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The History of the New York City Borough Flags

Every year on June 14 the United States observes Flag Day.  This is a way to commemorate the adoption of the country’s first official flag on June 14, 1777.  Not only does New York have its own official flag, but it also has a separate flag to represent each of the five boroughs.  Pretty interesting, huh?  We think so.

The New York State Flag

The official state flag of New York was embraced on April 1, 1901. Adorned on a dark blue field is the state coat of arms, which was officially adopted by New York in 1778.  Breakdown of the symbols:

  • The goddess, Liberty, (freedom) holding a pole with a Liberty Cap on top.  At her feet is a discarded crown, representing freedom from England at the end of the Revolutionary War.
  • On the right of the flag is the goddess, Justice. She wears a blindfold and carries the scales of justice, symbolizing that everyone receives equal treatment under the law.
  • The New York state motto “Excelsior” on a white ribbon on the bottom of the flag expresses the idea of reaching upward to achieve higher goals.
  • On the shield, the sun rises over the Hudson highlands and ships sail the Hudson River. Above the shield is an eagle resting on a globe representing the Western Hemisphere.

The New York City Flag

New York City Flag, image courtesy of Wikipedia

The New York City flag has the same blue as the state flag on the left, orange on the right, and white in the middle. A circular seal is in the middle with a seaman and Native American. Between them are a windmill, beavers, and barrels. An eagle is perched above them.  The colors are symbolic of the Dutch flag. William I, Prince of Orange, flew it with the blue closest to the staff.  Breakdown of the symbols:

  • The bald eagle represents the United States of America.
  • The Native American symbolizes the original inhabitants of the area.
  • The seaman symbolizes the colonizers of the area.
  • The beaver represents the Dutch West India Company, which was the first company in New York.
  • The windmill symbolizes the Dutch history of the city and the prosperous industry of milling flour.
  • Flour barrels represent the short-lived monopoly on milling.
  • 1625 symbolizes the year of the establishment of New Amsterdam.

Bronx Flag

The Bronx Flag, image courtesy of Wikipedia

Created in 1912, the Bronx was the first borough to have an official flag.  It was adopted into city law in the 1960s.  The colors are orange, white, and blue, which were the original colors of the Netherlands when this was a Dutch colony.  Breakdown of the symbols:

  • The eagle, facing east, represents the hope of the New World, while not forgetting the heritage of the old, according to Bronx Historian, Lloyd Ultan.
  • Inside the shield, the sea stands for commerce and the rising sun for the coming of liberty. A ribbon reads “Ne Cede Malis,” meaning, “Yield not to evil.” A laurel wreath encircling the design denotes honor and fame.

Brooklyn Flag

Brooklyn Flag, image courtesy of Wikipedia

This is the only other borough flag that was officially adopted into law.  It existed as early as 1860 when Brooklyn was an independent city, and the flag has not changed since.  The colors are white, blue and gold.  Breakdown of the symbols:

  • The woman pictured is the goddess of justice.  She holds a Roman fasces, a symbol of unity.
  • The object, which resembles an ax (a symbol of strength), contains six rods that represent the original six towns of Brooklyn.
  • The Dutch slogan above Lady Justice means, “In unity, there is strength.”

Queens Flag

Queens Flag, image courtesy of Wikipedia

This blue and white flag, created in 1913, features nature most prominently.  Breakdown of the symbols:

  • The stripes are symbolic of the shield of the Dutch governor William Kieft, and the circle of wampum, a traditional shell bead used by Native Americans.
  • The tulip at the center stands for the Dutch, and the rose for the English.
  • The year 1898 reminds us of when Queens first became a borough of NYC.

Manhattan Flag

Manhattan Flag, image courtesy of Wikipedia

Manhattan’s blue, white, and orange borough flag is by agreement, not by law.  It is similar, but not identical, to the official New York City flag.  Breakdown of the symbols:

  • A Native American represents the city’s early inhabitants.
  • The sailor represents the city’s maritime heritage.
  • The crest at the center features four blades of a windmill, a nod to the Dutch, but the eagle above serves as an acknowledgment of this being an American city.
  • The beavers in the crest are a reminder that fur was important to the trading industry.

Staten Island Flag

Staten Island flag, image courtesy of Wikipedia

The newest of the five boroughs, the Staten Island flag was originally created in 2002 and redesigned featuring natural earth tones in 2016.  Breakdown of the symbols:

  • The ship pictured is Henry Hudson’s “The Half Moon.”
  • A small canoe with three oystermen is shown, as oyster beds are a significant part of Staten Island’s history. Two of the men are native Staten Islanders; the other is a sailor from Henry Hudson’s crew.
  • The female figure on the shore represents the city; her sword points downward to signal peace, and the two turtle doves “mated for life” on her shield represent camaraderie and loyalty.

Robin Shack is a freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Amazon.com, Lagunasalt.com and sainteden.com

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