“Resolved: that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white;
that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”
Do you remember back in late June, just before our Nation’s celebration of the 4th of July?
If you’re anything like me, remembering last week can be challenging enough.
But let’s try it.
Let’s try to recall a current event that took place during that time.
It made all the news rounds.
The current event in question is how athletic apparel wear giant Nike had come out with
a commemorative shoe featuring what is known as “the Besty Ross” flag–
just in time for the 4th of July celebration.
And how then former football player and flag protester Colin Kaepernick told the
athletic giant not to sell the shoes because he believed the shoe’s flag
image was steeped in racism?
Remember all of that??
And do you remember that the athletic giant caved to his demands?
First of all, that story alone is enough to make me shake my head.
That a youthful former NFL player could tell a mega-money power company that they shouldn’t do
something and they actually listen to him and don’t do as he says is beyond my
small mind’s thinking.
Oh to be so powerful that the powerful quake.
But here’s the thing.
As an educator and one who had majored in history the majority of her time in college,
I could never allow the uneducated to perpetuate a lie.
I could not allow Betsy Ross, who is obviously not here to defend herself—
I could not allow her name to be forever sullied or associated with racism,
slavery or anything other than freedom.
And the funny thing is…we’re so all about #metoo and women’s rights and girl power,
yet we’ve actually allowed a woman to be painted into the ugly narrative of racism,
falsehoods and lies.
Is that what is known as hypocritical?
Let’s back up a couple of hundred years and let’s look at what that flag is all about.
However, let’s first back up even further and take a look at the woman in question.
Elizabeth Griscom, also known as Betsy, was the 8th of 17 children born to
Samuel Griscom and Rebecca James.
She was born in the colony of Pennsylvania, in the city of Philidelphia in 1752.
The Griscoms were a Quaker family and a family that ran an upholstery business.
Quakers were a religious group founded in 1652 in England by George Fox.
They were a split from the Chruch of England and were devoted to peaceful principals.
And most notably, they were pacifists.
(It might be of interest to know that President Richard Nixon was born to
Quaker parents…but that’s another story for another day)
Quakers, more often than not, married other Quakers.
If one opted to marry outside of the religious denomination then they would be “read out”
or cut off both emotionally and financially from one’s family and religious community.
Upon the completion of her formal Quaker schooling, Betsy’s father apprenticed
her to another upholsterer.
This is when she met John Ross, another apprentice, and member of the Episcopal Chruch.
The two fell in love and actually eloped.
They crossed the Delaware River over into New Jersey where they were married at a
Obviously, the union led to Betsy being cut off from the Quaker community that
she had known since childhood.
She and John were happy and now worshiped at the Episcopal church, Christ Chruch.
The same church that George Washington attended.
There is church documentation that the Ross’ and the Washingtons occupied pews
across the aisle from one another.
This was also during the time that tensions had come to a head between the
Colonists and the British.
The Ross’ were busy with their upholstery business but as the tensions grew,
fabric supplies became scarce and the business all but dried up due to a lack of
demand and materials.
It was at this time that John Ross joined the Continental Army as a volunteer.
He was in charge of guarding a munitions cache.
At some point, the cache exploded, killing John— leaving
Betsy a young widow.
History tells us that at this point, Betsy went back to being a practicing Quaker.
However, this was also the time that there was a rift within the Quaker community itself.
Many of the members believed in the cause for freedom and actually split from the
Quaker body, forming the Fighting Quakers who joined the Continental Army.
Betsy and her new husband, sea captain, Joseph Ashburn, joined the side of the
Capt. Ashburn was in charge of bringing supplies back to the fighting colonists.
His ship, however, was eventually captured by British forces and he was taken, prisoner.
Joseph actually died in prison…a fact that Betsy would not discover until quite
It was a mutual friend of the family, a fellow sea captain named John Claypoole, who
came to Betsy with the grim news.
Betsy was a widow once again.
Betsy had had no children with her first husband John but had two with Joseph.
Sadly only one survived past infancy.
However, this would not be the end of Betsy’s married life nor that of motherhood.
Betsy married one final time.
This time it was to Joseph’s friend, John Claypoole.
A man, who to no surprise, Betsy convinced to retire from sailing.
The Claypoole’s went on to have 5 children of their own, four of whom survived to adulthood…
So 5 of Betsy’s children actually outlived her and were the ones who would
go on to leave a written testament to their mother’s contribution to
the Colonial fight for freedom.
In a signed affidavit, one of Betsy’s daughter’s recounted her mother’s
involvement with the creating of the unifying 13-star colonial flag.
Bety’s daughter tells of three men from the Continental Congress who came to call
upon her mother.
