Conserving Byfield’s Flag, the Oldest in America

At the end of his life, one of the Town Founders of Bristol, Nathanial Byfield, donated his Colonel’s flag to the Town, where it was paraded at the head of the town’s 4th of July parade for almost forty years. The flag’s survival is a small miracle. In the 1880s, the flag was packed away in a closet of the Burnside Building, not to be seen again until 2019. Textile conservator Maria Vazquez spoke about the rediscovery, conservation, and preservation methods used on the oldest complete flag in America in a session held at the Bristol Historical and Preservation Society on May 22, 2023. Click here for the 52-minute video of her presentation.

Bristol Historical and Preservation Society Executive Director Catherine Zipf introduced Ms. Vazquez who is Vice President of the Varnum Memorial Armory in East Greenwich, RI, and who is the Collections Manager for the Naval War College Museum, in Newport, RI. She began her talk with a Civil War photo showing a flag belonging to Major General Ambrose Burnside that led to the discovery of Byfield’s flag in Bristol.

(Above, left and center) Ms. Vasquez points out an inscription on the flag’s pole that reads “Capt. Nathaniel Byfield, 1687” that confirmed that the flag that they had discovered was one owned by Byfield in the late 1600s. (Above, right) She is shown watching a textile consultant examine some of the flag’s material which had turned from its original red color to a gold color due to aging.

(Above) Members of the audience listen to a portion of the PBS special, “A Stitch in Time”, about the conservation of the flag that first aired in 2022 and that can be seen at