Before Old Glory, There Was the Taunton Flag

The people of Taunton, Mass., celebrate the Taunton Flag with a friendly festival on their green every October. But when first raised on Oct. 21, 1774, the flag inspired an angry controversy.

The Taunton Flag

The Taunton Flag

Taunton, Mass., was a hotbed of rebellious fervor. By the time the town raised the Taunton Flag, it had sent lawyer Robert Treat Paine to the First Continental Congress representing Massachusetts.

Six years earlier, Paine defended a 16-year-old slave named Bristol accused of murdering the sister of Dr. William McKinstry to gain his freedom. Paine lost the case and Bristol died on the gallows.

In 1774, Taunton’s Sons of Liberty ran Loyalists out of town. One of the last to go was McKinstry, though the Sons allowed his wife to stay behind.

The Taunton Flag

On Friday, October 21, 1774, patriotic Tauntonians erected an enormous liberty pole. On Monday, October 24, the Boston Evening Post reported the story:

We have just received the following intelligence from Taunton… A liberty pole 112 feet long was raised. Attached to it was a Union flag with the words Liberty and Union sewed on. The following lines were fixed to the pole:

Bird's-eye view of the Taunton Green in 1875

Bird’s-eye view of the Taunton Green in 1875

CRESCIT AMOR PATRIAE QUE CUPIDO (The love of country and the desire for freedom)

Be it known to the present,
And to all future generations,
That the Sons of Liberty in Taunton
Fired with a zeal for the preservation of
Their rights as men, and as
American Englishmen,
And prompted by a just resentment of
The wrongs and injuries offered to the
English colonies in general, and to
This Province in particular,
Through the unjust claims of
A British Parliament and the
Machiavellian policy of a British ministry,
Have erected this monument or Liberty standard,
As a testimony of their fixed resolution
To preserve sacred and inviolate
Their birthrights and charter rights,
And to resist even unto blood
All attempts for their subversion or abridgement.
Born to be free, we spurn the knaves who dare
For us the chains of slavery to prepare;
Steadfast in freedom’s cause, we’ll live and die,
Unawed by statement; foes to tyranny,
But if oppression brings us to our graves,
And marks us dead, she ne’er shall mark us slaves.

The Taunton Flag

The Taunton Flag, also known as the Liberty and Union Flag, symbolized revolt against British oppression. The Evening Post story inspired flags with similar mottoes throughout the colonies.

One person unimpressed with the Taunton Flag was the wife of Dr. William McKinstry. According to Two Men of Taunton: In the Course of Human Events, 1731-1829, Mrs. McKinstry,

…took no pains to conceal her contempt for the Patriots. Her neighbors endured her scorn for a while; then, one morning, these women of the New England Taunton, jealous because Mistress McKinstry was still enjoying her afternoon tea, proceeded to her house on High Street (as the women marched in Old English Taunton during Monmouth’s Rebellion), dragged her from her fireside, marched her down to the Green, and around the Liberty Pole in humiliating token of allegiance.

Every year, Taunton holds a Liberty and Union Festival in October to commemorate the raising of the Taunton Flag. In 2020, the festival was scheduled for October 16-17. No one expects humiliating forced marches in front of the Taunton Flag, especially since it will be a virtual event.

Dr. William McKinstry appears in an earlier post on Oct. 19, 2015. Find out why by clicking here. This story was updated in 2020. 

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