The American flag, the Stars, and Stripes was flown, supposedly for the first time in a minor skirmish on this date in 1777. Colonial forces under the command of General William Maxwell were defeated by a combined force of British and Hessian at a place called Cooch’s Bridge in Maryland. Maxwell ordered his men to hoist the flag as the took on the advanced guard of the British Army. Maxwell’s force of infantry and cavalry were forced to retreat to General Washington’s main force at Brandywine, Pennsylvania.
Some historians argue that the flag was not flown there as stated by historian Edward. W. Cooch. Cooch stated further that the flag was then flown about a week later at the battle of Brandywine on September 11.
Three months before, on June 14, the Continental Congress adopted a resolution stating that “the flag of the United States be thirteen alternate stripes red and white” and that “the Union will be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.”
The national flag, which became known as the “Stars and Stripes,” was based on the “Grand Union” flag, a banner carried by the Continental Army in 1776 that also consisted of 13 red and white stripes. That too is a subject for debate. Philadelphia seamstress Betsy Ross designed the new Stars and Stripes, which consisted of a circle of 13 stars and a blue background, at the request of General George Washington. Some argue that the entire Ross situation is a legend and has never been proven.
In a paper to the Pennsylvania Historical Society after Ross’ death, her grandson William J. Canby produced a paper that supposedly gave credence to the idea that Ross and others manufactured the flag. His paper states:
Sitting sewing in her shop one day with her girls around her, several gentlemen entered. She recognized one of these as the uncle of her deceased husband, Col. GEORGE ROSS, a delegate from Pennsylvania to Congress. She also knew the handsome form and features of the dignified, yet graceful and polite Commander in Chief, who, while he was yet COLONEL WASHINGTON had visited her shop both professionally and socially many times, (a friendship caused by her connection with the Ross family). They announced themselves as a committee of congress, and stated that they had been appointed to prepare a flag, and asked her if she thought she could make one, to which she replied, with her usual modesty and self reliance, that “she did not know but she could try; she had never made one but if the pattern were shown to her she had not doubt of her ability to do it.” The committee were shown into her back parlor, the room back of the shop, and Col. Ross produced a drawing, roughly made, of the proposed flag. It was defective to the clever eye of Mrs. Ross and unsymmetrical, and she offered suggestions which Washington and the committee readily approved.
What all these suggestions were we cannot definitely determine, but they were of sufficient importance to involve an alteration and re-drawing of the design, which was then and there done by Colonel (General) George Washington, in pencil, in her back parlor. One of the alterations had reference to the shape of the stars. In the drawing they were made with six points.
Mrs. Ross at once said that this was wrong; the stars should be five pointed; they were aware of that, but thought there would be some difficulty in making a five pointed star. “Nothing easier” was her prompt reply and folding a piece of paper in the proper manner, with one clip of her ready scissors she quickly displayed to their astonished vision the five-pointed star; which accordingly took its place in the national standard. Colonel (General) Washington was the active one in making the design, the others having little or nothing to do with it. When it was completed, it was given to William Barrett, painter, to paint. …
The gentleman drew out of a chest an old ship’s color, which he loaned her to show her how the sewing was done, and also the drawing painted by Barrett. Other designs had been prepared by the committee and one or two of them were placed in the hands of other seamstresses to be made. Betsy Ross went diligently to work upon her flag, carefully examining the peculiar stitch in the old ship’s color, which had been given her as a specimen, and recognizing, with the eye of a good mechanic, its important characteristics, strength and elasticity.
The flag was soon finished, and Betsy returned it, the first ‘Star Spangled Banner’ that ever floated upon the breeze, to her employer. It was run up to the peak of one of his ships lying at the wharf, and received the unanimous approval of the committee and of a little group of bystanders looking on, and the same day was carried into the State House and laid before Congress, with a report from the committee.
The next day Col. Ross called upon Betsy, and informed her that her work had been approved and her flag adopted; and he now requested her to turn her whole attention to the manufacture of flags, and gave her an unlimited order for as many as she could make. …
Ross was now effectively set up in the business of flag and color making for the government; through all her after life, which was a long, useful and eventful one, she “never knew what it was,” to use her own expression, “to want employment,” this business (flag-making for the government) remaining with her and in her family for many years.
And with the entrance of each new state into the United States after independence, new stripes and stars were added to represent new additions to the Union. In 1818, however, Congress enacted a law stipulating that the 13 original stripes be restored and that only stars be added to represent new states. Today we have 50 stars and the original thirteen red and white stripes.
So when the legend and history collide, the people generally prefer the legend. Were the Stars and Stripes first flown into combat on this day in 1777? We may never know the entire truth, but we’ll err on the side with the legend here. Happy Labor Day.
Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia