Although not adopted by the legislature until 1877, the state flag of Rhode Island’s history dates as far back as the establishment of Rhode Island as a colony under King Charles II of England. Each element in the design represents some aspect of the history of the state. The flag itself is completely white, but edged with a golden fringe. Positioned in the middle of the white field is a golden anchor that is 22 inches (55.8 centimeters) high, and beneath the anchor is a dark blue ribbon with Rhode Island’s motto, “Hope,” written in gold letters. Surrounding the anchor and motto is a circle made up of 13 golden stars.
The anchor design echoes the earliest part of the Rhode Island’s history. In 1647, the anchor was adopted as Rhode Island’s colonial seal. As a symbol, the anchor dates even further back to 1643 when it was chosen as the colony’s seal upon the granting of the Cromwellian Patent, which established the Providence Plantations; interestingly, the official name of the state is actually the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. In 1664, the motto “Hope” was added to the seal when a more liberal charter was granted to the colony. These became part of the state flag of Rhode Island when it was decided to incorporate the state seal into the official design of the flag.
Some of the history of the state flag of Rhode Island is simply lost due to time and the lack of complete records being kept or preserved. Historians are unsure of the origin of the motto “Hope” on the seal and flag. Generally, researchers think the most likely explanation for both the anchor and the word "Hope" as flag symbols is that they were probably inspired by a phrase in the Bible referencing hope as an anchor of the soul.
The colors of the state flag of Rhode Island can also be dated to the colonial era. During the American Revolution, the colors blue and white were frequently seen on flags that were carried at war. In addition, these were popular flag colors in the War of 1812 as well as the Mexican War. In spite of what seems like the late adoption of a state flag in 1877, Rhode Island was actually one of the earliest states to design and adopt a flag. Only two of the other original colonies had adopted flags earlier: New Jersey and New York, both in 1876.