Kentucky's Flag History

Although Kentucky didn't have an official state flag until 1918, the state has had many flags representing various affiliations and countries flying over the bluegrass. During the 1600's, Spaniards on their way to northern settlements near Lake Onondaga, New York, camped throughout Kentucky. Unfortunately, they were all either burned or tomahawked before reaching their destination.

During the early 1700's, explorers LaSalle, Marquette and Iberville brought the French monarchy's fleur-de-lis to the southwestern portion of Kentucky. France held a portion of the state until the French and Indian War, when the land was ceded to Great Britain as part of the Proclamation of 1763, then later the Quebec Act of 1774.

The "Union Jack" of Great Britain flew over the Commonwealth until Revolutionary War. Once the Declaration of Independence was signed, Kentucky briefly adopted the flag of Virginia. (Kentucky, at the time, was not a state of the Union, but rather a Commonwealth of Virginia). But as war developed, forts in Harrodsburg, Lexington and Louisville took the flag of the United States, the flag of thirteen stars and thirteen stripes; the rest of the state soon follow.

After the Revolutionary War, the state again briefly adopted the flag of Virginia as its flag. When Kentucky was admitted to the Union in 1792, the flag signifying its new statehood status, the flag of fifteen stars and fifteen stripes, was adopted. As states were added to the Union and the U.S. flag modified within the next few decades, Kentucky retained the national flag as its unofficial flag.

During the Civil War, Kentucky had both Confederate and Union flags flying over it. Although Kentucky never seceded from the Union, from the beginning of the war until late 1863 the Confederate flag was most prominently used in the state as well as a white battle flag with a smaller version of the "Stars and Bars" in the left hand corner. General John Hunt Morgan, with his infamous raids from July 1861 to July 1863, established Confederate occupancy throughout much of the southern and central portions of the state until his and his division's capture by Federal troops near Lisbon, Ohio in July of 1863. Morgan escaped on November 26, 1863. Placed in command in East Tennessee and southwestern Virginia the next year, he was surprised and killed at Greeneville, Tennessee, on September 4, 1864.

After the Confederacy lost its strongholds in Northern Tennessee and Southern Kentucky, the Union flag regained prominence. From the end of the Civil War until World War I, Kentucky retained the flag of the Union as its unofficial state flag. An official state flag depicting the state's seal encircled with goldenrod was adopted in 1918.

Kentucky's General Assembly adopted a state flag in 1918 but could not agree on the final specification for ten years. Yes, it took ten years to reach satisfactory agreement from all concerned. In 1928, the General Assembly gave final approval for the flag and actually incorporated a drawing of the flag in the statutes.

The act designated that the flag should be of navy blue silk or bunting, with the Seal of the Commonwealth of Kentucky encircled by a wreath of goldenrod. This could be embroidered, printed or stamped in the center. Dimensions of the flag were not specified.

The first official state flag was made in early 1920 for a ceremony at Camp Zachary Taylor, in Louisville. The flag had been hastily put together, with little artistic design and was barely passable as the flag of the Commonwealth. Following the ceremony, the flag was sent to Credo Harris for creative improvements. A committee was formed and three designs were agreed upon. These three were then combined into one design, which was to be sent to the Governor for approval. The design was forgotten or lost during its bureaucratic shuffle and nothing ever resulted. After a long period of time, the 1920 flag was finally returned to Frankfort, placed in the custody of the Kentucky Historical Society.

During the administration of Governor Flem D. Sampson, an official flag was needed for another military ceremony. Jouett Cannon, then secretary of the Kentucky Historical Society, commissioned Jessie Cox Burgess, an art teacher in the Frankfort city school system, to come up with a design. Burgess' design consisted of ink sketches of the state's seal, embellished with goldenrod branches, done in oil paints, encircling it. Three flags were then made in Philadelphia; only two of these found their way to Frankfort, one being lost during a Chicago ceremony needing a flag representing Kentucky.

It was not until 1961 that the Kentucky Legislature officiated the design, colors, and specifications for the state's flag. Major Taylor L. Davidson, while serving the Adjutant General, spearheaded the project by researching the history and early designs of the state flag. Harold Collins, artist, was then asked to produce three color designs to be presented to Governor Bert Combs for a decision. Once the design was chosen, a template was made, and then detailed specifications were transcribed by Major Davidson into a new bill. The bill (KRS 2.030), the first and only bill with illustrations included in to the Kentucky statute, was passed into law during the 1962 session.

Link here to the Kentucky State Historical Society for facts, figures, and history of Kentucky.