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Seamstress of the American flag, Betsy Ross


In 1975, we took our three teenage daughters on a three-week “educational” trip to the New England states, the birthplace of America. One of the interesting historical stops on that trip was the home of Betsy Ross.

Americans educated in the public schools of the United States have most likely been taught that Betsy Ross made the first official American flag. It’s a much-loved story that has earned a warm spot in our hearts. In fact, still today many Philadelphia tourists include in their itinerary a visit to Betsy Ross’ historic home that is now a museum that honors her part in America’s history.

Historical records indicate that on June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress, seeking to promote national pride and unity, adopted our national flag: “Resolved: that the flag of the United States be 13 stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be 13 stars, white on a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

During that period in American history, Betsy Ross was a widow struggling to run her own upholstery business. At that time, upholsters also did all manner of sewing work, including the making of flags.

Legend has it that Mrs. Ross often told her relatives and descendants about the day three members of a secret committee from the Continental Congress called upon her to hire her to make the first United States flag. The committee was made up of these three important men, General George Washington, Robert Morris, one of the wealthiest citizens in the Colonies, and Colonel George Ross, a respected Philadelphian and the uncle of her late husband, John Ross.

Reportedly, when asked if she could make the flag, Betsy replied, “I do not know, but I will try.” She did, however, suggest one important alteration to Washington’s design. Instead of six-pointed stars, she recommended five-pointed stars. The men agreed, and she set to work sewing the first American flag.

We Americans love that story about Betsy Ross’ making that flag. For more than two centuries, the tale of this practical, hardworking Philadelphia seamstress has had a niche in our country’s patriotic history along with the stories of Paul Revere, Valley Forge, and the Minutemen.

Reportedly, however, many of America’s current historians question whether or not there is good historical evidence that Betsy Ross did, in fact, make the first U.S. flag. Surprisingly, they claim that every historical study shows “There’s no good historical evidence that she did make the first flag.”

That being the case, wouldn’t it be fair to counter by contending that she did make the flag because “there is,” likewise, “no good historical evidence that she did not make the first flag?”

The Betsy Ross Museum gives her credit for making the flag. However, the museum, in fairness, also encourages visitors to decide whether the story is “historical fact or well-loved fiction.” The museum also offers this account: “Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag. When we view the flag, we think of liberty, freedom, pride, and Betsy Ross. The American flag flies on the moon, sits atop Mount Everest, (and) is hurtling out in space. The flag is how America signs her name. It is no surprise that Betsy Ross has become one of the most cherished figures of American History.”

Even though we are left with the story’s historical “weakness” plus a lack of actual documentation either pro or con shouldn’t we still give the story some credibility? Can we not in fairness consider the story legendary and probably historical? After all, it’s been around for almost 250 years!

Ken and Nan Webster have collected inspiration for many years from many sources, and now inspire readers of “A Matter That Matters.” Contact them at or visit

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