Like many other naval customs the use of a church pennant was probably inherited from the British Navy. A British signal book of 1796 describes the church pennant as “a common British pendant” but does not illustrate it. The instructions state that the pendant is flown from the mizzen peak “to denote that the Ship’s Company are at prayers.” Further, when flown from the ensign staff it denoted “that a man is fallen overboard.” It is hoped that in those rough and hardy times this original use of the church pennant was not a sarcastic jibe at the unfortunate victim in the water. A later British “Signal Book for the Ships of War” (1799) contains the same instructions and in addition illustrates the church pennant by means of a water-color drawing. This design is similar to that used in the British Navy at present. (See sketches.) It is interesting to note that it is still used to indicate man overboard ( from a different point of hoist than the above), as well as during divine services.
In an effort to trace the use of the church pennant in the United States Navy all available signal publications have been consulted.