The American flag was born from a decidedly modest late night visit. General George Washington visited his fellow parishioner and local seamstress with an idea. He wanted to create a flag for the new nation that would be remembered and heralded throughout the colonies. He had briefly sketched some rough ideas but when Ms. Ross saw them, she quickly made a few adjustments. She explained that the design that General Washington had drawn would be more easily made if the stars were five-pointed rather than six. This slight modification created the flag that we know today. One other modification was to represent each of the colonies with a star. These stars were placed in a circle as a reminder that no one colony was stronger than the other. The symbolism of representing each colony as independent yet collectively stronger when together helped bind a new nation together.
There have been many doubts about whether or not Betsy Ross actually created the original flag. There is little evidence beyond folklore to actually confirm or deny this myth. In fact, the flag that she supposedly created no longer exists. What is known is based on the writings of her devoted grandson. He wrote of the late night visit in the 1870s, more than a century after it occurred.
Mrs. Ross was not unaccustomed to hardship in the New World. She was raised in the Quaker community but fell in love with a man outside of the church. This led to her expulsion. As her husband was a fellow upholsterer, they soon opened their own business together. They produced blankets and tents for the war effort. Unfortunately, her beloved husband was killed during a gunpowder explosion. At 24 years of age, she kept the business going and started stuffing preparing ammunition for the Continental Army. Day after day, she stuffed musket balls into paper cartridges as her way of supporting the war effort.
In time, she remarried. Her second husband, Joseph Ashburn, was captured at sea and charged with treason. At this time, American citizenship was not recognized by the English crown. She only learned of his fate many years later. In 1783, she married John Claypoole. Incidentally, Mr. Claypoole had met Mr. Ashburn in the British prison that he had been confined to. Betsy and John had a long, loving life together and quickly grew a family of five daughters.
The myth and legend of Betsy Ross and the birth of the American flag is a long one. It seems that the story rose to prominence during the 1874 centennial. During the celebrations in Philadelphia, her grandson presented a research paper about his grandmother who “made with her own hands the first flag” for the United States. The stories of her life and work were eagerly received. She was often held up as a role model for young girls.
While Betsy Ross was not the only upholsterer or flag maker in Philadelphia, she was willing to take on a task of national importance. She may not have understood exactly how long reaching her contribution would be but her work lives on today. Every governmental agency and many businesses fly the red, white and blue in testament to the resiliency of the American people. It all began with a late night visit to a humble seamstress who was willing to create a flag to represent a nation.
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