An intricately embroidered banner was brought in to Museum Textile Services by a private client from upstate New York. It was made for the Rochester Union Grays, a military unit formed in Rochester, NY, on November 19, 1838. “Union Grays” was a nickname for the regiment, they also were known as the First Regiment Light Artillery and the First Independent Battalion Light Artillery Militia. The Union Grays were originally a rifle company, which then transitioned to infantry before becoming an artillery company.
The banner is comprised of two layers of silk, each heavily embroidered, with a fringe around three edges. The verso has a ring of brightly colored flowers on a leafy vine, surrounding the text “Rochester Unions Grays” with “Presented By The Ladies” in the center. At the top of the ring of flowers, an eagle head holds a small banner reading, “Union is strength,” which was the motto of the Union Grays. A ring of embroidered acorns and oak leaves is extant on the recto, but the center medallion is empty. Stitch holes within the embroidered ring lead us to conclude that there once was something on this side as well. The banner's owner discovered a contemporary published account of the presentation of the banner to the regiment, in which it is described as having “The Goddess of Liberty in the midst of the clouds, cherishing and supporting the American Eagle, in his onward and upward flight.” It is the owner's goal to find whether this separate piece of silk still exists so it can be reunited with the rest of the banner.
Unfortunately, the article that clearly describes this banner does not have a date on it. There are four other records of the Union Grays receiving a flag, and in each case some details overlap. Regrettably, each of these sources references the presentation of the flag as occurring on different days. One article describes a “stand of colors” to be presented by the ladies of Rochester in Court House Yard on June 27, 1839. A stand of colors refers to flags that are carried by a military unit. A “History of the Company” references the “presentation of a beautiful silk flag by the ladies of Rochester to the company on Court House Square.” There is an agreement here in the location of the presentation, in the vicinity of the Court House, as well as the flag being presented by the ladies. A third article in the Albany Argus printed on July 5, 1839 refers to the presentation of a banner on “Friday afternoon.” July 5th fell on a Friday in 1839, however the past tense used in the article implies that the banner presentation was June 28th, 1839, the Friday before. Two sources support the 28th as the date of the presentation, and a third, published before the presentation, points to the day before, and the discrepancy can be explained by a delay due to inclement weather.
The final mystery of the banner is the identity of its creators. The detail and craftsmanship of the work is complimented, “As a specimen of art, it is exceedingly creditable to the skill, taste, and genius of the women who designed and wrought it”. The one constant within the accounts of the presentation of the banner is that it was created by “the ladies of the city of Rochester,” however they are not identified further. The speech given by Graham H. Chapin at the presentation refers to the “Ladies here assembled,” which implies that the ladies who created the banner were in attendance and were likely known to the men in the regiment. Unfortunately, their names were not preserved for the historical record, and they remain the anonymous ladies of Rochester.
In our next blog we will describe the process we went through to clean, stabilize, mount, and frame the Rochester Union Grey's banner.