In Dunlap's Journal of Congress, dated 14JUN1777 Vol III, page 235, it reads: "Resolved that the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, which in a blue field, representing a new constellation."
Schuyler Hamilton defined the "union" to mean: The four quarters of a National flag, but specifically, the upper-left quarter. The word “jack” was invented when the English cross of St. George and the Scottish cross of St. Andrew were blended into one flag to represent the newly formed United Kingdom. The British flag was properly called an “Ensign.”
The British navy had three classes of admirals distinguished by the colors, red, white and blue.
The fatal Stamp Act of 1765 escalated American sentiment into open revolt by July 1766. That infamous act, “plucked the jewel out of England's crown,” and was described in Parliament as the beginning of the end of British rule. That same year, Patrick Henry was interrupted with the cry of, “Treason!” during his famous speech to the Virginia House of Burgesses. That same year, John Adams wrote, “That enormous engine fabricated by the British Parliament for battering down all the rights and liberties of America, I mean the Stamp Act, has raised and spread through the whole continent a spirit that will be recorded to our honor through all future generations.”
On 01JAN1776, General Washington hoisted the ‘Great Union Flag’ on the heights at Cambridge. That flag retained the British ‘union jack’ since American allegiance to the King was not yet disintegrated. Thirteen stripes of alternating red and white unfurled the field to symbolize the American colonies’ submission to the British crown.
The ‘spirit of independence’ gained ground until open hostilities broke out in 1776, for which the Patriot Army was no where near the state of readiness required to repel a longstanding British force. In secrecy, the Architects of our Nation met to devise a suitable emblem under which Americans would rally and fight.
General Washington, in full faith and valor toward American independence, redressed his grievances to the Crown by seeking the same liberties guaranteed to every Englishman by the British Constitution. Washington mistakenly believed that he would finish the Revolutionary War in one campaign, as the Secretary of State in 1861 declared that such a war would conclude within three months. American military strategists neglected the original British motive for starting the Colonies; believing that Britain would simply ‘let go’ rather than protect its interests through force.
The reaction of the Crown to American rebellion was revealed in the tone of Washington’s letters to Mr. Reed. At the same time that Washington scorned the very notion of American ‘submission’ to England, a speech from his “gracious majesty” containing sentiments of tenderness and compassion toward his deluded American subjects was read publically in Boston. The intentions of Parliament were contained in the subtext of the King’s speech. Washington was not deceived, “we know the ultimatum of British justice,” he said. Lord North further emblazoned the Virginia fire when he remarked, “We ought to have believed and acted accordingly! I presume they [the Colonies] begin to think it strange that we have not made a formal surrender of our lines!” That was potent sarcasm in Lord North’s time.
The first recorded account of hoisting of the Stars and Stripes occurred during the siege of Fort Schuyler on 02AUG1777 (Lossing's Field Book of the Revolution, Vol 1, page 242). There is, however, another account which claims that the ‘stars and stripes’ were hoisted aboard the Nancy by Captain Hugh Montgomery, one year earlier. Montgomery was sent by Congress in the later part of 1775 to Santa Cruz and St. Thomas to purchase military supplies. She embarked St. Thomas in July 1776 enroute to the US with her cargo, but was intercepted at the Capes of the Delaware by a British fleet. The Nancy was ordered to swamp her cargo near Cape May and most of it washed ashore during a heavy fog. When the fog lifted, land forces recovered the Nancy’s beached cargo and used it to blow up a train carrying a large number of British troops (Reminiscences of Wilmington by Elizabeth Montgomery, Philadelphia, 1851).
account, Captain Montgomery, her father, received news that the US had
its independence from England while the Nancy was loading munitions and
at St. Thomas. At that time, Captain Montgomery received details
what the newly adopted National colors should look like. The
would not have forced the Nancy to swamp her cargo had she been flying
Union Jack. Although there no copies of the US Flag’s description
found aboard the Nancy, Montgomery’s word as an Officer and a gentleman
The First American Flag is Commissioned
The writer of this paper in the year 1857 had a conversation with Clarissa S. Wilson, the eldest daughter of Elizabeth Claypoole. Mrs. Wilson’s mother had run a flag making business for many years.
In a little two story house with overhanging and pent-eaves, a front porch, glazed brick exterior of blended bricks along the North side of Arch Street, east of Third Street, the following moment in American history unfolded:
In the window was a tin sign that read, “Elizabeth Ross Upholsterer.”
Her work could be examined through her front windows: Pillows, fine embroidery and needle work. She was very comely in appearance assisted by two young girls.
Betsy was prudent and industrious, never engaging in gossip, which made her highly respected by her neighbors. Her father, Samuel Griscom, was an influential member of the Society of Friends and a carpenter by trade. To avoid dependency upon her father, Elizabeth accepted an apprenticeship in a large upholstering establishment where she met fellow apprentice Jon Ross. Ross was a son of the Rev. Aeneas Ross of New Castle, DL.; former assistant minister of Christ Church in Philadelphia. John and Betsy were married, formed a partnership and established a business that John Ross’s father financed. Within two years, John Ross died, leaving Betsy childless. Overcome with grief she permitted her family to divide and sell her business at a significant loss. She returned home in mourning, but quickly rediscovered her dislike of dependency upon others and drew up brand new business plans.
Betsy rented a little house, placed her open-for-business shingle in the window and announced her reopening to her former patrons and clients. The Revolutionary War economy, however, made it difficult for many people to buy Betsy’s hands created items. She did become despondent, but never lost her faith in God.
