close print view
The Brady Guard Flag - Background Reading
Michigan's First State Flag
In 1911, on the eve of Michigan's 75th birthday, Mrs. James Campbell of Grand Rapids made an amazing discovery. She found a faded, dusty bundle of what appeared to be "frayed old rags" in a dark cabinet deep in the basement of the Michigan State Capitol. Mrs. Campbell had been searching for this bundle for several years and she knew its significance. She knew that these seeming "rags" were actually a priceless historic relica relic which had been missing for 50 years.
On February 22, 1837, only a few weeks after achieving statehood, Michigan's "boy" governor Stevens T. Mason presented the Detroit Brady Guard, an early militia organization recognized as the forerunner of today's Michigan National Guard, with an elegant white silk banner. The flag had been painted by noted Detroit artist Alvin Smith. On one side was a full length portrait of Governor Mason himself. On the other was a portrait of General Hugh Brady, various other designs and the coat-of-arms of the new state. It was the very first time that Michigan's coat-of-arms had appeared on a flag, leading everyone-then and now-to regard the "Brady Guard" flag (as it has come to be known) as the state's first flag.
In 1851, General Brady died and the flag was furled and stored away. Ten years later, in April 1861, in response to Lincoln's call for volunteers following the firing on Fort Sumter, the flag was unfurled again and the first 100 recruits who signed up under its folds became Company A (also known as the Detroit Light Guard) of the First Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment (3 months). Although it is unlikely that the flag saw duty during the Civil War, its actual whereabouts during those years is unknown. In fact, after the Civil War, the flag was lost for so many years that many had begun to doubt it ever existed-until Mrs. Campbell's amazing discovery.
At Mrs. Campbell's urging the flag was sent to the Kent Scientific Museum in Grand Rapids, now the Grand Rapids Public Museum. There, it was cleaned and its "frail parts" glued to silk gauzenot a treatment considered suitable today but accepted procedure then. In 1912, it was returned to the Michigan State Capitol for display in a "huge plate glass case" built to house it in the rotunda Military Museum in the basement of the Capitol. And then, somehowin full view of everyonethe flag disappeared again.
In 1949, Ellen Hathaway, Michigan teacher and author of a history of the Capitol for young readers, discovered that the flag on exhibit in the Brady Guard flag case was really a Civil War battle flag. No one knew how, why or exactly when the Civil War flag replaced the Brady Guard flag. Worse, no one knew what had become of the state's first flag. Had it burned in a devastating fire in the Capitol in 1931?
And there the matter might have rested, an enduring mystery, until a recent unexpected development. Loren Shattuck lives in a home in Mason, Michigan, originally owned by Lawton T. Hemans-a man who twice ran for governor, developed an absorbing interest in Stevens T. Mason, and wrote the definitive biography of the boy governor (published in 1920, after Hemans' death). Shattuck was preparing his house for a historic home tour when he wrote Hemans' grandson, Tom Hemans, for additional information. Hemans did better: he sent several boxes of memorabilia. In the material was a slender envelope containing three things: a small fragment of thin white silk and two black and white photographs. The photographs show the front and back of a large, crumpled flag. Clearly visible on the front of the flag is the Michigan state coat-of-arms and the legend, "Presented by Stevens T. Mason February 22, 1837." On the back is the figure of Stevens T. Mason. Shattuck had just discovered the only known photographs of the state's first flag-and a scrap of the flag itself.
Shattuck showed the material to a local historian with a particular interest in early Michigan history, Craig Whitford. Whitford immediately understood the implications of the items, and contacted Kerry Chartkoff, who had long been interested in the history and fate of the Brady Guard flag. How had this material ended in Hemans' possession? We may never know, but Hemans ran for governor in 1908 and 1910, just before Mrs. Campbell discovered the flag in the Capitol in 1911. He was passionately interested in everything to do with Mason, and here was the flag Mason himself had presented, bearing Mason's own likeness! He lived in the nearby city of Mason and could easilyupon hearing of its discoveryhave come to view (and photograph) the flag for himself.
The importance of Shattuck's and Whitford's discovery is immense. They have resurrected an image important to historians, vexillologists, the Michigan National Guard (whose ancestral flag this is), the city of Mason, the descendants of Lawton Hemans (an important figure in his own right, largely forgotten today) and the many Michigan citizens who dutifully learned that Michigan has had three official state flags but-until now-never knew what the first one looked like.
Contributed by Kerry Chartkoff, Chair, Michigan Save the Flags Committee
Michigan.gov Home Report All Poaching 1-800-292-7800 Contact DNR DNR Home State Web Sites Spending & Accountability Office of Regulatory Reinvention
Copyright © 2001-2013 State of Michigan