While working in NY some years back and walking the streets of Manhattan, I often wondered why there were three flags on government buildings in NYC. Once this was explained to me as representing National, State and City, I started digging into the curiously looking NY City flag.
I then recognized the three colours and realized NYC is waving the old Dutch tricolor!
On old paintings depicting Dutch warships one often sees the two variations of the Dutch flag: the (temporarily) Orange-White-Blue along with the original Red-White-Blue.
The flag design is derived from the flag of the Dutch Republic—also called the Prince’s Flag (‘Prinsenvlag’) and was during the time after the founding of Nieuw Amsterdam in 1624.
Shortly before Nieuw Amsterdam was founded as new Dutch colony, the orange part was changed from red in honour of the former Dutch leader Prince of Orange and really demonstrating the revolt against the Spanish dominance. Funnily enough, during the 18th century, the royalist Orange became the old Red again.
The current New York City flag was approved only on April 6, 1915. The current design dates from 1977 when the seal was subtly modified. Remarkable fact is that the historic date was then changed from 1664 (when Brits took over from the Dutch) and set back to 1625. This change of year was to emphasize the Dutch contributions to the city’s history which had been downplayed by the British ever since the peaceful takeover of Nieuw Amsterdam.
The symbols in the seal of NY City flag explained in short:
Bald eagle: national symbol of the USA.
Native American: symbolizing the original inhabitants, vs. Seaman, the colonizers. The latter is holding a lead plumet in his right hand, an instrument used for measuring water depths. On his right shoulder you can identify the navigational tool called the cross-staff used for determining latitude.
The native American, member of the Algonquin tribe (first inhabitants of Manhattan Island) is holding a bow in his left hand.
Two beavers: symbolizing the foundation for Nieuw Amsterdam’s economic success under the Dutch (beaver skins were used as early currency!)
Four windmill sails: to remember the Dutch history of the city and the prosperous industry of milling flour. Two flour barrels show the result of the earliest trade goods.
The text SIGILLUM CIVITATIS NOVI EBORACI means “Seal of the City of New York”
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