Benjamin Franklin's United States Flag

Blog: Benjamin Franklin's United States Flag


Kara Wexler

When visitors enter Jordan Lobby at The Franklin Institute, they see four flags: the United States flag, the state flag of Pennsylvania, the flag of the City of Philadelphia, and a flag with 13 8-pointed stars and red, white, and blue stripes – the Franklin flag.

The Franklin flag (also sometimes called the Serapis flag) was one of several flags used in the early days of America. It was first described in a letter from Benjamin Franklin to the ambassador of Naples in 1778:

“It is with pleasure that we acquaint your excellency that the flag of the United States of America consists of thirteen stripes, alternately red, white, and blue; a small square in the upper angle, next the flagstaff, is a blue field, with thirteen white stars, denoting a new constellation.”



The Franklin flag became official in September of 1779, after the Battle of Flamborough Head. During the battle, the American Continental Navy ship Bonhomme Richard (named after Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac) captured the British ship, HMS Serapis. According to legend, when asked if he was ready to surrender, Continental Naval Captain John Paul Jones said, “Sir, I have not yet begun to fight!” After the battle, the Continental Navy sailed to Texel, which was part of Dutch territory. When they arrived, British officials insisted that Jones be arrested for piracy, as the flag on the Serapis had fallen off in battle and the ship was now sailing without a flag. Based on the design that Franklin and Adams described, a flag was quickly made and a sketch was entered into the register of national ensigns. Jones was spared from hanging, and the new flag was official. John Paul Jones would go on to be referred to as the “Father of the American Navy” for his bravery, skill, and dedication.

While the Franklin flag might not be familiar to us today, it hasn’t been totally forgotten. The 111th Infantry Regiment of the United States Army, which was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1747, is the only regiment authorized to carry it. It is also prominent on the crest of the naval ship USS John Paul Jones, and was featured on a postage stamp in 2000. 

Image: The Franklin Flag: FI Cat. 5476


About the author

Kara Wexler ,
Digital Marketing Coordinator

Kara is our Digital Marketing Coordinator by day, and a playwright by night. She loves both science and history, and is curious about pretty much everything.