How did the design of the original revolutionary war flag (the Betsy Ross flag) promote a strong feeling of citizenship?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is no evidence that the Betsy Ross flag promoted a sense of citizenship, self-sacrifice, or anything else during the Revolutionary War era. The story of Betsy Ross was first recorded in 1870, and that was from the memory of one of Ross's grandsons, who was himself only telling a story his grandmother had told him when he was a child. What is more, there was not, during most of the Revolution, a uniform design for a flag recognized by all of the states. Congress ordered that the flag should be the thirteen stars in a blue field with red and white stripes in 1777, but the design, while commonly seen in depictions of the war, was still not universally recognized.

However, Ross's story has become one of several American founding myths that have emphasized self-sacrifice or some other republican virtue, and indeed the proper role of women in the new country. Ross, after all, was a seamstress, a gender appropriate job for young women, and her story could be interpreted as evidence that women could best contribute to the nation by fulfilling their prescribed roles. The irony of this is that Ross actually owned her embroidery shop. She was far from a demure young seamstress, but a successful businesswoman. In any case, to the extent that symbols are important to American notions of belonging and nationhood, Betsy Ross is important for her mythologized connection to the nation's founding.

jcpeluso | Student

When George Washington assumed command of the Continental Army besieging Boston in 1775 he brought with him the Grand Union Flag.  This flag was flown as the first 'national' flag of the infant United States, indeed Washington would use this flag (a British Ensign with red and white stripes) through at least 1777 when Congress passed the Flag Act specifying:

"Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation." (Congressional resolution, June 14, 1777). 

So, in a way, the question is a trick question.  Betsy Ross's flag story didn't emerge until 1870.  During a period of intense national reconstruction.  The nation was healing the wounds of the Civil War and the Betsy Ross story, fanned by a fledgling feminist movement,  growing nationalism, and desire to reunite the republic quickly took root and became the stuff of American legend; alongside greats like Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, and Johnny Appleseed.  Unfortunately, the historical evidence doesn't really support the Ross story.  Credit for the original stars and stripes likely belongs to Francis Hopkinson, an artist, politician, and attorney.

The relatively late change (two+ years after the start of hostilities) of the unified colonial flag from an inspired British Ensign (the Grand Union Flag) to the more well know stars and stripes speaks to an early desire for reconciliation with Great Britain (see Olive Branch Petition).  After the publishing of Thomas Paine's Common Sense (Jan '76) the desire for complete independence grew quickly, resulting in the Declaration of Independence later that year. Considering it took congress another year to adopt a flag pattern suggests that it was not of considerable importance.  Multiple correspondences between Washington and Congress support that there was a profound lack of national flags in the Continental Army, with independent regiments rallying around their own colors or state banners, rather than a 'unifying' national flag.  

Also consider the communications technologies and techniques of the day.  Publications were slow, letters, newspapers, and correspondence took days and weeks to travel throughout the colonies.  Much like the modern game of telephone sometimes information evolved with distance.  This tended to result in some other interesting flag variations like the Guilford Courthouse, Bennington, and Serapis flags.  

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kkoch0213 | Student

thank you!!  Great point about Betsy Ross, even though she took the business over after her husband died, she still continued it.  It does represent the beginnings of our nation.

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