This Sunday, June 14, is Flag Day, commemorating Congress’ adoption of the American Flag in 1777.
In Philadelphia, the anniversary is celebrated heartily at the Betsy Ross House, but the story of Old Glory has changed dramatically in the past few years.
Waiting their turn to go inside the Betsy Ross House in Old City, fifth-graders from Alexandria, Virginia, were eager to talk about the house’s namesake.
“Betsy Ross created it,” said one.
“Created what?” responded a second.
“The first flag!” the first answered.
“Betsy Ross created the American flag,” a third child said.
Inside, however, they are hearing something rather different from Betsy Ross re-enactor Meredith LaBoon.
“It was not I that designed that flag for General Washington,” she told the kids.
“For many years, the story was, and this was taught in school, that Betsy Ross designed and stitched first American flag,” said Lisa Acker-Moulder, director of the Betsy Ross House. “That’s not the story we tell here any longer.”
While there were many family tales of Betsy designing the flag, Acker-Moulder said there just isn’t evidence to prove it.
So did she at least stitch the first flag?
Experts can’t prove that either, said Marla Miller, a Colonial history professor at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore this historical figure.
“Part of what I want people to appreciate about Betsy Ross is that she’s very representative of women who lived through, arguably, the most tumultuous years in American history,” said Miller.
In 2010 Miller wrote “Betsy Ross and the Making of America.” The 480-page effort was the first scholarly biography based entirely on citable, concrete documentary evidence of this iconic American.
“She was a young women in her 20s when revolution came. She weathered the occupation of Philadelphia with a toddler, while her husband, who was a privateer, was captured at sea — he dies in an English prison,” added Miller.
Trained as an apprentice upholsterer, where she met her first husband, John Ross, a fellow apprentice, Betsy had a skill that was in high demand as America began doing away with the Union Jack. And she had a keen sensibility for new business opportunities.
Acker-Moulder said receipt support some of the old story.
“We know that on May 29, 1777, Betsy was paid a substantial amount of money to make a flag,” she said.
The Pennsylvania Navy Board paid for that flag, and later ordered more. Invoices, ledgers and receipts that have survived through the years demonstrate that Betsy Ross became a reliable flag maker.
According to Ross family lore, one day George Washington, accompanied by two signers of the Declaration of Independence, showed up to ask her to make what is now referred to as the Betsy Ross Flag.
While that story has been tough to corroborate, historian Miller said new evidence found just two months ago proves a connection between Betsy Ross and George Washington.
“The staff at Mount Vernon recently discovered archival evidence that has George Washington buying a fully trimmed bed from John and Betsy Ross in 1774,” Miller said. “It’s very exciting!”
Is it possible that the story told for centuries about Betsy Ross is true? Miller said she can’t prove it, but she said we can be sure that Ross was one of the first government contractors selling goods to the new American nation.