Happy July 4!
Today, as hot dogs and hamburgers grill and flags wave, the name Betsy Ross will no doubt be uttered regularly. But few Americans know that when they credit Ross with the creation of the first American flag, they are perpetuating a long-standing myth: there’s no real evidence that Ross – who was married to George Ross, a prominent Philadelphian and himself a signer of the Declaration of Independence – had anything to do with the creation or design of the Stars and Stripes.
There’s plenty of evidence, however, to suggest that Francis Hopkinson did. Hopkinson was a member of a prominent Philadelphia family, and was himself a social climber and something of a renaissance man. Prominent early in the war for his writing, he also adapted an existing colonial flag design to the more recognizable 13 stripes, alternating red and white, with thirteen stars in a blue field (interestingly, the circular star design featured in the flag in the photo was a later creation, not Hopkinson’s). There were some differences – some evidence suggests that his original design had six-pointed stars, though the story that Betsy Ross changed them from six to five points is, again, almost certainly apocryphal. Still, Hopkinson is the most likely candidate for the title of flag designer.
What’s more, he was never truly compensated for his work. He requested, but never received, a cask of wine in return for his designs. So, this July 4, toast Francis Hopkinson with whatever beverage you feel like in repayment for his contributions, and a have a good independence day.
Above: Grave of Francis Hopkinson, Christ Church Burial Ground, Philadelphia, PA