Unfurling the history of the Richmond flag

Pop quiz, hotshot. Do you know what our city flag looks like? How old it is? And where to get it?

One of the most popular items sold by the Library of Virginia is 43” x 29” and features nine stars and the silhouette of a man many Richmonders don’t recognize.

“Richmonders aren’t as familiar as most are with their city flag,” said Laura Curzi, manager of The Virginia Shop, the retail arm of the Library of Virginia. The Virginia Shop began selling full-sized versions of the Richmond flag in November. But many who see the flag have no idea what it is. “We have it hanging right when you walk into the store…and people are often just startled: ‘What is that flag? I’ve never seen it before.'”

One of the reasons some Richmonders don’t recognize their city flag is because it’s only been their city flag since 1993.

The previous flag, adopted way back in 1914, was two-sided. On one side was a blindfolded Justice holding a sword and scale. Above her read “Richmond VA. Founded by William Byrd, MDCCXXXVII.” Below it read the Latin phrase “Sic Itur Ad Astra” (Thus one goes to the stars).1 As flag fare goes, pretty straightforward, right?

But on the other side of the flag was a Confederate Battle Flag-inspired crest containing the phrase “Deo Vindice” (God will vindicate). Not a sentiment (or a flag) befitting an increasingly modern Richmond post-Segregation.

The City adopted the current flag in 1993. It features a graphic representation of “The Headman”,2 the 9 1/2-foot tall bronze sculpture of the same name on Brown’s Island3 that commemorates black boatmen who traveled up and down the James River.

The nine stars above The Headman represent the nine states that were once part of Virginia’s territory: Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana.

Curzi said The Virginia Shop had worked with Evergreen Cyprus Home, the Midlothian company that produces the flags for The Virginia Shop, for a year to bring the flags to market. The flags debuted at the shop last November. “We’ve sold a little over 50 flags in the regular size, which is the most popular,” Curzi said. Those flags are 29” x 43” and cost $30.

She said the store has sold about 25 garden flags (18” x 12.5”) that are $15.99.

“It’s a really beautiful flag so, when we get people excited about it, it’s nice,” Curzi said. “We’re just happy to have it.”

Although the city flag is a new item at the Library of Virginia, Festival Flags at 309 Monroe Street has been selling it for (at least) the last decade, after Dave Edwards took over the flag shop that opened in 1971.

“The city has never promoted the flag so much,” Edwards said about the flag, which he thinks is a shame. “It’s a good design as far as the graphic quality. It’s a pretty strong city flag.” The North American Vexillological Association agreed, ranking the Richmond flag #15 in its 2004 survey of American city flags.

Festival Flags sells 3’ x 5’ printed flags for $45. Edwards also makes higher quality sewn versions of the 3’ x 5’ flag for $65. He can also sew 4’ x 8’ and 6’ x 10’ sizes for additional cost.

The Richmond flag hasn’t been a hot-selling item for Festival Flag, unlike its current popularity at The Virginia Shop. But Edwards said he’s eager to up production of the little-known Richmond ensign. “I’m ready to make more flags,” he said. “If anybody is interested.”

  1. Which remains the official motto of Richmond, as well as that of many others
  2. Sometimes called “The Headsman.” The sculptor refers to the statue as “The Headman” (no s). 
  3. The original fiberglass statue was stolen in 1988, a year after it was installed. Richmonders raised $24,000 to replace it in 1990. The replacement is made of bronze, a much more durable (and theft-deterring) material. 
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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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