Think You Know All There is to Know About the American Flag? Think Again
There is a lot we know about our nation's red, white and blue symbol, and a lot we think we know. Everyone knows the stars represent the 50 U.S. states and the stripes stand for the 13 original colonies (yes, including New Hampshire). But other things that people think are true about our national symbol are very much not true or at least there is a reasonable doubt. Here’s a peek.
Fake news: Betsy Ross
Just because someone says something is true, it may not be. The celebrated sewer of the circular stars and original stripes became famously linked to the first American flag by her grandson William Canby.
Popular opinion placed Ross, who worked as an upholsterer, at the front of creating a new flag for Gen. George Washington. Some say they became acquainted as they sat next to each other at church and because she also was a seamstress — doing work for the eventual first president’s wardrobe.
She eloped at age 21. Her first husband, a soldier, died during the Revolution. Her second marriage brought a name change to Claypoole. The couple had several daughters, who worked with her making flags. Flag making in general was documented, but the tale of her making our nation’s first flag is largely unsubstantiated.
Photo — Wikimedia: Painting by Edward Moran, 1898. It depicts the Continental Navy Ship Ranger, commanded by Captain John Paul Jones, receiving the salute of the French fleet at Quiberon Bay, France, 14 February 1778.
New Hampshire and the first American Flag
Some say a New Hampshire quilting bee created the first American flag. In the book titled “Rereading the Revolution,” the author wrote of a ship named the Ranger. The warship was built on Badger’s Island near the current Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. John Paul Jones was given command of the ship on the same day Congress approved the design of the country’s new flag.
Pauline Carrington Rust Bouve wrote in her book American Heroes and Heroines that Jones said, “That flag and I are twins. We cannot be parted in life or death; so long as we can float, we shall float together. If we must sink, we shall do down as one.”
She wrote, “down in old Portsmouth, where the Ranger was launched, a party of girls gave a ‘quilting party’ for the purpose of making a flag for Captain Jones, for which he had given them very particular directions. The stars were cut from the wedding dress of Helen Seavey, who had just wedded a young officer of the New Hampshire Line, and the other girls cut slices off their best silk gowns for the field of strips of the pennant which was to win a renown that would reflect honor upon the fair hands that fashioned it.”
These colors don’t run
Some say the red, white and blue signify purity, hardiness and perseverance, but again, there is no real proof of that.
Congress passed a resolution on June 14, 1777, and dictated the flag should be red, white and blue, but did not specifically say why.
The country’s Great Seal was commissioned by the Continental Congress in 1776 (a year before the official flag). The seal was officially adopted in 1782, and it was there that then secretary Charles Thomson said those colors mimicked the flag and this is why …”white signifies purity and innocence. Red, hardiness & valour, and blue … signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice.”
Again, scholars agree that most likely the colors simply replicated those of the British flag.
Burn baby, burn
If the flag touches the ground you have to destroy it. No. As long as the flag is in good shape you can continue to display it, according to the American Legion.
No American Flag garments
That's not entirely true. There are plenty of clothing items that may raise an eyebrow as far as appropriateness. The flag code specifically mentions the word “costume.” You can show your patriotism with an American Flag-designed bikini, just not if it is actually made from a flag.
Photo — Pexels: The code that dictates proper etiquette says using the American Flag as a piece of clothing is a big no-no.
About the code
The national flag Code was adopted June 14, 1923. Before that, there was nothing “official” directing how the flag should be displayed.
Prior to 1989, protections were in place against certain acts done with an American flag. Despite efforts to protect the flag as a symbol from harm, doing so was deemed unconstitutional in 1990.