Flags over Sonoma County and the Healdsburg countryside




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Spanish NationalRussian American CompanyRussiaMexican EmpireMexican RepublicBear Flag of 1846California


Depending on how broadly you define the geographical area at the precise in time when a particular flag was raised by a band of explorers or conquerors, it is easy to add more flags to our list. For example the Flag of England was carried by Sir Francis Drake during his famous Golden Hinde voyage starting in 1577. He landed somewhere in California. There has been speculation for over 400 years about the exact location of Drake's landing site. The principal candidates include Bodega Bay, Drake's Bay, Bolinas Bay and, just possibly, somewhere inside San Francisco Bay itself.  Each site has its own ardent group of supporters. So, should we claim his flag was flown over all of California, and more to the point of this web page, over the Healdsburg countryside?. 


The Flag of England 1579

Planted by Sir Francis Drake at Drake’s Bay on June 17, 1579, it flew over California, which he called “New Albion”, for only 37 days. The flag is white with the red cross of St. George. It never flew anywhere near Healdsburg, but we included it anyway because it looks good and it dresses up the page.


The Spanish Empire Flag 1542

This is the royal standard of Carlos V which appeared at the head of every band of Spanish explorers, as Spain had no national flag at the time. The field is white and bears the arms of Castile and Leon, with the royal crown at the top of the shield and around it the collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece. At a point near Mugu Lagoon, in Ventura County, on October 10,1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrilo raised the flag of the Spanish Empire and took possession of California for Spain.  In 1769 the Gaspar de Portola Expedition explored the San Francisco Bay area. In 1776 Spanish soldiers started building the Presidio in San Francisco. Its conceivable that expeditions to the Sonoma County area by soldiers carrying this flag  occurred  between 1769 and 1785.

The Spanish National Ensign 1785-1822

Replacing two previous Spanish Empire Flags raised at San Diego by Gaspar de Portola and Father Junipero Serra, was the newly created Spanish National Flag. This flag was raised over the Monterey Presidio in 1785 where it continued to fly until the end of Spanish rule in 1822. The flag is predominantly yellow with bands of red across the top and bottom. The center of the flag bears the arms of Castile and Leon enclosed by the Collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece, topped by the Crown of Spain. There is a good chance this flag made it to Sonoma County during the 37 years it flew along the "El Camino Real".


Russian -American Company 1812-1841

Tsar Paul granted a company charter to the Russian American Company that gave it a complete monopoly over all Russian enterprises in North America. In 1806, the company was granted its own flag. The Russian American Company established "forts" from Alaska to Fort Ross, California. The Fort Ross settlement included farms in the Russian River valley, perhaps as far inland as Alexander Valley.


The Flag of Russia 1812-1841

On September 10,1812, Ivan A. Kuskov, established Fort Ross and claimed the Northern "Kalifornii" coast for the Czar. He unfurled the flag of Russia, the light blue Cross of St. Andrew on a field of white. Captain John A. Sutter bought Fort Ross on December 12, 1841 for $30,000, mostly in foodstuffs and some gold.

The Mexican Empire Flag 1822-1824

Upon Mexico’s gaining of independence from Spain in April of 1822, a meeting of the leading governing officials resulted in the declaration of California’s allegiance to the new nation.

 The Mexican Empire flag was raised at the Presidio of Monterey, California, on April 11, 1822 and for several years the Northern California community of Monterey, under the flag of the Mexican Empire, was the seat of a provisional government, independent from any ruling sovereign.  Healdsburg in 1822 was populated by the Pomo Indians, who could care less about a flag flying in Monterey, but there is a good chance this flag made it to Sonoma County with the founding of the Franciscan mission San Francisco Solano in 1823, (at what will later become the town of Sonoma).


The Mexican Republic Flag 1824-1846

Upon the overthrow of Mexican Emperor Augustin Iturbide, the Republic of Mexico was created, and the banner of that new nation was unfurled over California. This flag has three vertical bars of green, white and red. An eagle perched on a cactus over a laurel wreath appears in the center bar. Except for a few brief months in late 1836 and early 1837, when a lone red star flag on a white background was raised in recognition of the efforts of Juan Bautista Alvarado and Isaac Graham’s capture of Monterey from the Mexican government – thereby establishing California as “a free and sovereign state – the Mexican Flag continued to fly as California’s official flag until the American conquest.

The First Bear Flag 1846

 The flag flew over the town of Sonoma from June 14 until it was replaced on July 9, 1846 by the Stars and Stripes.

The Yankees in California did not initially intend to overthrow the Mexican authority, but in 1846 the defense of California was completely neglected by Mexico and it was extremely weak militarily. Mexico lacked the support of their Californio administrators who were in California and anticipated statehood. Any military power could have easily captured California.

In 1846 a rumor spread that the Mexican government planned to evict all illegal American settlers. In June, William Brown Ide, joined a band of Americans who advanced on the pueblo of Sonoma and captured Mariano Vallejo, the Mexican Comandante of Northern California. Sonoma was taken without a shot, and on June 14, 1846, the Bear Flag was raised, California was proclaimed independent of Mexico, and Ide was chosen to lead the new California Republic. William Brown Ide was the first and only "President" of the California Republic. This  small uprising of settlers in Sonoma, has become known as the Bear Flag Revolt


U.S. Naval forces arrived  in Monterey shortly thereafter and gained control of the entire region without firing a shot. A small revolt at Los Angeles led to a pocket of Californio resistance lasting from September 1846 to January 1847. The Bear Republic was in existence until July 11, 1847, and California entered the Union on September 9, 1850.


The Yankees in California did not revolt under the same flag. The historic bear flag had at least six  other versions (all with the same basic elements of a bear, a star and a red and white strip)  used by various groups of the Bear Flag Revolt.


The Flag of the United States 1846

The first "stars and Stripes were raised over Monterey, California by Commodore John C. Sloat commander of U.S. Naval Forces on July 9, 1846. At that time the flag had 28 stars.  California became a state on September 9, 1850. It was represented on the flag by the 31st star.

The State Flag of California

The 1846 First Bear Flag served as the model for our current state flag which was adopted as the State Flag in 1911.

For more information about the Bear Flag visit a great website:




The information and images contained in this web page were originally prepared by members of the Directorate of Administration of the Military Department, State of California,  for their publication Flags over California, A History and Guide, March 2002   (500Kb)




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