Robert Morris, the wealthiest man in Pennsylvania and the largest landowner,
Col. George Ross, the uncle to her late husband, as well as General George Washington.
Betsy knew the General quite well as she had not only worshiped alongside him and his
family at Christ Chruch, she had also done some embroidery and sewing work for the General.
Her daughter recounts:
That when the committee (with General Washington) came into her store she showed
them into her parlor, back of her store;
and one of them asked her if she could make a flag and that she replied that she did not know
but she could try.
That they then showed her a drawing roughly executed, of the flag as it was proposed to be
made by the committee, and that she saw in it some defects in its proportions and the
arrangement and shape of the stars.
That she said it was square and a flag should be one third longer than its width,
that the stars were scattered promiscuously over the field,
and she said they should be either in lines or in some adopted form as a circle,
or a star, and that the stars were six-pointed in the drawing,
and she said they should be five pointed.
That the gentlemen of the committee and General Washington very respectfully
considered the suggestions and acted upon them,
General Washington seating himself at a table with a pencil and paper,
altered the drawing and then made a new one according to the suggestions of my mother.
That General Washington seemed to her to be the active one in making the design,
the others having little or nothing to do with it.
That mother went diligently to work upon her flag and soon finished it,
and returned it, the first star-spangled banner that ever was made,
to her employers, that it was run up to the peak of one of the vessels belonging to one of
the committee then lying at the wharf, and was received with shouts of applause by the
few bystanders who happened to be looking on.
That the committee on the same day carried the flag into the Congress sitting in the State House,
and made a report presenting the flag and the drawing and that Congress unanimously approved
and accepted the report.
That the next day Col. Ross called upon my mother and informed her that her work had been approved
and her flag adopted, and he gave orders for the purchase of all the materials and the manufacture
of as many flags as she could make.
And that from that time forward, for over fifty years she continued
to make flags for the United States Government.
The affidavit is signed, notarized and still held as a historical document.
I believe the facts stated in the foregoing Article entitled
“The First American Flag and Who Made It,” are all strictly true.
This affidavit having been signed by Rachel Fletcher with violet ink,
the signature has faded, but is at this time, Seventh Month 24th, 1908,
still plainly legible.
I, Mary Fletcher Wigert, daughter of the said Rachel Fletcher,
recognize the signature in the rectangular space outlined in black above,
as the signature of my mother Rachel Fletcher.
Mary Fletcher Wigert
Signed in the presence of Mary W. Miller Philadelphia Seventh Mo. 24th, 1908
State of New York
City of New York SS
On the 31st day of July A.D. 1871.
Before me the subscriber a Notary Public in and for the Commonwealth of New York,
duly commissioned, residing in the said City of New York,
personally appeared the above named Rachel Fletcher,
who being duly affirmed did depose and say that the statements above certified
to by her are all strictly true according to the best of her knowledge and belief,
and that she is a daughter of Elizabeth Claypoole.
Affirmed and subscribed before me the day and year aforesaid.
Witness my hand and Notarial Seal.
Th. J. McEvily
Notary Public City & Co. New York
So what we know is that ‘the Betsy Ross’ flag is not a symbol of racism nor slavery.
But rather a symbol of freedom, democracy as it symbolized the birth of a Nation.
Yes the new Nation did have slave labor…as had the colonies prior,
as had the new land when the Spanish, the Dutch and the British had brought with
them slaves who had been in the Carribean and South America working the sugar plantations.
Slavery was not a new problem to a new Nation.
Nor was it a problem created by the new Nation.
It had been a form of “free labor” used by other Nations long before there were 13 colonies
and even before there had been a new land.
And the Quakers were actually one of the first religious groups to denounce the ownership of slaves
and vocally oppose the practice of slavery.
Betsy Ross, the Continental Congress, and the new flag had nothing to do with racism
or slavery…end of sentence.
It would take many more years of growing pains, struggle and eventually a
near-catastrophic internal conflict for this united Nation to come to terms
with what had long been part and parcel of the more negative part of her history.
But to look through the lenses of the 21st century back to a nation’s inception in the 18th century
and to cast condescending judgment is not only lacking in prudence and wisdom,
it is absolutely wrong.
Hindsight does that, doesn’t it?
It grants us the holier than thou ability to tell the past of its grievous mistakes.
But isn’t that how we learn??…from the mistakes of the past???
One day a future will look back on us and tell of our mistakes…
And one of those glaring mistakes will be that we do not know, nor care to
know the truth of our own history.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Perhaps we might then say that a nation that does not know its past,
is doomed to repeat it…
It would, therefore, behoove our up and coming progressive-leaning millennial angst-ridden
generation to do a bit of studying before they continue their attempt at rewriting
our own history.
May God have mercy on us.