Betsy Ross and the American Flag
On New Year's Day in 1776, the Continental Army of the 13 colonies had been put under the control of General George Washington. The British army had seized the city of Boston. George Washington and his army decided to lay siege to the city to try to force the British to leave.
He asked that a flag called the Grand Union Flag be raised on Prospect Hill. He had his base at the foot of that hill. The British thought that he had raised that flag out of respect to the king and that the Americans were surrendering. The flag was like the Union Jack, the flag of Britain. King George had recently made a speech telling the colonists that he would treat them favorably if they surrendered. The Americans did not plan to surrender.
The Americans needed a new flag which was totally theirs. According to legend, in 1776 or maybe 1777, George Washington came to visit Betsy Ross, a seamstress, who had been known to make flags. They discussed what the new flag might look like. He showed her a design with 13 stripes and 13 6-point stars. The Continental Congress had come up with the basic layout and design. Supposedly, Betsy Ross favored making a 5-point star, instead of a 6-point star, as they had suggested. She also thought that arranging the stars in a circle would be better.
Betsy Ross was born in Philadelphia, one of 17 children. She became an apprentice to an upholsterer and learned to sew there. Her first two husbands died. There is proof that Betsy was making flags in 1776 and 1777, but others were also sewing flags. Betsy may have been recommended for the job by her husband's uncle, George Ross. She and her daughters were known to have made many different banners and flags for the new nation.
The Flag Resolution was passed on June 14, 1777 by the Second Continental Congress. It established the first standard for flag designs. It stated, 'Resolved, that the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.'
The story of Betsy Ross making the flag didn't appear until 1870. In 1870, Betsy's grandson, William Canby, told a story of Betsy making the first flag. He spoke to the Pennsylvania Historical Society. His claim was published in the 'New Harper's Monthly Magazine' in 1873. History books included this as fact after that time.
Other claims as to the maker of the first flag had arisen also because at least 17 other upholsterers and flag makers lived in Philadelphia at the same time as Betsy Ross. Many of these suggestions, however, were caused by the wish to show that women were eager to be of service to their country during the time of the American Revolution.
Several facts support the belief that Betsy Ross really designed and sewed the first flag. There is evidence that in May of 1777, Betsy Ross was paid a large sum of money from the Pennsylvania State Naval Board for making flags. A painting in 1851 shows her sewing the first flag. Betsy's daughter, Rachel Fletcher, signed an affidavit (a sworn declaration of truth) saying that her mother really did design and sew the first flag.
Historians say that the flag was probably not the work of any one person but really the combined effort of many people at that time.
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