“Four our conversation is in heaven: from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20)
Some know it as the “Pine Tree” or the “Liberty Pine” flag. Others call it the “Tree of Peace” flag. Still others know it as “Washington’s Cruiser” flag. It may be best known as the “Appeal to Heaven” flag. But whatever its moniker, it plays a significant role in the history of our nation. Nearly a full year before Betsy Ross was commissioned in 1776 to sew the “oh-so-familiar” Stars and Bars, the “Appeal to Heaven” flag was chosen to fly over America’s first naval vessels.
The American colonies found themselves in turmoil in the summer of 1775. Shots had been fired. King George had declared the colonies in rebellion. When unanimously appointed as general over the Colonial forces on July 3, 1775, George Washington quickly commissioned (at his own expense) six schooners to be used in intercepting British military supply ships. These six ships quickly became known as “Washington’s Secret Navy”. But lacking a flag to fly under Washington carefully chose a white background with a large green pine tree in the center and the words “An Appeal to Heaven” boldly emblazoned across the top.
There were several events or thoughts of significance behind these choices. The Pine Tree was chosen for several reasons. It had long been a symbol of importance to the colonies.
Known as the “Tree of Peace” it had been a sacred sign of the Iroquois Indians for over 1,000 years in America. At a very troubling time in their history, a peacemaker convened six large tribes from the Great Lake areas and brokered peace and unity in the region. The treaty was ratified by burying their war hatchets under a great pine tree. Thus came the familiar phrase still used today of “burying the hatchet” and the symbolism of the pine.
In 1744 the Iroquois leaders met with the colonial leaders to describe to them their form of government. Benjamin Franklin began publishing their ideas and then in 1754 formally presented “The Albany Plan”, proposing that the colonists form a union loosely patterned after the Iroquois Confederation. As the Continental Congress met in 1775 the Chiefs of those Six Nations were formally invited to attend their Philadelphia meeting. Thus the “Tree of Peace” began to be known as the “Liberty Tree” among the colonists and would begin to appear on coins, medals, banners and all sorts of flags– especially those flown in the fight for freedom.
Along with the influence of the Native Americans an act by the King of England concerning the harvesting of pine trees in the colonies added greater meaning to this symbol. The colonists depended heavily on the wood from the pine tree for many aspects of their livelihood. This wood was used to build homes, furniture, tools, ships, and to make fire. These New World pines were old growth trees and were rumored to be some of the best in the world. With diameters of six feet and heights reaching 230 feet the King sought to harvest the best of these pines for use in constructing vessels for the British Royal Navy. Utilizing the “Broad Arrow Act”, the king ordered soldiers to mark certain trees for use of the king without regard to the location of the tree, even if on private property. That “Broad Arrow Act” infuriated the colonists and strengthened the pine tree’s symbolism in American society.
But how about the phrase “Appeal to Heaven”? Where did it originate and what is its significance? It is actually a call to action from the pen and heart of an English political philosopher of the 17th century by the name of John Locke. Those words along with many others came to influence the formation of American government. Locke, in his Second Treatise of Civil Government, published in 1689-90 lays out the idea of a Natural Law established by our Creator wherein the government are granted inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and property. (Does that sound familiar?) Then he goes on to say that when the body of people, or even individuals, find themselves deprived of their rights and appear to have no appeal hear on earth, then they indeed have a liberty to “appeal to heaven”. And even if they are far outnumbered and out supplied God will come to their aid as they take a stand for that which is right.
With that in mind it might be important to note that it is reported that Washington carried one of these flags into every battle in which he fought. It might also be noteworthy to share that just a few months after Washington’s Secret Navy officially launched, one of their schooners, the “Lee”, overtook and captured a British Brigantine, named the Nancy, and seized muskets, flint, gun powder and other supplies that would end up supplying the American forces for more than a year. This seizure inspired the Massachusetts navy of 25 ships to defend the coast from the British. In 1776 Massachusetts adopted this flag for its own navy and eventually allowed their navy to be absorbed into the United States Navy
So now the flag stands, not just in our American history, but as an inspiration (if not a clarion call) specifically to American Christians to once more come together in unity, bury our hatchets, and appeal to heaven for help. It is a call to action to lay aside those petty issues which tend to divide us, bury the hatchets of racial, denominational and generational prejudices, and unite: in humbling ourselves, praying, seeking God’s face, and turning from our wicked ways.
Then somewhere in the future annals of history some generation to come may learn of a time when God’s children listened and obeyed the Lord as he beckoned and were able to see their land healed. May the pine tree’s triangular shape remind us of our heavenly Father, his precious Son and the indwelling Holy Spirit calling us to action—pointing us heavenward! May its evergreen boughs remind us of the eternal impact our actions can have. And may those words indeed encourage us to make our appeals where they can truly be heard and granted.
I am asking for as many churches as will to focus their worship this July 3, 2016 toward that end. We are calling it “Citizenship Sunday” A call to solemn assembly by the Gordon Memorial Baptist Association Seeking Christians to come in repentance and appealing to heaven on behalf of our Nation.