The Veteran Exempts (Flags That Inspire Me: A Series)

Even if you’re a flag buff when it comes to American history, I’m willing to bet that you’ve never seen this flag before!  Neither had I, until a good friend presented me with a slightly different version.  I fly it occasionally in honor of the brave men and women who currently serve or have served in our nation’s military.

Little is known of the flag or of those it may have represented.  According to the Flags of the World website, the Veteran Exempts were a home guard of sorts in the northern regions of Ohio and New York, called by their particular militia name because they had previously served during the US Revolution.  It is reported that they were given land grants after helping to win the war and that they were also granted an exemption from further military service.  Evidently, this exemption did not prevent them from serving as volunteers during the War of 1812 when the British decided one last time to try to regain possession of its former colonies in America.

According to a newspaper in New York state, the Plattsburgh Republican (July 17th, 1812 edition), a regiment of the Veteran Exempts was formed of fifty men or a few more who had recently elected their officers.  Their senior officer was reported as Gen. Melvin L. Woolsey, a hero from the Revolutionary War.  The regiment may have participated in the Battle of Plattsburgh.

On July 31st, the same newspaper published a description of the regiment’s flag by Miles Veteranus, which appears to be a pen named used by someone who wished to remain anonymous–perhaps because he was writing on behalf of a group rather than for himself (the Latin miles veteranus could be translated “veteran soldier”).  Interestingly, the newspaper reports that the design is “proposed,” so we cannot be entirely sure if it ever came into existence, much less if it was flown in actual battle.

According to the researchers at the already-cited website, the entirety of the newspaper description is thus:  “It is proposed that it be a black ground with 13 stars for the Union of White, wrought in silver. That in the centre of the Flag there be a Death’s Head, with cross bones under, intimating what must soon, according to the course of nature, be their promiscuous fate, and the immediate one of any enemy who shall venture to contend with them. Under these an open wreath, with this motto, ‘Thy will he done.’ Over the Death’s Head, surmounted as a crest, a rattlesnake with Thirteen rattles, coiled, ready to strike, with this motto in a similar wreath inverted over it, ‘Dont tread on me.'”

One contributor to the webpage proposes that the description can be interpreted in an alternative fashion, resulting in some interesting discussion about how the flag, if it existed, actually appeared.  The version given to me by my friend appears at the end of this blog post.  As a matter of fact, I’m looking at it now as it sits upon the desk near the computer monitor.  In honor of our veterans and current military, I’m headed outside to run it up the flagpole!


4 thoughts on “The Veteran Exempts (Flags That Inspire Me: A Series)

  1. The Veteran Exempts of Plattsburgh were led by former General of the 37th regt. NYS Militia, Melancthon Lloyd Woolsey, Father of Melancthon Taylor Woolsey (Commander/Commodore). He resigned as General and became Captain of the Veterans. He was Assistant Deputy Quartermaster under Colonel Pike in 1812/1813.

  2. Not to worry, it all moves the story forward. I thank you for your posting. WE will be portraying Veteran Exempts at 2014 Battle of Plattsburgh.

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