Archives Treasure #3: 38-star U.S. flag from 1886

Archives Treasure #3: 38-star U.S. flag from 1886


Members of the University of Washington ROTC deliver an 1886 U.S. flag to the State Archives in Olympia in 2011. (Photos courtesy of Washington State Archives)

Since many of us recently put up a U.S. flag in honor of Flag Day or Independence Day, our third and final Archives Treasure for July is timely. It’s a 38-star American flag dating back to the 1880s.

This flag has a special history. In early 1886, mobs rose up in Seattle to drive the Chinese out of town. Mobs forcibly expelled most of Seattle’s Chinese residents beginning on Feb. 7, 1886. Homes and businesses were looted and burned. Washington Territorial Governor Watson Squire issued a proclamation ordering the mob to desist and disperse, but the mob ignored it. Shortly after, Squire declared martial law and called out the Territorial Militia to protect the Chinese and maintain order. On Feb. 8, 1886, General John Gibbon presented a “Tribute of Merit” award and a 38-star United States flag to the Territorial University Cadets of Seattle. The cadets were part of the militia who kept the peace the night before.

In April 2011, the University of Washington ROTC, concerned about the condition of this flag, arranged transfer of artifact to the State Archives in Olympia. That month, Lt. Col. William Pola and two UW ROTC members brought the flag to the Archives, where it is held in a climate-controlled environment.


Lt. Col. William Pola (middle) and two UW ROTC members stood next to the flag before they gave it to the Archives in 2011.

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