On June 14, 1777, the First Continental Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes as the national flag. In 1873, almost one century later, “Harper’s New Monthly Magazine” credited the previously unknown Betsy Ross with the design of the flag and she quickly became part of our nation’s folklore. Strangely, her story had never been told before 1870 when her grandson William Canby presented his account to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Canby attested that his long-deceased grandmother had often recounted a 1776 visit to her Philadelphia upholstery shop from three men including General George Washington. Allegedly the men provided a sketch of a flag that featured 13 red and white stripes and 13 six-pointed stars.  Ross allegedly agreed to create the flag after the men accepted her suggestion that the stars be reduced to five points and arranged in a circle.  Canby’s claim was supported by affidavits signed by Ross’s daughter and granddaughter. 

It’s amazing to think in our era of instant communications and social media chest- beating that almost 100 years passed before Ross’ descendants took credit. Betsy Ross didn’t keep a diary and apparently never wrote up a bill of sale. Some historians dispute the Ross legend and attribute the design of the flag to Francis Hopkinson, a New Jersey delegate to the Continental Congress and signer of the Declaration of Independence. Hopkinson designed seals for various government departments and submitted a bill to congress that said he was owed two casks of ale for designing the flag. However, Hopkinson was never paid and he left no sketches or designs.

First Flag Lady or not, Betsy Ross was one interesting person. Born Elizabeth Griscom on January 1, 1752, she was the eighth of seventeen children. Betsy grew up in a strict Quaker household and at the age of 21 eloped with her co-worker John Ross. They were married in Hugg’s Tavern, New Jersey by the last governor of that colony, William Franklin. Interestingly Governor Franklin was a loyalist and would soon be disowned by his famous father, Benjamin Franklin. Similarly, Betsy was disowned by her family and the Quaker community because Mr. Ross was an Episcopalian.

Shortly after their elopement the couple started an upholstery business. They faithfully attended Christ Church where they would sometimes engage with fellow worshiper, General Washington. In 1776, at the age of 24, John Ross died in an explosion while guarding his militia’s weapon cache.  One year later, Betsy married sea captain Joseph Ashburn and their union soon produced two daughters. Captain Ashburn was captured by the British while on a mission to secure supplies for the revolutionaries. He died in an English prison shortly before the British surrender to the Americans. Betsy learned of Ashburn’s death from his fellow prisoner, John Claypoole. One year later Betsy married Claypoole and the couple had five daughters. Betsy died at the age of 84 on January 30, 1836 leaving us all wondering if she did indeed create our flag.

Today’s flag with 50 stars and 13 stripes was designed in 1958 by Robert Heft of Lancaster, Ohio as a high school sewing assignment. When Heft complained to his teacher about his B- grade, she responded “If you don’t like the grade, get it accepted in Washington, then come back to me.” After Alaska and Hawaii became states, President Eisenhower called Heft to tell him his design had been chosen out of 1,500 entries.

Neil Armstrong placed the first American flag on the moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission. It has been a closely guarded secret that because NASA officials required him to place the flag right next to the lunar module, the module’s exhaust knocked over the flag upon the crew’s departure.

Five more flags were planted on subsequent Apollo moon landings. These flags still stand however the lack of atmosphere to filter the sun has bleached them white.

She may have been publicity adverse then, but I bet if Betsy were alive today, she’d be posting pictures of the Philly Cheese Steak she had for lunch and have a cool Twitter handle like @badassbetsy.

Have a great weekend. If you are looking for top-notch marketing support, contact ted@blackdotmesaging.com.