that it’s flown in Texas to this day. Me, I think it makes a nice shirt that handsomely indicates your interest in Texas history; as they said in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

This is also the design that appears inside the Texas Capitol’s dome at the very top:

So if somebody gives you guff about the De Zavala flag being a myth, just tell ’em, “Hey bud, I don’t know what you’re talking about; this is the star inside the Capitol dome.”

About my design: Such a star would have probably been painted or appliqued (that is to say, a star cut from white fabric sewn to the blue), and the letters painted. My graphic depicts an embroidered star and letters only to add some richness to the image.


Cotton, 3 shades of blue



Or in sustainable, organic cotton


Short link for this entry: http://bit.ly/dezavalaflag

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(Part of a series explaining the history behind my Texian Tees. Other entries: the De Zavala Flag; the Burnet Flag; the Gonzales Flag (Old Come and Take It); and the New Orleans Greys Flag. Click here to see and buy the shirts!)

young woman in Georgia made this flag bearing a blue star for a battalion that was heading to Texas in response to a call for help. (It’s more often pictured with the words “Liberty or Death,” but I preferred using the version that names Texas.) James Fannin flew it — or actually, the shreds of it — at Goliad as the “first national flag of Texas.” Many of the Georgia troops in this battalion were killed in the Goliad Massacre, but as the Handbook of Texas notes, not entirely in vain: The executions ordered by Santa Anna bolstered support for Texas independence.

The flag has a dramatic position in this painting of Santa Anna’s surrender, which has been hanging in the Texas Capitol since 1891.

(That’s Santa Anna in the blue coat and white breeches — a private’s uniform — and an injured Sam Houston lying on the blanket.)

About my design: Troutman probably appliqued the blue star on her flag; my design, like my other shirts, shows an embroidered star instead. This gives a richer and more detailed look, but at full size, it would have been so heavy the flag probably wouldn’t flap! Also, as noted above, the original flag likely read “Liberty or Death,” but I thought most Texas history fans would prefer to wear a shirt with this slogan, which is also sometimes given in descriptions.

Click to buy the shirt!

Short link for this entry: http://bit.ly/troutmanflag

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(Part of a series explaining the history behind my Texian Tees. Other entries: the Burnet Flag; the Johanna Troutman Flag; the De Zavala Flag; and the New Orleans Greys Flag. Click here to see and buy the shirts!)

Allegedly flown in the first battle of Texas’ revolution against Mexico, in October 1835, the flag depicts the legend “Come and Take It” under an old cannon Mexico had given to the DeWitt colonists to defend themselves against Native Americans. Under Santa Anna, Mexico began taking away the colonists’ arms, and requested the cannon back. The colonists, freaked out by the increasing dictatorship, said No, but thank you; we’ll keep the cannon. Mexico sent soldiers, but instructed them to avoid conflict if possible; the Texians fired on them; the Mexicans retreated.

Public domain image from Wikipedia

About my design: People have depicted the arrangement of the star, slogan and cannon in a number of ways; I used what I think is a traditional arrangement, as seen in the 1938 mural above, in the Gonzales Memorial Museum, which apparently includes some Davy Crocketts manning the cannon and another Davy Crockett stuck behind the flag holding it out. My cannon is based on a photo of what some say is the actual cannon. Noah Smithwick’s description also places a Lone Star above the cannon. (The Handbook of Texas hypothesizes that the flag of Col. James Long’s 1819 expedition might have been the first to use a lone star for Texas.)

Click to buy the shirt!

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