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Betsy Ross Flag (U.S.)


Last modified: 2016-09-24 by rick wyatt
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[U.S. 13 star Betsy Ross flag 1777 ] image by Edward Mooney, Jr., 19 January 2008

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Legend has it that Betsy Ross, who made flags for the Philadelphia Navy Board, made the first U.S. flag for George Washington. It had thirteen five-pointed stars in a circle.
Rick Wyatt, 20 May 1998

Fact or Fiction?

Betsy's grandson, William Canby, said in 1870 that Washington and a committee of Congress came to Betsy in 1776 (prior to Independence) with a flag design that incorporated six-pointed stars. Betsy showed them how she could fold a piece of material and with one snip of the scissors, make a perfect five pointed star, which, according to Canby, was more desirable (in 1882, when he expanded the legend, he said it was more heraldically correct, which is not true).

Trouble is, this story has more holes in it than Swiss Cheese!

Fact: No record of a Committee of Congress in 1776 working on a new flag (although the Marine Committee was procuring well-documented Continental Colors design flags for ships at the time).

Fact: George Ross, one of the supposed committee members, was not a member of Congress in June, 1776.

Fact: Washington engaged in a series of correspondences up until 1783 when the War was over and the matter became moot debating a design for the Flag as to be used by the Army that is "variant from the Marine Flag" which is the Stars and Stripes.

Fact: No one was interested in an official U.S. Flag, let alone the Stars and Stripes prior to Independence. Even then, it took nearly a year for someone to propose it to Congress.

Fact: Six, seven, eight pointed stars were nearly as common as five pointed stars prior to the end of the 18th century. The number of points on the stars was never specified by Congress.

Fact: William Canby's original paper stated this was a story he heard from his grandmother. He suggested more research was needed to confirm the details. He never actually claimed it was true. In fact, his original paper states that he had searched U.S. Records extensively and found nothing to support his grandmother's story.

Fact: Francis Hopkinson was the only individual to actually claim the credit for the design of the U.S. Flag at the time. He billed Congress for "a quarter cask of the public wine" for his efforts. Congress did not outright deny his claim but sat on it for years. Only after Hopkinson rebilled his claim in cash, along with other claims for other emblems, did Congress act on it, denying it on the grounds that Hopkinson was not the only person who had a hand in designing the flag and other emblems.
Dave Martucci, 8 January 1998

Actually, William Canby's original paper of 1870 states the legend was passed to him by Betsy herself but that he had extensively searched government archives and that he found not a shred of evidence for it. He asked others to let him know if any corroborating evidence should ever come to light.

By the 1880's he had received a few affidavits from other contemporary people then in their late 90's and from Betsy's daughters and granddaughters stating they also heard the story from the grand dame's mouth. That is all the evidence there is. Canby never stated the story was true.
Dave Martucci, 16 January 1998