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Rhode Island’s First Official Flag, 1877-1882
It would be nearly a full century after the Revolutionary War before the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations officially adopted a state flag. On March 30, 1877, Rhode Island adopted the state’s first non-military flag when the General Assembly enacted Chapter 628, Section 1. This flag possessed a white field with a blue anchor surrounded by a red border in rococo style containing the word “Hope.”
This red border was surrounded by 38 stars, the number of states in the union from 1876 until 1889. It was said that the white background on this flag corresponded to the facings on the state militia uniforms worn during the American Revolution. This flag would represent Rhode Island for just 5 years, as it would be replaced in early 1882. This flag can be seen in Figure 4.
Rhode Island’s Blue Flag, 1882-1897
In 1880, commissioners in Rhode Island made a revision of the Public Laws of the state. Upon doing so, they discovered that apparently there was no law establishing a state flag (This seemingly suggests that despite the General Assembly approving a flag in 1877, it was never put into state law). As a result, the revisers of the Public Laws sought to amend this perceived oversight. On 13 April 1881, a revision was approved by the General Assembly which established a new flag for Rhode Island.
According to Section 3 of Chapter 5 of the Rhode Island State Laws: “the Flag of the State shall be blue, and in the center thereof shall be represented a golden anchor surrounded by 13 golden stars.” The shade of blue prescribed by this law was the same as the canton field in the United States flag.  (See figure 5) Additionally, while the state law dictated that the stars and anchor were to be gold, white was sometimes used instead. As with its predecessor, this flag would last for a relatively short time, just 15 years, before being replaced once again in 1897. Before this, however, the flag was flown at the Rhode Island building as part of the 1893 Columbia Exposition in Chicago.
Rhode Island’s Most Well-Known Symbol, 1897-Present
After fifteen years under the blue flag (figure 4), the Rhode Island General Assembly adopted a third and, thus far, final flag. On May 19, 1897, the flag which is known to Rhode Islanders today was officially adopted. According to State Law 42-4-3:
“The flag of the state shall be white, five feet and six inches (5’6″) fly and four feet and ten inches (4’10”) deep on the pike, bearing on each side in the center a gold anchor, twenty-two inches (22″) high, and underneath it a blue ribbon twenty-four inches (24″) long and five inches (5″) wide, or in these proportions, with the motto “Hope” in golden letters thereon, the whole surrounded by thirteen (13) golden stars in a circle. The flag shall be edged with yellow fringe. The pike shall be surmounted by a spearhead and the length of the pike shall be nine feet (9′), not including the spearhead.”
This law called for several unique features to the new state flag. Specifically:
- The use of the term ‘pike,’ a relatively archaic term which is applied infrequently today.
- Specific measurements and proportions which were not provided in the laws from 1877 and 1882.
- Yellow fringe, as opposed to gold as in the anchor and lettering. Additionally, because it is styled as fringe and not a border, it is only used on three sides of the flag.
- The proportions laid out in this law made the Rhode Island flag the narrowest of all state flags.
The current Rhode Island state flag runs contrary to heraldic custom and convention which suggests that yellow on white should not be used because the colors are difficult to distinguish when the flag is flying.
In 2001, the North American Vexillological Association conducted a survey of opinions on 72 subnational and territorial flags of the United States and Canada, and each responder was asked to assign a rating from 0 to 10. In this survey, Rhode Island’s flag ranked 28 out of 72 with an average score of 6.12.  Regardless of opinions regarding the Rhode Island state flag, it has served as a clear and definitive symbol of our great state for the last 122 years.