Continental Congress Established Official Flag
The first American flag, often referred to as the "Betsy Ross Flag," holds a significant place in the history of the United States as a symbol of patriotism and independence. The flag is said to have been designed and sewn by Betsy Ross, a skilled seamstress and upholsterer, in the summer of 1776. While the exact details of the flag's creation remain a subject of debate and speculation, it is widely believed that Betsy Ross played a role in its design and construction.
Betsy Ross, born Elizabeth Griscom (01 Jan 1752 – 30 Jan 1836), was a talented Philadelphia seamstress with a reputation for her fine needlework. She married John Ross, an upholsterer, and together they established a successful upholstery business. Betsy Ross became associated with the flag's creation due to a story passed down by her descendants, claiming that she had been commissioned to create the first American flag. However, the historical evidence supporting this narrative is limited, leading to ongoing debate among historians about the authenticity of her involvement.
The Betsy Ross flag version revolves around the popular belief that Betsy Ross, was commissioned by George Washington, Robert Morris, and George Ross in 1776 to create the first American flag. According to the story, Ross suggested a modification to the design, demonstrating how to create a five-pointed star with a single cut. This version gained prominence in the late 19th century when Betsy Ross's grandson, William Canby, presented her role as a flag-maker in a paper he read before the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1870. Canby's account was based on family oral tradition, but lacked substantial historical evidence. Despite the absence of concrete documentation, the story gained traction and became a beloved part of American history and culture, even leading to the construction of the Betsy Ross House as a historic site in Philadelphia. The story gained further momentum during the Centennial Exposition of 1876, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Betsy Ross's role as the flag-maker embodied the ideals of a strong, capable, and patriotic woman contributing to the nation's founding. However, modern historians have scrutinized the authenticity of the story due to the lack of credible contemporary sources supporting Betsy Ross's involvement in the flag's creation. Despite the historical uncertainty, the Betsy Ross flag creation remains a compelling example of how folklore can shape and contribute to national identity.
Francis Hopkinson (02 Feb 1737 – 09 May 1791), another figure linked to the design of the first American flag, was a notable polymath and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Hopkinson, a respected author, lawyer, and composer, is known to have designed several symbols and seals for the emerging United States, including the Great Seal. He claimed to have designed a flag with thirteen alternating red and white stripes and thirteen stars in a blue field, representing the original thirteen colonies. Although Hopkinson's role in designing the flag is documented, there is no concrete evidence to definitively attribute the flag's creation to either him or Betsy Ross.
Hopkinson was a naval flag designer and was the chairman of the Continental Navy Board's Middle Department, sometime between his appointment to that position in November 1776 and the time that the flag resolution was adopted in June 1777. The Navy Board was under the Continental Marine Committee, which was the Committee that introduced the First Flag Resolution. Hopkinson claimed that he designed the U.S. flag, but he also claimed that he designed a flag for the U.S. Navy. Hopkinson was the only person to have made such a claim during his own life when he sent a letter and several bills to Congress for his work. These claims are documented in the Journals of the Continental Congress and George Hasting's biography of Hopkinson. Hopkinson initially wrote a letter to Congress, via the Continental Board of Admiralty, on May 25, 1780. In this letter, he asked for a "Quarter Cask of the Public Wine" as payment for designing the U.S. flag, the seal for the Admiralty Board, the seal for the Treasury Board, Continental currency, the Great Seal of the United States, and other devices.
The story of Betsy Ross and the first American flag has become a part of American folklore, perpetuated through generations. However, some historians question the accuracy of the accounts and suggest that it might have been embellished over time. The lack of contemporary documentation and the conflicting narratives add to the uncertainty surrounding the true origins of the flag. Despite the historical ambiguity, the Betsy Ross Flag continues to hold a cherished place in the collective memory of the American people.
For those interested in delving further into the details and myths surrounding the first American flag, numerous resources are available. Books such as "The Star-Spangled Banner: The Making of an American Icon" by Lonn Taylor and "The First American Flag: Betsy Ross and the Myth of 'The Woman Who Made the First Flag'" by Adam Goodheart offer comprehensive examinations of the flag's history and the myths associated with it. Additionally, the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. houses artifacts related to the flag's history, providing an opportunity to explore this aspect of American heritage firsthand.