Betsy Ross Made the First American Flag
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Betsy Ross made the first American flag.

Don’t Believe That!

In the 1770s, American colonists were using a variety of different flags that expressed opposition to British rule. By 1777, Congress passed a law specifying that the official flag of the United States would have thirteen alternating red and white bands and thirteen white stars on a blue field.

As the story goes, George Washington was a frequent visitor to Betsy’s shop (she was a well-known Philadelphia seamstress). In 1776, Washington brought Betsy a rough drawing of the new flag design. She took the drawing and modified it a little, giving the stars five points instead of six. She then made a prototype flag that was approved by Congress.

The obvious problem with this narrative is that no historical evidence supports it. No newspaper accounts, letters, bills of sale or any other documents validate this version of events. The only source is Betsy’s grandson, William Canby, who first told this tale (passed down through family generations) at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, nearly 100 years after it was alleged to have taken place! Canby’s story was published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in 1873, and eventually became part of elementary school curriculums across the U.S. The myth was further perpetuated by artist Charles H. Weisgerber, whose iconic 1893 painting of Ross with the flag draped across her lap is instantly recognizable. A 1909 book, The Evolution of the American Flag, published after William’s death by his brother and nephew, added more details to the story and included a reproduction of Weisgerber’s painting.

While it’s possible that Ross was involved in the creation of the first U.S. flag, numerous historians and researchers, including the National Museum of American History, have thus far not been able to find any proof that it is true.

Bonus Fact: The current American flag was designed by a high school student in 1958 as part of a school project. He received a B-minus.

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