Gods of Pennsylvania: Betsy Ross


On June 14, 1916, during the celebration of the first national Flag Day, President Woodrow Wilson was asked to comment on the story of the flag and its creator, Betsy Ross.

His reply... “would that it be true!”

Don’t you think that’s a strange response?

I know I do.

So...what gives on the President not believing all the hype around Betsy Ross -- and -- if she wasn’t involved with the manufacturing of the original Stars and Stripes, why does she qualify to be one of the gods of Pennsylvania? 

I’m glad you asked!

Let’s start with what we do know about Betsy (if that was her real name -- actually, it was Elizabeth).

She was born on New Year’s Day, 1752 in Philadephia, Pennsylvania 

Even though she was raised Quaker, she eloped with John Ross, an Episcopalian, which caused her to be cut off from her family

 She was an upholsterer and mother of seven

 Completely blind at the age of 84, Betsy died and was buried three times since her death

Here’s what you might not know:

The story of the flag being made by her didn’t surface until 1870, almost 100 years after the supposed event, when her grandson, William Canby, told the Historical Society of Pennsylvania that his grandmother made the flag at George Washington’s request.

Painter and entrepreneur, Charles H. Weisgerber, invented the scene in his 1893 painting of Ross sitting in her Philadelphia parlor with the sun shining down on the flag in her lap --  needless to say, he profited greatly from the Betsy Ross legend.

 Even if she did have a hand in creating the first flag, the only thing she could actually be credited with is changing the stars to being five-pointed since the rest of the design was already in play.

 There is no credible historical evidence - diaries, newspaper accounts, letters, or bills of sale that suggest Betsy had anything to do with the flag prior to 1777. (Studies done by both the National Museum of American History and Smithsonian experts are sited.)

Regardless of what's an actual fact, Betsy should be considered, at least, a demigod of Pennsylvania as her story still inspires people to be filled with American pride and patriotism.

Having people at the center of our stories is crucial as it helps us identify those whom we call our heroes.

If you’re interested in reading a counterpoint article, visit: http://www.ushistory.org/betsy/flagpcp.html

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