betsy ross flag controversy

The American flag was first envisioned in the Betsy Ross flag. In addition to the white and red stripes, it had 13 stars as opposed to the 50 in the present flag. Some have questioned whether Ross invented the flag, raising doubt about the true origins of this symbol over the years.

According to legend, Betsy Ross, an upholsterer from Philadelphia, created the first American flag. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, historians have never been able to confirm Ross’ fabled contribution to the Stars and Stripes’ creation.

“But the probably mythical account,” the department notes, “that in June 1776 General [George] Washington met with Ross on the development of a new flag, and she convinced him to alter its stars from six-pointed to the easier-to-sew five-pointed gained hold in the national patriotic imagination.”

Even the website of the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico claims that Washington was one of three Continental Congressmen who were part of “a secret committee” that “entrusted Betsy with making the first flag.”

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Why Was the Flag Assumed to Have Been Made by Betsy Ross?

According to Dr. Sarah Weicksel, director of research and publications at the American Historical Association, in an interview with Newsweek, the idea that Ross created the American flag most likely originated from tales she told her children and grandchildren before she passed away in 1836.

According to Marla Miller, the author of Betsy Ross and the Making of America, in the family legends, “Betsy Ross didn’t claim to have made the first flag.”

betsy ross flag controversy

According to Miller, the story was recorded in “a series of 19th-century affidavits by people (including one of Betsy’s daughters) who had heard the story told,” and it describes how Washington and others arrived at Ross’ shop in the spring of 1776 with a design for a flag already in hand that included stars with six points.

Miller further pointed out that there is no known archival proof that these incidents are recorded. Miller claims that at the time, Philadelphia was preparing for naval defense, and Ross, a recently widowed upholsterer, was awarded contracts along with other working women for the suites of flags required by ships at sea.

Miller asserted: “Ross, anxious to secure some of these contracts for herself, was using her expertise as a competent craftswoman to advise Washington and his associates that this design was preferable from a production standpoint if they were going to need a large number of flags rapidly.”

Weicksel asserts that Ross’ daughter Clarissa first related the tale in 1857, more than 20 years after her mother’s passing, and that this is when it was originally recorded. The tale was first made public in 1870 at a speech given at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania by William Canby, Ross’ grandson.

In an interview with Newsweek, the filmmaker said: “It’s not unexpected that this myth was introduced and took off in the 1870s, on the verge of the nation’s centennial; many Americans, having recently emerged from a civil war, were looking to the nation’s founding.”

Why Do Historians Contest Whether Betsy Ross Designed the Flag?

betsy ross flag controversy

Weicksel stated to Newsweek that from the tale’s initial public telling in 1870, questions have been raised as to whether Ross was the author or not.

According to Miller, Weicksel claims that by the 1960s and 1970s, “many people had already written Ross’s account off as fiction due to the marketing and commercialization of the story in the 20th century.

Weicksel told Newsweek that the story was made famous and into American mythology about the country’s heritage thanks to the same marketing.

The flag signifying the union had taken on a new symbolic significance when the family saga was first told on the eve of the country’s centennial and soon after the end of the Civil War, according to Miller, and the fight for women’s suffrage was also in full swing at the time.

Newsweek quoted the author as saying: “The story of Betsy Ross was appealing since centennial activities could leverage this example of women’s participation in the founding of the nation while also emphasizing that those contributions were domestic in nature (rather than political or military).

Even though the real Betsy Ross worked in a shop, late 19th-century art depicting the occasion when she gave Washington the flag always showed her in the parlor, making it a crucial relic for comprehending why and how she came to be recognized.

betsy ross flag controversy

Many of these components, according to Miller, were still in place twenty years later when “passion rose around the preservation of the “Betsy Ross House” on Arch Street, helping to anchor the story in public historical imagination.”

The “Betsy Ross and the American Flag” website, which is run by the Independence Hall Association of Philadelphia, provides information on the history of the Betsy Ross flag.

According to the website, doubts have been expressed since Ross’ invention of the flag is “not an established historical fact,” akin to other occasions like the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall or Washington’s winter at Valley Forge.

The aforementioned occurrences, according to the website, “very obviously took place,” and were made known to the public right away because most people learn about these things in school.

Some people believe that Betsy Ross’s flag invention was a fable or a fraud, similar to George Washington and the cherry tree, after realizing that it has not been proven with the same level of certainty as those other events, according to the website. This is a real American myth.

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Unlike Betsy, Is There Support for The Flag’s Maker, Betsy Ross?

According to the website “Betsy Ross and the American Flag,” the proof that Ross created the flag “is convincing, albeit not definitive.”

The website describes Ross’ relatives’ evidence as “very plausible.” The website states that there are no archival records from the Continental Congress or communication between Washington and other associated parties that either support or refute the assertions made by the relatives.

“We do not have archival material to support the idea that Betsy Ross made the flag,” Weicksel said in a statement to Newsweek. However, in the end, I believe that the most significant story here isn’t about who specifically embroidered the flag, but rather, within what context, and that is a fascinating history of female craftsmen, their skillful handiwork, and the material world of the Revolution.

According to Miller in Newsweek, Ross took great pride in having known the “father of our country” (she had previously made a set of bed curtains for him in the course of her shop’s work). In her telling, it was not a claim about having made the “first flag,” but rather having known Washington and having contributed in a small way to the flag’s final appearance. All of that makes sense to me.

The development of the flag as it is today was a slow, laborious process that involved numerous individuals, so she wasn’t solely responsible for anything, but Miller said that she was proud of the fact that she participated in the discussion.

Although there is not enough evidence to prove “with certainty” that Ross created the flag, the website “Betsy Ross and the American Flag” claims that the claim is “absolutely feasible and compatible with the evidence we do have.”

Additionally, according to the website, some people “are reluctant to embrace Betsy’s successes” because of sexism. But it adds that perhaps it is merely “a misunderstanding of the process of history.”

On the website for “Betsy Ross and the American Flag,” there are links to Canby Ross’ evidence and the testimonies of other family members, including Rachel Fletcher, her daughter, Sophia Hildebrant, and her granddaughter, and Margaret Boggs, her niece.

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