The first American flag had 13 stars and 13 stripes in honor of the original colonies of the United States: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island.
Pennsylvania is the only state to ever declare June 14 an official state holiday (1937); otherwise it is not an official federal day off.
One of the most familiar names connected with the US Stars and Stripes is Betsy Ross (born Elizabeth Griscom, 1752 – 1836). The legend is that Betsy designed and made the first American flag.
However, this story is very likely not true. There are literally no supporting documents from the 1770s that prove that Betsy Ross had anything to do with the first flag.
It wasn’t until 1870, 100 years after the fact, that William Canby, Betsy Ross’s grandson, popped up and declared to the Pennsylvania Historial Society in Philadelphia that George Washington commissioned his grandmother to make the flag.
“Birth of Our Nation’s Flag,” the famous painting of Ross sitting in her home with the flag draped across her lap, was not created until 1892 by Charles H. Weisgerber.
Weisgerber profited from the legend of Betsy Ross, but the painting was solely based on a picture in the artist’s mind. (In an effort to save from the wrecking ball the house that Betsy Ross lived in between 1773 and 1785, Weisgerber moved his family there in 1898. He opened two rooms of the house to the public — one the supposed room where the flag was created and the other a souvenir shop.)
Another myth connected with the flag is the significance of its colors. Various meanings have been given to the red, white and blue color scheme, but there is not one law, resolution or executive order that provides an official explanation.
Tradition has it that red signifies valour; white, purity; and blue, justice. But most likely the colors were not chosen for such poetic reasons. Rather, the US flag‘s red, white and blue were probably based on the good old Union Jack of England.
But however the legends and colors are interpreted, our Red, White and Blue flag is a symbol of the freedom that we enjoy in our beloved country.
When I was growing up, my father used to display the flag in front of our house for Flag Day and for every other patriotic holiday of the year. This tradition handed down from our Greatest Generation of Americans will hopefully not be neglected in the years and decades to come.
Honoring and respecting our flag reminds us not to take our liberties and our Constitution for granted.
(Flag etiquette concerning the handling and display of the Stars and Stripes was first drafted on June 14, 1923 by representatives of the American Commission of the American Legion. On June 22, 1942, the National Flag Code became Public Law 77-623; chapter 435.. You can reference it here: http://www.suvcw.org/flag.htm)
©June 2011 by Phyllis J. Hanniver