signing their rights away

Happy Flag Day! Meet the Flag Guy!

June 14th is Flag Day in the United States, the day Americans celebrate the day in 1777 when Congress adopted the stars and stripes as the nation’s official flag. Educators use to day to teach kids (and adults) about flag history, etiquette, and display.

Because of kind of books we write, my wife and I have met a lot of people over the years who are immersed in some facet of U.S. history. Al Cavalari is the proprietor of The Flag Guys, a company in upstate New York that makes and sells a vast quantity of flags. Today I’m sharing 2010 interview with him.

Thanks for visiting, Al. Can you tell us how and why you became a vendor of American flags?

Funny you should ask. I bet most people can not name the exact day, time and place they got into their line of work. I can. It was January 25, 1981 on Rt 207 in New Windsor, NY. That is the day that 52 Americans arrived on American soil for the first time after 444 days in Iranian captivity. Little old New Windsor, NY, was pleased and honored to have the bragging rights of being the first town in the US of A to welcome home these fellow citizens who had been taken hostage when our embassy was taken over.

I happened to be home for two weeks on a visit from Germany, where I had lived for four years after college. I worked there as a waiter, construction worker, and a nurse's aid. My father is a lawyer and after the Bicentennial in 1976 he thought it would be fun to be a flag dealer. So he became one for fun and kept a small supply of flags that he sold out of his law office. The hostages were to land at Stewart Air Base due to its proximity to West Point, where they would stay for some R and R. The President lands here also when he visits West Point.

New Windsor, NY, 1981.

New Windsor, NY, 1981.

As you can see from the photo, it was a great day for flag waving. I stood out on the street and sold stick flags. That was my start. After I returned to the US for good a couple years later, I continued to dabble in flag sales as a way to make side money. The more I worked at it, the more business I got. The more business I got, the more time it demanded. You know the drill. I still have some customers from back then.

Which flags are popular for Flag Day these days? Is it is the 50-star flag, or are there other ones that are popular with Americans?

The most popular category is of course 50-star flags of all types. Below that, I bet it is a toss up between military and historic flags with maybe historic flags having the edge. Historic flags are a real niche for The Flag Guys. The Gadsden flag has really taken off the last couple of years due to its popularity among the Tea Party folks. Many people even call it "The Tea Party Flag" because they are unaware of its existence as a Revolutionary War flag from 1775.

It was through my flag business that I became an ardent history buff. Early on, I became interested in The War Between The States from my customers who are reenactors. From there, I got deeper and deeper into all American history to the extent that I am working on a quest to visit the birthplace, home, and grave of every US President and Signer. I can't get enough, especially of our founding period, and intend one day to live in Philadelphia, where I go now quite a bit.

Do some Americans need to be reminded it is Flag Day?

Yes. When I was growing up, this holiday was not on our radar all that much. I have noticed more of an awareness of this day over the last 5 years or so. Locally, a town clerk has made it a cause and the paper editorializes about it. I like the notion that it is a day all about honoring and respecting our flag. The Elks have always been very involved in Flag Day. They do wonderful programs around it.

It’s believed Hopkinson chose six-pointed starts because they figured prominently in his family coat of arms.

It’s believed Hopkinson chose six-pointed starts because they figured prominently in his family coat of arms.

Because of my New Jersey background, I'm biased in favor of the flag designed by Declaration Signer and New Jerseyan Francis Hopkinson. Can you tell us briefly how you came to sell this flag? Is it a popular seller?

The credit goes to Earl Williams, a fellow member of the North American Vexillological Association, an organization made up of flag scholars and enthusiasts. My connection to Earl and the story of my producing The Hopkinson Flag really began with our mutual involvement with NAVA. I tell the story of Earl and the Hopkinson flag here. Back in the early nineties, he contacted us with the suggestion that we produce this flag. Like most people, I had never heard of Francis Hopkinson. Earl had done a great deal of research about him and his involvement with the creation of our flag. Over many months, Earl gradually made me see that the story is compelling and that a version of what could have been Hopkinson's flag deserved to be offered. Early on in my business, I took suggestions for new and interesting flags seriously and still do. Many of the historical flags I offer have come from requests. So I took a chance and produced a batch. It is a popular flag, though I would not say it is a widespread seller. It does have a devoted following, including a Hopkinson descendant.

