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The state’s founding constitution and the first U.S. flag to include Mississippi will be on display at the William F. Winter Archives and History Building through the summer. The artifacts have toured the state as part of the celebration of Mississippi’s bicentennial.

The state of Mississippi was founded upon the 1817 constitution. On March 1, 1817, President James Madison signed legislation enabling inhabitants of the western portion of the Mississippi Territory to form a constitution and state government, while the eastern part would become a new territory. Forty-eight convention delegates assembled near Natchez in Washington on July 7, drafting the constitution and, after weeks of deliberation, adopting it on August 15. On December 10, 1817, Mississippi became the nation’s twentieth state.

“It’s amazing to look at the actual paper with the signatures of those early Mississippians,” said David Pilcher, director of the MDAH Archives and Records Services Division. “There is no substitute for the firsthand connection to history that original documents like this can give us.”

The rare 20-star flag is one of only a handful known to exist. It was acquired by MDAH in 2001 after having been discovered in an antique shop in Massachusetts. An extensive conservation was completed earlier this year on the large banner, funded by a grant from the Billups-Garth Foundation in Columbus and private donations. The flag has been mounted inside a frame to protect it and allow it to be displayed upright.

Only two official United States flags were used before the 20-star flag. The first had thirteen stars and stripes to represent the original colonies and flew from 1777 until 1795. The second flag added two stars and two stripes and flew until April 13, 1818, when the 20-star flag replaced it.

The Icons of Statehood exhibit is on display in the lobby of the Winter Building free of charge from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. The 20-star U.S. flag will be on permanent display in the Museum of Mississippi History when it opens in December.

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