Navy Uncovers Hidden Treasure Buried Nearly 100 Years

In a conservation effort by the U.S. Naval Academy Museum, flags from conflicts from the 19th Century have recently been re-discovered. The boxes indicated they were captured flags, but little did museum curator Charles Swift know how rich their history really was.

According to Stars and Stripes, the museum has discovered 61 banners that were captured in 1800s conflicts. While the banners had been shown in the museum back in the early 1900s, no one alive today has seen these banners until now.

“The 46 newly discovered flags — including banners from battles in Asia and from the Spanish-American War — had originally been put on display in 1913,” Stars and Stripes reports. “But seven years later, they were covered up by the 15 flags from the War of 1812 — and sealed up for nearly a century.”

Swift describes the moment he saw the flags. “More importantly than just seeing them was seeing the colors,” he told Stars and Stripes.

“It is what struck me immediately. It was sort of dark, but you could see the colors — the vibrant colors — of them having not been in light for 100 years, and so it was exciting.”

Many of the flags were taken from a period in American history that many Americans are unfamiliar with — a time before the American Navy was the global power it is today.

As Stars and Stripes points out, “They include one taken from a Chinese pirate fort off Macau dating to 1854 and another captured in Korea in 1871.”

A Chinese pirate flag captured by USS Macedonian in 1854. Part of our efforts in historic Mahan Hall this week thanks to conservation funds from Naval History & Heritage Command

Swift even said that there were some Revolutionary War-era replicas among the flags.

Camille Myers Breeze, a member of the team hired to work on the conservation process, told Stars and Stripes that this is her favorite type of project.

“For us to conserve a collection of flags like this that’s historical — not only for its use, but for how it was preserved and how it has been installed here for 100 years for Naval Academy students and visitors to appreciate and learn from.”

The museum was commissioned by President James K. Polk in 1849 “as the repository of flags captured in battle by the Navy.” It now houses about 800 flags, with about 250 of them being described as “trophy flags” — flags captured in battle.

You can also find many other treasures in the museum including seafaring instruments, naval uniforms, medals, photographs, art and items recalling past naval expeditions and explorations.

As Swift told Stars and Stripes: “We are ultimately stewards of these objects that tell important stories.”

And these military stories need to be told. The Navy is going to play an important part in the country’s future; it’s just as important to appreciate its past.