Perhaps the most well-known figure from America’s founding history, other than the Founding Fathers and generals of the Revolution, is Betsy Ross.
Betsy Ross became an iconic figure of American history in the latter part of the 1800s when stories began to circulate that she had sewn together the original stars and stripes flag for America’s adoption in 1776. In fact, an 1871 pamphlet even claimed that Ross came up with the name “United States of America” for the new country.
In this article, we’ll dive into what the Betsy Ross flag is, who Betsy Ross even was, and the story behind the flag’s creation.
What Is The Betsy Ross Flag?
The Betsy Ross flag is an early design of the American flag. While the flag as we know it today features the fifty white stars against a blue background, representing the fifty states, the original Betsy Ross flag featured thirteen such white stars in a circular pattern representing the thirteen original colonies that later became states.
The thirteen stars were placed into the circular position in order to represent the idea that none of the original thirteen states were inherently superior to one another. The thirteen alternating red and white stripes that make up most of the flag also represented the thirteen colonies; this part of the American flag lives on today, and is a common feature on pro-American shirts and other forms of patriotic apparel.
While there is compelling evidence for the idea that it was indeed Betsy Ross who designed the flag that bears her name, the evidence is not conclusive to the point that we can consider it absolute fact.
Examples of evidence suggesting that she designed the flag include consistent claims by her relatives, but there are no historical documents to either support or deny their testimony. As a result, Betsy Ross having designed the American flag cannot be considered neither fact nor fiction.
It’s probably worth answering this question…
Who Was Betsy Ross?
Betsy Ross was born Elizabet Griscom in Philadelphia on the 1st of January, 1752. She was the eighth out of seventeen children.
Griscom apprenticed to become an upholsterer in her youth, learning how to sew mattresses, window blinds, and chair covers while simultaneously attending a Quaker school. She married at the age of 21 to John Ross, a fellow upholstery apprentice. However, as her new husband was an Episcopalian, Ross was expelled from the Quaker church.
John and Betsy Ross started their own upholstery store, and when war broke out between Great Britain and the American colonies, John joined the militia only to later tragically die while serving. It is unclear whether John died from combat on the battlefield or from illness, but the latter is more likely.
Now widowed, Betsy continued working in her upholstery shop, and would alter tell of a fateful day in May of 1776 when she was approached by three members of the newly formed Continental Congress (George Washington, George Ross, and Robert Morris) who asked her if she would form the first ever flag for the United States. George Ross was the uncle of her late husband, which is why he was aware of Betsy’s sewing abilities and informed Washington and Morris (the latter of whom was the wealthiest person in the colonies). Furthermore, Washington and Ross had already met previously as they both worshiped at Christ Church in Philadelphia.
Betsy claimed that Washington displayed to her a rough sketch of how the flag should look, including a six pointed star. Betsy, however, argued for a five point star instead, which Washington ultimately agreed with.
At the time, the colonies were utilizing many different flags. Washington and the Continental Congress wanted a single flag to unify the colonies together as a single country. Of these alternate flags, the rattlesnake ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ flag is easily the most famous.
How Was The Flag Designed?
While we do not know for sure in regards to whether or not it was indeed Betsy Ross who designed the flag, we do know how and why the flag’s design was chosen.
Most of the flags of the thirteen colonies incorporated elements of the Union Jack flag of Great Britain, such as the Grand Union flag that General Washington had been using for his armies before the Betsy Ross flag was designed. The Grand Union flag simply features the Union Jack in the top left corner, with the familiar thirteen red and white straps of the American flag we know today comprising the rest of it.
It was quickly realized that the Grand Union flag could not be the flag for the newly formed United States, because many troops mistook it for the Union Jack. Furthermore, many colonists felt that the flag was too reverential to King George, and desired an original replacement.
The Betsy Ross flag was simply a redesigned Grand Union flag, replacing the Union Jack in the upper left corner with the dark blue background and the thirteen white five pointed stars arranged in a circular motion.
The red stripes of the flag represent valor, white represents purity, and the dark blue represents justice. The thirteen stars represent the original thirteen colonies, representing a ‘new constellation in the heavens.’
Ross claims that she completed work on the flag in June of 1776. The flag was then used a month later when the Declaration of Independence was written and read out loud at Independence Hall, signaling the birth of a new nation.
Ross went on to run her upholstery business for several decades after the Revolution. She remained an unknown historical figure for nearly a hundred years, until her name began to be circulated in newspapers and pamphlets in the late 1800s in regards to the original flag of the colonies.
Did Betsy Ross truly design the original flag of the colonies? We may never know, but what we do know for sure is why the Betsy Ross flag was created and what its colors and design represent. It remains an enduring icon of American history and a symbol of rebellion against tyranny.