Flag Ladies - a Colonial Whodunit
Summer is baseball season, and baseball season means local musicians and celebrities crooning out "The Star-Spangled Banner" at every game, just down the street from Clementines at the Mariners' homebase, Safeco Field. If you time it right, you can hear the song from the store - but it's so easy to forget that the American anthem was written in 1814, about 37 years after the 13-star version was officially adopted as the banner of our country.
And that 13-star version wasn't even the first flag to come from the struggle for independence between America and Britain. In 1776, the "Continental Colors," pictured below, featured a similar flag to one we use now, but with a blaring inconsistency - the Union Jack in the corner.
As the years passed, and Americans separated themselves from British rule, the flag progressed as well, eventually adopting a version of the stars-and-stripes we know so well today. Scholars say the designer of 1777 flag and signer of the Declaration of Independence, Francis Hopkinson, was a naval flag designer who created the first flag while he was the Chairman of the Continental Navy Board's Middle Department, sometime between 1776 and 1777.
"But wait," you might say, "what about Betsy Ross?"
Betsy Ross was a seamstress, who, in 1776, received a visit from General George Washington himself. When asked to sew the American Flag, Betsy Ross convinced George Washington to change his design from a five-pointed star to a six-pointed one, because it would be easier and speedier to cut the latter. It's a story we all learned in elementary school, however - there is no evidence this interaction ever happened. In fact, the story didn't appear in writing until nearly a hundred years after the fact, when her grandson William J. Canby claimed his grandmother "made with her hands" the first flag of the United States.
Betsy Ross's story may have just been in a legend in the illustrious history of the American Flag. Other seamstresses, however, are historically documented - like Rebecca Young, who made "Continental Standards" as early as 1781, and is on record as the maker of the Grand Union Flag of 1775-1776.
When we sing "The Star-Spangled Banner," it's really Mary Young Pickersgill we have to thank. The daughter of aforementioned Rebecca Young, Mary learned the flag-making craft from her mother. In 1813, Mary was commissioned by Major George Armistead to make a flag so large, the "British will have no trouble seeing it from a distance." Mary, along with a team of at least six other women, completed the job in six weeks, and a year later, the flag was flown over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore, where Francis Scott Key saw it and was inspired to write the now-famous tune.
While Betsy Ross's contribution to American folklore might be just a myth, the history of these flag-making women is a bolstering one, nonetheless. Once again we are reminded of the fastidiousness and hard work of American women, and have them to thank for their contributions to the quintessential American icon.
Wanna incorporate a little star-spangled style into your wardrobe this Fourth of July? Check out these picks:
- Miista Noa in Ruby Raffia, $285
- Miista Valerie Slide in Stripe, $195
- Birkenstock Arizona Eva in Scuba Blue, $40
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