06/14/04 — Flag Day: Some thoughts on Old Glory

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Flag Day: Some thoughts on Old Glory

Betsy Ross designed and made the first U.S. flag, right?

Probably not.

The real designer of the flag, according to some historians, was probably a New Jersey congressman named Francis Hopkinson. Eventually, he wished he hadn’t, but that is getting ahead of the story.

Incidentally, this is Flag Day. Hence, a little flag fun.

Betsy Ross really did live in Philadelphia, as the familiar legend says. And she really did know George Washington, and did a little sewing for him now and then when he was commander of the Continental Army. Mrs. Ross was a widow who ran her late husband’s upholstery shop.

There are records showing that she made the colors for some ships. But there are none to support the legend of Washington’s visit to her home in 1776 — a story told 94 years later by her grandson.

In fact, there is evidence that after 1776, Washington was still looking for a standard for his army, which sort of casts doubt on the Betsy Ross tale.

More credible is the story of Francis Hopkinson. He was a member of the Continental Navy Board who had been a signer of the Declaration of Independence from the colony of New Jersey.

In 1780, he sent a letter to the Board of Admiralty saying he had designed the flag of the United States of America and some other icons like the Great Seal of the United States. He submitted a bill and asked whether “a Quarter Cask of the public wine” would be reasonable recompense.

The bill got shunted about for months between Congress and various branches of government because Hopkinson’s political adversaries kept blocking any attempts to reward him. The records of the Continental Congress indicated that he really did design the flag but, presumably, he never got a swallow of that public wine.

Whoever designed Old Glory did a mighty fine job, but her beauty is nothing compared to the beauty of what she represents: Freedom, justice, honor, strength — strength enough to assimilate into one noble society immigrants from every nation who come in search of liberty and opportunity.

Published in Editorials on June 14, 2004 11:28 AM