Ed Note: This one was a lot of fun to do. It’s very tongue-in-cheek and emphatically full of sarcasm and dry humor. So, don’t go sending me hate mail or have a conniption fit about the presence of a “confederate flag”...or even the real Confederate flag.
You’re free to make fun of the Spaniards and French to your heart’s delight, though.
Alabama is a reasonably old state — the 22nd one admitted to the union, way back in 1819. But, though continuous habitation and civilization in ‘Bama stretch back thousands of years, over a period of nearly 500 years Alabama was a ping pong ball many Western sovereigns.
First “discovered” in 1539 by Hernando De Soto, Alabama’s first item of clothing was a Spanish flag flying over the State. And, for almost 160 years, the Spaniards were the exclusive rights holders to the discoverable territory — one that we cannot stress had been settled for at least 1300 years and had the second-largest city in the Northern Hemisphere.
Good job, Spain.
But, in 1699, with the Spaniards asleep at the wheel and not really doing much with sleepy ole’ Alabama, the French claimed the region. And they began with the exploration of what is now Dauphine Island. From thence, the Frogs moved to the mainland, ate crawfish, and established a tiny wooden structure called Fort Conde de la Mobile in 1711-1712. That was eventually shortened to “Mobile.” But, that could have been very different had its founder, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, decided to leave his vanity imprint upon the little fort.
With France strong-arming Spain out of the picture, Alabama fully became a French-occupied possession.
And that explains to this day why people in Mobile are so weird.
France’s possession of the area did not last long — though its influence remains strong south of I-10 to this day. Just 70 years later, in 1763 following France’s defeat in the French and Indian War, the territory encompassing Alabama was ceded to the British Empire.
Thus the Union Jack took its place in the skies over Alabama. And Alabamians had dodged a serious bullet. They could have become a more literate Louisiana.
But, there was a catch — France had secretly already sold the territory back to Spain. No one in England knew this for several years, and this matters because...
Following the French/Indian War some bratty rich planter colonists and quasi-aristocratic industrialists had a hissy fit. They decided they didn’t want to pay the costs of the Seven Years War that they had started with the French by continued expansion into France’s territory. So, they dumped a bunch of tea in a harbor, refused to pay their taxes, and then gussied up their temper tantrum real nice with Enlightenment language about freedom and rights.
Mama got pissed. The two got in a fight. But, the bratty rich planters and quasi-aristocrats had a wildcard in their deck — they turned to those same French they had just fought two decades ago for help. The French figured “hey, the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and helped keep Mama England distracted on the Continent. With the help of one of Europe’s great powers secured, the colonists eventually won a low-level, decade-long series of small engagements and guerilla skirmishes.
France gave us a big metal harlot to throw in the ocean off the coast of New York, and we now celebrate all of this by burning hamburgers and blowing up things in our back yards.
The Union Jack had truly fallen.
That’s when America discovered that a lot of Alabama wasn’t French at all. It had belonged to Spain and England all along. So, America took what they could, and the northern part of the state became the Alabama territory in 1789. But the southern part was still divided between Britain and Spain.
It would not remain foreign for long. After the War of 1812, even British West Florida / Southern Alabama would be fully Americanized and the rest of the state was divided between it and Mississippi, with all the land of both becoming full territories in 1817.
Two years later, in 1819, the Alabama Territory became the 22nd state in the Union.
Pay attention to that last word; it gets important soon.
The Union Jack was down for good. And, likewise, the Spanish Burgundy Cross was down as well.
The ‘Merican flag could now fly in Pure Freedom (TM.)
But, you know what they say about Alabama public education. Apparently, people in the state misread or ignored the definition of “Union.” And less than forty years after becoming a state in the United States, some more rich planters had a temper tantrum and decided they were going to dress up their economic prerogatives as freedoms. Alabama, known for its awesome government, decided to become the first state in the new Confederacy. But, fortunately for us, no Alabama governor would ever do anything dumb ever again.
With Alabama’s secession from the US and entry into the CSA, came the first real Alabama state flag...and, mercy, was it ugly.
The ugly flag didn’t help matters. Just four years later, we know what happened. The South lost.
Who would have ever guessed that the part of the country with all the people, the central government, the central bank, the diplomatic ties, the manufacturing, the logistics, the navy, the railways, and a standing army would have ever won?*
But, before that inevitable defeat occurred, Alabama had three more more flags under its belt.
The official, original CSA flag...the Stars and Bars.
But, these were considered suspiciously too Yankee by some CSA lawmakers, so a change had to be made. Turning to the South’s military commander was the answer: Robert E. Lee’s guys had a flag as bitchin’ as a 1984 purple Fiero. The CSA government loved it.
Wary of Yankee Doodle, and enamored of Lee, the CSA later adopted a Confederate flag that had been modified from the “Battle Flag,” the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. Or, as they call it in Cullman, “required pickup truck decoration.” That original NOVA battle flag is known colloquially and wrongly today as the confederate flag
...because people can’t be assed to read some history.
But, back on topic. The final CSA version of the Battle Flag was called the Blood Stained Banner.
There was another CSA flag that immediately preceded this final form. But, it was graphically hideous. Imagine that you remove the red stripe down the side of the Blood Stained Banner — that’s it. And that one was called the Stainless Banner.
After four years of the bloodiest conflict in US history, the War finally ends. And so the variants of the Battle Flag and Banners all came down. Flagpoles across the state would carry the 36 Star Flag of the victorious United States of America. And, as new states would be added, Old Glory and her new stars would be a constant.
So, was Alabama done with flags?
Absolutely not. There’s one last chapter in this story.
The State, feeling that it had no choice but to be passive aggressive after Reconstruction, passed its flag act in 1895 with more than a wee bit of a throwback to them Johnny Reb days. A modified version of the St. Andrews Cross — an Irish St. Patrick’s Saltire — was adopted as the State Flag of Alabama. And, though it has some minor variants, the present incarnation of the Alabama flag has remained the same for over a century.
So, there you have it: A very irreverent history of the sovereign status of Alabama, its many flags, how we got them, and why. And, though Old Glory with her 50 stars and the Saltire are the two flags you see the most in the state, I think we all know the one flag that is of most importance for this site.
44 Days until Football Season