Capt. Samuel Chester Reid

Designer of 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 monument.
          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 of 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.
     
     Postscript -
     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 Memorial Plac" 
     
     _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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