14 June 2011

The myth of Betsy Ross and the American flag

From the Washington Post's "Five Myths about the American Flag" -
The Betsy Ross story is the most tenacious piece of fiction involving the flag. There simply is no credible historical evidence — letters, diaries, newspaper accounts, bills of sale — that Ross (then known as Elizabeth Claypoole) either made or had a hand in designing the American flag before it made its debut in 1777.

The story cropped up in 1870, almost 100 years after the first flag was supposedly sewn, when William Canby, Ross’s grandson, told the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia that his grandmother made the flag at George Washington’s behest. Canby’s sole evidence: affidavits from family members. The iconic 1893 painting of Ross sitting in her Philadelphia parlor with the sun beaming down on the flag in her lap is a scene invented by Charles H. Weisgerber, the artist and entrepreneur who profited from the Betsy Ross legend.

While Ross did make flags in Philadelphia in the late 1770s, it is all but certain that the story about her creating the American flag is a myth.
For additional detailed information about Betsy Ross, see the extensive post at Common-Place.

Since this is "Flag Day" in the U.S., it's worth taking a moment to note some of the Standards of Respect delineated in the United States Flag Code:
  • The flag should never be stepped on.
  • The flag should not be used as part of a costume or athletic uniform, except that a flag patch may be used on the uniform of military personnel, firefighters, police officers, and members of patriotic organizations.
  • The flag should not be used as "wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery", or for covering a speaker's desk, draping a platform, or for any decoration in general (exception for coffins). Bunting of blue, white and red stripes is available for these purposes.
  • The flag should never touch anything beneath it. Contrary to an urban legend, the flag code does not state that a flag that touches the ground should be burned. Instead, the flag should be moved so it is not touching the ground.


  1. I would only say that it is a smidge unfair to throw the Palin picture up with the Flag Code only because the continual abuse of the flag in violation of the code (not lit at night, wearing it as a cape at sporting events, political rallys, etc., dragging it along the ground, use in advertising, absolutely shredded flags still being flown, and on and on) is so ubiquitous and widespread that draping it over a chair for a prop in a picture doesn't seem all that horrendous. That being said, she should probably know better.

    I always appreciate people who do take care of their flags. I drive by a house that still takes the flag down at night and in bad weather. It always impresses me.

  2. So the whole Betsy Ross legend was invented by people who made money by a wholesale historical revisionist redefining of the actions of the founding fathers?
    What could be more American than that?

  3. The latest research on the legendary and historical Betsy Ross has been uploaded to Wikipedia, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betsy_Ross

    Earl P. Williams, Jr., U.S. flag historian (paleovexillologist)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...