~ Submitted by Bedford Town Historian Sharon McDonald
Revered far and wide as the oldest flag in the United States, our Bedford Flag lies sleeping securely in the Bedford Free Public Library. But of late, that sleep has been uncomfortably disturbed by the news of a sister flag, the Byfield Flag, which is said to be older than our flag by some twenty years.
When showing the Bedford Flag to visitors, I often jokingly say “This is the oldest flag in the United States and Canada – unless you have an older one under your bed, and if you do, I don’t want to hear about it!!” Our flag was made not earlier than 1704. But now someone has found an arguably older flag, not under their bed but tightly rolled in a bundle of Civil War flags in Bristol, Rhode Island.
It’s huge, silk, and originally bright red, though now it has faded to yellow. It has no design at all painted or sewn onto it. Age had shredded one side of it.
Like ours, it is a militia flag. On its staff is engraved “Nathaniel Byfield 1687.”
Is the proof of its age the writing on the pole? Eager to find out more, I am planning to go and see it, and talk to its conservator. Local historian Alethea Yates and I will make the trip on Saturday the 23rd and will report when we return.