Rip Van Winkle fell asleep in the Catskill Mountains for twenty years. Before he left his village home near the Hudson River, Rip was an English colonist. He lived in the English colony of New York. Previously, this land had been part of the Dutch colony of New Holland.
A sign with a picture of King George III of England's portrait had been situated outside an inn in the village before Rip left. When Rip returned home, twenty years later, he found that the portrait had been replaced with another one:
He recognized on the sign, however, the ruby face of King George, under which he had smoked so many a peaceful pipe; but even this was singularly metamorphosed. The red coat was changed for one of blue and buff, a sword was held in the hand instead of a sceptre, the head was decorated with a cocked hat, and underneath was painted in large characters, GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Rip Van Winkle did not know who George Washington was. He did not understand that his home was no longer a colony of England. He also did not know that while he slept, a war had occurred. His colony and twelve others had declared themselves independent from England. They had won the war and become the United States of America. King George III had been replaced as leader by President George Washington. Rip also noticed a strange flag waving:
... there now was reared a tall naked pole, with something on the top that looked like a red night-cap, and from it was fluttering a flag, on which was a singular assemblage of stars and stripes—all this was strange and incomprehensible.