Flag, War of 1812 Naval Hero
At The Hampton Roads Central Library
A NATION'S GRATITUDE?
Designer of Our Present Flag in Unmarked Grave for 95 Years
by C. W. Tazewell - 1967
Louisana and the Northwest Territory might now
be British if Reid had not engaged them in what has been called one of the world's most
decisive naval battles.
Thomas Manning, an amateur historian, knew the story of Captain Samuel Chester Reid,
designer of our present flag. Manning had reason to believe that he might be buried
at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, N. Y. As cemetery supervisor he had ready access to the
old, faded records. His search was rewarded with success, and he discovered the unmarked
grave where the naval hero of the war of 1812 and Congressional Medal of Honor winner had
remained unknown and unrecognized for almost 95
years. Further investigation verified that the Reid buried there was the naval hero.
Manning obtained the support of Brooklyn Congressman Francis E. Dorn, local veteran's
groups and other organizations to properly mark Reid's last resting place. The greatest
difficulty was in locating the surviving descendants to receive permissions for the
The Old Glory Post No. 48 of the American Legion
responded by marking the grave with a flag and wreath until the erection of the monument,
according to David Terada, now resident of Norfolk. Terada was then Commander of the
Brooklyn Post and is now Americanism Chairman of Norfolk's American Legion Post No. 60. On
October 28, 1956, the efforts of the Reid Memorial Committee met with fruition. Having
been authorized by Act of Congress a granite monument and flag pole were dedicated during
colorful ceremonies. Secretary of the Navy Charles S. Thomas gave the principal address
and Terada laid a wreath for Kings County veterans organizations. The ceremonies were
attended by two of Reid's descendants, Col. Louis Sanders, a great-grandson, and Samuel
Chester Reid, 4th, a great-great-grandson.
Capt. Reid designed the third version of the
Stars and Stripes in 1818 at the request of a Congressional Committee headed by Peter H.
Wendover, Representative from New York City. The original flag of the United States
of America was created by Resolution of Congress on June 14, 1777, with thirteen stars and
stripes. The second Flag Act was passed in 1794 to authorize fifteeen stars and fifteen
stripes due to entry of Vermont and Kentucky into the Union. By 1818 there were twenty
states and entry of others was expected soon. It was impractical to continue to add
stripes as more and more states were admitted. So, Wendover's committee adopted
Reid's proposal that the stripes be fixed at thirteen with one star for each state. On
acceptance of the design by Congress, Mrs. Reid made the first new flag with silk provided
by the government. It was flown from the Capitol dome on April 13, 1818. The twenty stars
were formed in "one great luminary" as a large composite star.
Notwithstanding the later establishment by President Monore of the arrangement of stars in
equal rows, they were non-uniform in
many flags. As late in 1857 stars were seen in the form of large stars, as a lozenge,
diamond or circle, and even as an anchor.
Samuel Chester Reid was born in 1783, son of
John Reid, a Scottish lieutenant in the Royal Navy. His father was captured in an
expedition against New London, Conn., in 1780, and was paroled in the custody of Judge
Chester of Norwich. He married the judge's daughter, Rebecca. The son became a powder
monkey in the U. S. Navy as a boy and served under Commodore Truxton as a midshipman. In
the War of 1812 he was made captain of the privateer, GENERAL ARMSTRONG. His ship was
pursued by a British squadron when he left New York in September, 1814. Through his skill
he escaped during light winds by pumping water on the sails and by towing by rowers in the
ship's boats. On the afternoon of September 26 he entered the harbor at Fayal in the
Azores. A squadron of three British ships arrived soon afterwards, with 136 guns and 2,000
men. The GENERAL ARMSTRONG had seven small guns and 90 men. In the evening the British
attacked with four smaller boats and were beaten off. Later, at midnight, fourteen boats
with cannonades and 600 men attacked the Americans again. The British succeeded in
boarding the GENERAL ARMSTRONG after heavy losses from cannon fire. In hand-to-hand combat
with the courageous crew the British were repelled with many dead and wounded. Reid dueled
and killed the British leader with his cutlass. Reid moved all of his guns to one side of
his ship by cutting new gun ports during the night in anticipation of further attacks.
With the light of dawn the 18-gun CARNATION came in and received a withering fire from the
ARMSTRONG, taking so much punishment that she left the battle. As the larger British ship
PLANTAGENET with 74 guns began moving in for the kill, Reid scuttled his ship.
On the next day Captain Reid was invited to tea
with the surviving British officers at the British Consulate. Notwithstanding the
objections of the American consul, Reid accepted, ignoring the possibility of a trap. He
was cheered and welcomed by the British officers as a brave and resourceful foe. General
Andrew Jackson later told Capt. Reid that "If there had been no Battle of Fayal,
there would have been no Battle of New Orleans." Reid had delayed the British
expedition against New Orleans for ten days allowing Jackson to arrive there earlier.
Thus, Louisiana and the Northwest Territory might now be British if Reid had not engaged
them in what has been called one of the world's most decisive naval battles. Capt. Reid
received many honors and was a popular naval hero. The Thanks of Congress and the
Medal of Honor were awarded to him along with a gold sword from the State of New York and
a silver tea service from the City of New York. The sword is in the Metropolitan Museum
and the tea service is in the Museum of the City of New York.
After the War of 1812 Samuel Chester Reid became
harbor master for New York City. He made many innovations including a signal code for U.
S. vessels and the use of the semaphore system for speedy advice on ship arrivals. He
devised a method of rapid signaling by land which permitted messages to go from New York
to New Orleans in two hours. Having served his country well in peace and war, Capt. Reid
died in 1861 at the age of 78. He is due the gratitude of the Nation, and our recognition
on Flag Day as the designer of our present flag. His grave is now a symbol of our
patriotism and dedication.
A descendant of Samuel Chester Reid, Mrs. Elizabeth Virginia Johnson, was living in
Portsmouth, Va. in 1967. It was noted in _The Virginian-Pilot_ of Feb. 26, 1967, that Mrs.
Johnson's mother's oldest brother, W. B. Reid, married a direct descendant of Betsy Ross.
This Mrs. Reid made a Confederate flag to be flown during the Civil War atop a paper mill
at Neuse River Falls, N. C.
_Sunday News,_ Brooklyn Section, July 31, 1955, p. B22. "Seek Reid Kin For Okay on
_The Virginian-Pilot,_ June 14, 1987, p. C2, "Old Glory: Contrary to legend, Betsy
Ross didn't sew it," by George Tucker
_Who Was Who,_ Historical Volume, p. 508, biography of Samuel Chester Reid
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