How can Americans learn more about how to display and care for their flag?

The flag questions we get come in two categories. One is flag etiquette. I really appreciate it when people care enough to want to do right by Old Glory. Every professional flag dealer I know provides that kind of information. I have an extensive flag etiquette page that deals with all kinds of flag questions that folks ask me. The other category I always get questions about is what I call "tech support." How do I install this? Or how do I attach a flag to a pole? That kind of thing. For those issues, I recommend you check out my "how to page."

By the way, just so you know, I’ll be flying my Hopkinson flag today. Thanks for joining us.

Thank you a million for asking me. I've enjoyed it!


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Listen to My Interview on The Jim Bohannon Show

Photo by  Israel Palacio  via  Unsplash

Last week was really fun, doing promotion for the release of the paperbacks of our two history titles, Signing Their Lives Away and Signing Their Rights Away. I thought I’d share this one interview I did with veteran broadcaster Jim Bohannon. It was a late-night, call-in talk show, something I’ve never done.

If you’re interested, I show up at the 39:33 mark and run until 1:19:00, almost a full hour. “Jimbo” asked great questions, and was a good host to work with. I had to stay up way past my bedtime to record this! Let me know if you can tell I was zonked.

As always, you can investigate what the books are about at this page.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese

One Last Video—and Thanks for Watching!

I’m sharing another short video that we shot for a work-in-progress documentary about the lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Before we jump in, just a reminder that you can find out about the two new paperbacks at one of the links right here.

The goal of our video project was to visit all the historic sites associated with the 56 Signers of the Declaration. In this installment, we’re visiting the birthplace of Signer Arthur Middleton. Today Middleton Place is a stunning and thoughtful tourist destination located in Charleston, South Carolina. Well worth visiting if you’re ever in the area.

Just reminder: The road trip URL referenced in the trailer is now defunct. I haven’t had a chance to update it.

I hope you like it. We have a few more videos to share but we haven’t made them public yet. I’ll post them when they’re released. Thanks for watching.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese

Day 3—and Another One of My Videos!

So anyhoo—I’m back with another of the videos we shot looking at the lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. I know, I know: you’re dying to check out our two new paperbacks on the men behind these founding documents. Grab them at one of the links right here.

The goal of our video project was to visit all the historic sites associated with the 56 Signers of the Declaration. This time around, we’re visiting the birthplace of Signer Thomas Lynch Jr. Today Hopsewee Plantation is a tourist destination located in Georgetown, South Carolina.

Just reminder: The road trip URL referenced in the trailer is now defunct. I haven’t had a chance to update it.

I hope you like it and are moved to visit Hopsewee. It’s a lovely place, run by great people who are dedicated to its preservation.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese

Book Launch Day—and Here's Another Video!

JoeDenise-author-tricorn hat-photo-Mallory Cash.jpeg

Our two history titles are finally out in paperback today! The world rejoices, ‘cuz, geez, it only took eight years. Grab them at one of the links right here.

To celebrate the launch, I’m running some videos of a documentary project we started working on ourselves some years ago. The goal: to visit all the historic sites associated with the 56 Signers of the Declaration. This is a lovely video shot in Charleston. South Carolina, at the home of Signer Edward Rutledge, which is now an inn. Rutledge was all of 26 years old when he signed the historic document. His other claim to fame? He’s an ancestor of actress Goldie Hawn and her daughter Kate Hudson.

Just reminder: The road trip URL referenced in the trailer is now defunct. I haven’t had a chance to update it.

Less comedy this time around, but still interesting.

By the way, the books look fantastic. The publisher, Quirk Books, did a lovely job.


Above photo by Mallory Cash.

Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese

My Video: In Search of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence

To celebrate the launch of our paperbacks this week, I’ll be running some videos of a documentary project we developed years ago. The goal: to visit all the historic sites associated with the 56 Signers of the Declaration. This is the first and probably the funniest trailer we put together.

And a quick reminder that if you’re interested in grabbing a copy of the new newly revised and updated paperbacks, you can check out the links to all my titles right here.

Another quick note: the URL referenced in the trailer is now defunct. I haven’t had a chance to update it.

