Wanted: vexillologist

Posted on September 27, 2009


The Cowboy, unclear on the concept and fresh from a scolding, felt that he was pretty good at vexing and volunteered for the job. However, a vexillologist, I have learned, is a flag expert, and that’s what I need. I have turned from puzzling over George Martin to puzzling over the design and provenance of Eastport’s Mystery Flag

If the charter members of George Martin Post 227, Eastport, Michigan, had been able to choose a living person to honor, it might have been John Keffe (often spelled Keefe). Rummaging through Grace Hooper’s Pioneer Notes I learned that Keffe (Keefe) had quite a war.  He was wounded at the Wilderness and cited for promotion at Gettysburg.  Somewhere along the way, in acknowledgment of his services as a color-bearer, he was presented with a flag, which he treasured.  He mustered out in November, 1864 and wasted no time.  He packed up his family and his flag and headed for northern Michigan, where he’d heard a man could improve his prospects.  He homesteaded east of Eastport, where he and his flag became a regular part of community life.

“At the first town meeting held at Eastport in 1866, when thirteen men comprised the voters, John Keefe’s flag was unfurled and through the years, at G.A.R. doings, the faded flag was there, borne by John Keefe, a small man with graying red hair and twinkling blue eyes.” (Grace Hooper’s Pioneer Notes, p 203.

Now I ask you, can’t you just see him? Well, here’s a picture of him, along with Mrs. Keffe, who was an amazing woman, but that’s another story.

John Keffe and his wife

Biographical History of Northern Michigan (B.F. Bowen & Company: 1905), facing page 240

Below is a picture of what I hope is John Keffe’s flag flying from the second story of the Blakely Hotel (right-hand side of photo).  That’s the Blakely family sitting on the porch, and descendant Georgia Perkins puts the date in the early 1900s.  Flying a lot of flags like this was not common practice for most of the 19th century, but it became popular during the Centennial of the American Revolution in 1876.  Norton Bretz says he’s going to see if he can find a better copy of the photo. 

Blakely Hotel with Flags BW for blog

Georgia Perkins identifies her Blakely ancestors as (l.-r.) Young boy Dan Blakely, G. Grandfather Daniel Blakely, G. Grandmother Mary (Martin) Blakely, Mother Ruby Blakely, Aunt Mary Eliza Blakely (died aged 16), Grandmother Melissa Jane (Jennie) Foote Blakely, Grandfather Dan D. Blakely

The flag on the Blakely Hotel appears to be the same size and design as the Post 227 flag, with 13 stars (rows of 4/5/4) and 13 stripes.  I can’t tell, from the photo, whether it has been overprinted with the post name. 

Below is the header for the National Civil War Museum website, with an image of an exhibit. At the right is a flag designed very much like our own Post 227 flag, with three rows of stars, 4/5/4. It turns out that people stitched 13-star flags all the time during the Civil War. There is a lengthy discussion of the matter in an article by vexillologist Jeff Bridgman: So You Want to Buy a 13-Star Flag? I found it fascinating. It, um, might be less compelling for you.  But at least you learned a new word, eh?  And not to worry.  Babs will have a new photo for you tonight, and I’ll bet it won’t have anything to do with the Civil War.

National Civil War Museum Flag mast_1_0