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The Betsy Ross Flag

American Flag

^ The Historical Flag Project

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On a day in late May 1776 three members of a secret committee from the Continental Congress came to call upon Betsy Ross. Those representatives were George Washington, Robert Morris, and George Ross. George Washington was then the head of the Continental Army. Robert Morris, an owner of vast amounts of land, was perhaps the wealthiest citizen in the Colonies. Colonel George Ross was a respected Philadelphian and also the uncle of Betsy's late husband, John Ross.

Betsy was a widow struggling to run her own upholstery business. Upholsterers in colonial America not only worked on furniture but did all manner of sewing work, which for some included making flags. According to Betsy, General Washington showed her a rough design of the flag that included a six-pointed star. Betsy, a standout with the scissors, demonstrated how to cut a five-pointed star in a single snip. Impressed, the committee entrusted Betsy with making the first flag.

Until that time, colonies and militias used many different flags. Some are famous, such as the "Rattlesnake Flag" used by the Continental Navy, with its venomous challenge, "Don't Tread on Me," displayed here as "The Culpepper Ensign."

Another naval flag had a green pine tree on a white background, such as the "Liberty Tree" flag. Other flags were quite similar to Britain's Union Jack or incorporated elements of it, such as the "Grand Union" flag displayed here.

On September 3, 1777, Patriot General William Maxwell raised this flag at Cooch's Bridge, Maryland, marking the first time that an American flag had flown in battle.

On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress, seeking to promote national pride and unity, adopted the national flag. "Resolved: that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation." The stars on that flag, however, were placed in rows, not in a circle. Betsy Ross' Flag, though well-known, was never an official flag of the United States.