One day, the uncle of Betsy’s deceased husband, who was the delegate from Pennsylvania to Congress, Col. George Ross, accompanied by [then] Colonel George Washington, whom she knew, along with a small group of associates, entered Betsy’s shop. They identified themselves as a committee of congress, appointed to create a National flag. In Betsy’s back parlor, they presented rough sketches of what the flag was supposed to look like and asked Betsy if she could create it. Mrs. Ross corrected the unsymmetrical sketch and made some cosmetic suggestions which the committee was empowered to approve. Colonel Washington reaccomplished the sketch in pencil and incorporated all of Betsy’s suggestions.
The original sketch had 6-pointed stars. Mrs. Ross folded a paper and in one clip, revealed a 5 pointed star. Washington was astonished. Once the 2nd sketch was finalized, Washington handed it to William Barrett, an accomplished artist, to enlarge and render the design in greater detail.
The committee set an appointment for Mrs. Ross to visit a shipping merchant on the wharf. There, her host provided a sewing demonstration that illustrated seafaring toughness and stitching technique. Betsy immediately memorized the strength and elasticity characteristics learned from the demonstration and incorporated aspects that technique into the new National flag.
Betsy’s first flag was unfurled and run up the tallest mast of a ship docked at the wharf. The flag met with the approval of committee observers along with a dozen citizen onlookers. That very same day, the committee delivered the flag to Congress along with their report. The very next day, Colonel Ross informed Betsy that her work had been approved and that her flag was adopted as the National standard. He asked her if she could devote her full attention to manufacturing US flags. Her very first order was for an unlimited number of flags, “Buy all the bunting and tack you can and make the flags as fast as you can.”
Prior to landing this wonderful contract, Betsy had sustained herself by making bedding, curtains and carpets for one to two houses at a time. Because the price of materials kept going up, she began to lose business; people could live without such luxuries. Betsy’s new contract landed her in another dilemma: She could not afford to buy the materials that she needed to make an unlimited number of flags. She bought all of the bunting that she could, with plans to explain to Mr. Ross that her limited means prevented her from purchasing more bunting.
Scarcely had she finished her contemplations on her limited means when Col. Ross visited her again saying, “It was very thoughtless of me…that I did not offer to supply you with the means for making these purchases. It might inconvenience you to pay out so much cash at once.” Ross handed Betsy a 100-pound note (which would easily exceed $10,000 today) and added, “And you must draw on me at sight for what ever you require.”
Betsy Ross was now in business to create our National flag and her flag-making business remained in her family for many years. She married Joseph Ashbourne, a shipmaster in the merchant marines and she had a daughter by him named Eliza. Captain Ashbourne was in an extremely dangerous occupation, outmaneuvering British privateers hoping to prey upon American commerce. Ashbourne was taken captive by one of them and thrown into Mill Prison at Plymouth in England. The prison was known for its horrid barbarities inflicted in dungeons and the indiscriminate death of inmates from contagions and incurable fevers. The atmosphere reeked with loathsomeness and pain. There, Captain Ashbourne languished and died miserably on 03MAR1782. His captivity had been shared by John Claypoole, who would become Betsy’s 3rd husband. Claypoole had been a lover of Betsy’s during her youth, even before John Ross.
Eight months after the surrender of Lord Cornwallis to General Washington at Yorktown on 22JUN1782, John Claypoole was released from captivity and sent home with 316 other prisoners. The exchange was conducted by privateers and the voyage lasted 50 days. When the ship landed in Philadelphia, Claypoole delivered the tragic news to Mrs. Ashbourne of her husband’s demise.
Because Claypoole had been a former lover of Betsy, the intimacy between her and John rekindled automatically: Mrs. Ashbourne became Mrs. John Claypoole.
John Claypoole was an intelligent, educated, respectable family man of Quaker origin, born in Mount Holly, NJ, 15AUG1752. In the earliest stages of conflict with England, John threw off his Quaker clothes and donned a sword immediately. He and Betsy were among the original members of the Free Quakers; a shard of Quakerism that promoted domestic unity and patriotic fervor. John served under General Washington in battle, being wounded at Germantown. He was taken prisoner by the British to Ireland and then to Mill Prison where he met Captain Ashbourne. John died 03AUG1817 at the age of 65. He was survived by Betsy and 5 daughters, the youngest dying in infancy.
Elizabeth Claypoole died January 30th, 1836 at 63 Cherry Street (above 5th) in Philadelphia. Her former home is now occupied by her son-in-law Caleb H. Canby. Betsy was interned , at the advanced age of 84 years, surrounded by her children and grandchildren, beloved and respected by all who had ever known her, but having outlived many of those with whom she had mingled in the active duties of her energetic life. Her remains were interned alongside her husband at the Friends cemetery. They were recently relocated to Mt. Moriah Cemetery near Philadelphia.
Not only was Elizabeth an arduous businesswoman, but she turned towards the suffering of others and lent herself to the alleviation of every distress. She was considered a shepherdess among sheep by her neighbors. Her ailment remedies were not always conventional, but they were preferred to the local pharmacy.
The original document was taken from the handwritten memoirs of William J. Canby, a grandson of Betsy Ross, as retold in August 1999 by John B. Harker, 4 Redgate Lane, Falmouth, MA, 02540.John B. Harker’s ‘old-English’ prose was translated into western English by Ty E. Narada, Page, AZ, 86040-3121.