And now, please enjoy, and let me know if you think I have a future in comedy.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese

Bobbleheads Agree! Our New Paperbacks are Awesome!

Our new paperbacks came in the mail the other day, and I couldn’t wait to share them with our resident statesmen. Reminder: the books are out April 30, 2019, and you can pre-order them here.

People always ask what the books are about. Here’s the deal: 56 men signed the Declaration of Independence, 39 signed the U.S. Constitution. Our books offer pithy, often-hilarious mini-biographies about every single one of the men, from the famous ones to the most obscure.

Other cool factoids:

* So much of what people know about the Declaration Signers is based on folklore, exacerbated by the Internet about how much they suffered for our freedom. The truth is far more complex. (Example: None of the signers lost his life because he signed the Declaration of Independence.)

* The Signers of both documents are a hilarious mix of great men and scoundrels. A lot of the Signers ended up broke from bad land investments. Two signers of the constitution were outright embezzlers. One was such a crook Congress tried to arrest him—but he skipped town. So their stories are relevant today because they touch on subjects such as political corruption, sex scandals, or being “upside-down” on loans.

* The Signers were fallible men, like our politicians today. Rather than insist on revering them, it’s probably wiser to accept that "imperfect men created a more perfect union.” It is easier to relate to people who had real issues, real faults, and made real mistakes, yet were still part of an incredible moment in history.

* The documents we revere today grew out of debate and compromise. The Signers fought and argued constantly. The Constitution we regard as sacrosanct was viewed as suspect by many Americans in 1787, the year of its presentation to the American public. Modern Americans think that once the Revolutionary War was over, so were our troubles. Not true. The US was a fragile, brand-new country, with serious deficiencies that only a strong constitutional document could resolve.

* Most people can name about five famous signers for each document. For every Adams, Franklin, or Hancock, there’s a Hart, Morton, or Morris that most people have never heard of. History is often made by so many more people than those highlighted in the history books.

I know: The books sound awesome to buy, don’t they? Head on over to this page to pre-order online, or call my local bookstore for autographed copies.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese

Pre-Order Now: Signing Their Lives / Rights Away!

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Just a quick and dirty reminder that paperback versions of two of our most popular books are out in just 15 days! We’d love to make as big a splash with them as we did when they first came out in hardcover, so please do pre-order them if you’re interested.

I’m pretty proud of this duo. We spent a good chunk of time last year revising both books with some new tidbits and details that came to light after the first series pubbed nearly a decade ago.

A reminder:

  • Signing Their Lives Away was the first in the series, and tells the true story of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence.

  • The later book, Signing Their Rights Away, tells the story of the 39 men who signed the Constitution. Both books are illustrated with portraits of the men.

In its review of the second book, The Wall Street Journal said:

“[The authors]...maintain a refreshing reverence for the Constitution itself. Rather than ask readers to believe that an ‘assembly of demigods’ (Jefferson’s words) wrote the Constitution, Ms. Kiernan and Mr. D’Agnese challenge the notion that the group that crafted this document of enduring genius was uniquely brilliant or visionary. If this raises the question of how exactly the miracle was accomplished, it should at least give readers some hope for our own seemingly uninspired political era.”

To which I respond: Yep. Pretty much. The amazing thing about both sets of signers is how they break down into the famous and the obscure. You have greats like Jefferson, John and Samuel Adams, Hancock, Ben Franklin and so on, and then you have men like John Morton or John Hart who signed the Declaration and went on to do very little else on the national stage.

And you have men like Gouverneur Morris, who wrote that beautiful preamble to the U.S. Constitution and who was a colorful figure in his lifetime—a playboy Casanova with a wooden leg!—but whom I venture to say most people have never heard of.

So that’s the breadth of these men. The bright, the clever, the unknowns—all cheek by jowl with absolute scoundrels, some of whom stole money from Congress or ended up in debtor’s prison thanks to their own greed or stupidity.

And they all founded the U.S. of A.

Both books were written with a good deal of humor, but I hope you can feel the reverence amid the irreverence.

Please do check them out. You can find all your buy options here. If you want autographed copies, please PHONE our local bookstore, Malaprops, and give them the specifics.

Just don’t expect me to sign with a quill pen.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese