Monday, February 14, 2005

Pear Flag Republic?

I got a phone call last week from my sister, who asked if I had ever heard that the orginal flag for California's short-lived Bear Flag Republic was supposed to feature a pear, rather than a pear. She had been given an article claiming this by a friend and was a bit skeptical. I shared her skepticism and told her I'd look into it. What I came up with was this article at Snopes. The article claims that the band of rebels, led by Jebediah Bartlett, a horticulturist, proposed that the flag of the nascent republic ended up bearing the image of a bear because of sloppy penmanship that was misread by the flag's designer as "bear," rather than "pear."

As Snopes tells the story,

"The rebels quickly decided to raise a new flag over Sonoma Plaza to announce their victory, resulting in hurried discussion about the composition of the banner. Most agreed it should feature something physically symbolic of California (and distinctly non-Mexican), but they could not reach a consensus on what that symbol should be. Finally Captain Bartlett, an agricultural magnate with large holdings in the Sacramento River area (and an amateur horticulturist who developed the Bartlett pear), broke the deadlock by "suggesting" (none too gently) that the banner include a symbol reflective of the lush agricultural regions of northern California and the rich, 400-mile long Central Valley area. Acquiescing to the desires of their leader, the group quickly decided to honor both him and California agriculture by opting for a pear as the primary motif of their new flag."

Also according to Snopes, the 33 rebels, led by Bartlett, included "Albert Bosc" and "Emmanuel d'Anjou." The article doesn't state as much, but based on its assertion that Bartlett developed the Bartlett pear, it would be hard to miss the implication that his comrades, "Bosc" and "Anjou," developed eponymous pears themselves. As references, Snopes listed several books.

As odd as the story sounded when I first heard it, I was even more dubious when I read it at Snopes, with some of the details filled in. Bosc and d'Anjou? Not bloody likely. ASide from this, I have lived in and near Sonoma, the home of the Bear Flag Revolt, and had never heard this story before, not even during the 1996 sesquicentenniel celebration of the revolt. Googling "Pear Flag Republic," "Albert Bosc," and "Emanuel d'Anjou" led me back to the Snopes article. Pear Fag Republic also led me to a February 3, 2005 Long Beach Press Telegram article State flag story a juicy mystery, which essentially repeated the details of the Snopes item, as well as a blog, which gave a condensed version of the story. I found nothing that gave any more details or cited different authorities.

Googling "Origins of bosc pears," "origins of anjou pears," and "origins of bartlett pears," however, revealed that all three were developed in Europe and introduced in the United States in 1832, 1842, and 1797, respectively. No mention of Mssrs. Bosc, Anjou, and Bartlett as their developers. There was a mention, however of a Mr. M Bosc developing the fruit bearing his name in Belgium in 1807.

Finally, while checking my links to write this, I ended up back at Snopes, where I noticed a link I'd missed before, More information about this page, which led to the Snopes "False Authority" page, warning its readers to never accept unverified information.

So, there you have it. The Pear Flag Republic story is an baseless as it sounds.

(Update: In a more recent (February 10) Long Beach Press Telegram story, Tom Hennessy acknowledges that the story is an urban legend, though he missed Snopes' internal link.)
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