What Is the History of New York's State Flag?

Alex Tree
Alex Tree
Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

New York’s state flag was created in the late 1700s, and the state still has one of the original designs. It has a more complicated design than some of the flags of other states in the United States. Its motto is “excelsior,” which means “ever upward” or “ever higher” in Latin. New York’s state flag has an abundance of symbolic images dating back hundreds of years. The flag has not been modified since 1882.

Most of the design featured on New York’s state flag has been in existence since 1777. Although it has undergone some modifications, today’s state flag is essentially the same flag design as the one that existed during the Civil War. Since then, the great seal and therefore the state flag has undergone at least five changes, ranging from minor to moderate.

A stylized rising sun with bursts of yellow flowing outward is the center of New York’s state flag. This sun is poised above a river landscape representing the Hudson River, which has a drawing of two ships. The landscape is shown in the center of a shield flanked on both sides by pictures of women who represent liberty and justice. These women are accompanied by symbols representing who they are, such as a fallen crown next to Liberty and a blindfold over Justice’s eyes. This entire scene is complemented by the word "excelsior" on a banner below and represented on a field of blue, which makes up the rest of the flag.

New York’s state flag motto is “excelsior”, which basically means “lofty” or “elevated.” On the state flag, it is thought to mean to achieve ever larger goals. It can also be seen on the seal of the state. There is some confusion on how to use the word in a sentence. At one point, the word was trademarked as a term for a kind of stuffing material. New York has only one motto, unlike some other states, which have multiple mottos in various languages.

The seal is basically the same as New York’s state flag, depicting two women who stand for justice and liberty. In addition, this symbol is the state’s coat of arms. Other symbols of New York have little to do with the flag, but some are far more popular than others. For example, “I heart New York” is the state’s official slogan, though “heart” is usually written as a drawing of a heart.

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Discussion Comments


I find the symbolism in state flags quite interesting. The state of New York has a very intricate flag and includes sayings that tell people to push harder and achieve high goals.

There is no state that has achieved higher goals than the state of New York and this saying in the state flag is perfect to describe the state of New York as a whole.

As far as the flag itself the design has not changed in over a century and this is a great testament to how well designed the flag is. I live in Illinois and the flag had to have the word "Illinois" added to it in the 1970's simply because people did not know what state the flag was for.

The New York state flag does not include those flaws and gives a great indication to their history and sense of what it means to be a New Yorker.


@stl156 - To be totally honest, the American Revolution is a very small event in the course of English history and I doubt they really care a whole lot about the fallen crown in the New York state flag.

If anything this symbol is not seen as a shot towards the English, but rather as a symbol to the Americans to show that they had defeated the monarchy and had become able to govern themselves and become a successful nation.

I guess it could be considered a matter of interpretation, but I do not see this as being offensive or nature or that being the purpose of the symbol. I only feel that it is used to show the achievement that the Americans accomplished and is celebrating the accomplishment.


@jmc88 - That is an excellent observation. To be honest the New York state flag is not much different than other flags of the original thirteen colonies in this regard.

Since the state of New York was seen as a commercial and economic center during the times of the Revolution, even though it still is today, the state played a major role in the revolution and helped to fund the various military expeditions as well as ensure that the calls for liberty from tyranny were full filled.

Many of the original thirteen colonies take great pride in being the original states that sought revolution and freedom and succeeded in obtaining it and they depict their role in their state flags.

New York has a symbol in their flag that involves a fallen crown, which shows that the monarchy of King George III had fallen and he had lost control of the United States. I find this to be quite a symbol that could even be seen as offensive towards the British.


I imagine that since the state of New York was one of the original thirteen colonies there are several references to the ideas expressed during the revolution in this flag.

Many of the original thirteen colonies include various references to the ideals of liberty and freedom and look to provide symbols that tell those to fight in the face of tyranny in order to defend these basic rights.

I do not know what the New York state flag looks like but I do know what many of the state flags along the east coast look like and they tend to have a pattern of expressing these ideas as symbols in their state flags.

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