But what if we really paid attention to those nineteenth-century stories, listening not for what they tell us about the first flag but for what they tell us about women's perceptions of their own history? In the nineteenth century, ordinary women made history. They did it by telling stories, by attaching labels to family relics, by joining honorary societies, and by carrying flags at public events.
Honored by their sons and daughters, they created a version of American history that broke down boundaries between the supposedly male world of war and politics and the supposedly domestic worlds of women. They did so, not by challenging women's exclusion from politics, but by elevating their devotion to the state. Listen to eighty-two-year-old Rachel Fletcher telling her story to William Canby in "I remember having heard my mother, Elizabeth Claypoole, say frequently that she, with her own hands while she was the widow of John Ross , made the first Star-Spangled Banner that ever was made.
Although published in , Francis Scott Key's poem entered into public consciousness during the Whig campaigns of the s. During the Civil War, the flag it celebrated became synonymous with the Union. Fletcher described an intimate and detailed collaboration between her mother and Washington.
When Ross recommended five-pointed stars, "General Washington very respectfully considered her suggestions and acted upon them. Previously, she had been engaged in making General Washington's ruffles.
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When a member of the supposed congressional flag committee, "a shipping merchant at the wharf," invited her to call upon him, she was "punctual to her appointment. She claimed that "other designs had also been made by the committee and given to other seamstresses to make, but that they were not approved. The committee carried the flag on the very same day "into the Congress, sitting in the State House, and made a report, presenting the flag with the drawing.
In her application to the Daughters of the American Revolution, a great-granddaughter went even further.
From Baseball to Basketball, the Stars Show Their Stripes as National Anthem Songsters
After telling the story about the insistence on a five-pointed star, she noted that her ancestor was also responsible for maintaining the shape of the flag. She said that before leaving Ross's house, a member of the congressional committee said that if more states were added to the union, more stripes would also have to be added.
Let the symbolic thirteen stripes remain, but for each additional State let a new star shine upon the blue—there is room. The central themes in nineteenth-century stories about Betsy Ross reflect the preoccupations of other contemporary writings about women in the Revolutionary era. Elizabeth Ellet, for example, not only emphasized the resourcefulness and sturdy patriotism of American women, but also the approbation of men in high places. By the s there were hundreds of such stories about the contributions of women to the American Revolution. Among these, were many claims about a "first flag.
Patrick Hayes, who had it from her aunt, Miss Sarah Austin," who claimed that she and several "patriotic ladies of Philadelphia met at Swedes' Church in that city, and under the direction of John Brown, Esq. Again the punch line of the story was the public display and acknowledgement of the gift.
Stories about Jones's flags proliferated. By , the captain's least-reliable biographer was asserting that the "unconquered and unstricken flag" that went down with the Bon Homme Richard in Jones's famous battle with the British warship Serapis had been made at a "quilting party" in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, from "slices" of women's silk gowns.
The white stripes came from "the bridal-dress" of a woman married to "a young officer in the New Hampshire line. The most famous has to do with the display of an improvised flag flown at Fort Schuyler after the defeat of Burgoyne in One version says that the men of the fort stitched the flag, using strips of white cut from "ammunition shirts," blue from an enemy cloak, and red from "different pieces of stuff procured from one and another of the garrison.
Stories about American women sacrificing their own food, clothing, and bedding to supply the army had been a staple of antebellum narratives. In , Benson Lossing reprinted a story he had originally published in describing a visit to Mrs. This recollection turned her thoughts to the attack on New London during the War of She told Lossing that when one of the men at the fort came to her house in Groton seeking flannel for cannon cartridges, she "started out and collected all the little petticoats of children that she could find. They would rather see it "fluttering at the mast-head" of a ship, "as an ensign under which to fight upon the broad ocean!
Bailey a woman of history. In the first half of the nineteenth century, Americans had been largely indifferent to flags. Those that survived moths and time were often cut up for souvenirs. But in the decades following the Civil War, the flag and its history became compelling topics. Old ladies not only told stories, they preserved and displayed the ragged remnants of flags they believed had been used in the Revolution, The Old-Time Farm House exhibit at the Philadelphia Centennial in included two Massachusetts squadron flags as well as powder horns, a cocked hat, a canteen, a pair of spurs, and a pistol.
This was without question a "women's exhibit," yet it included war memorabilia alongside spinning wheels and cradles.
In August , five granddaughters of General John Stark carried "many personal relics intimately associated with their famous ancestor" to the Centennial of the Battle of Bennington. Among them was a canton of blue silk "much faded and cracked" with thirteen five-pointed stars painted on it. In , the general's great-great-granddaughter Jennie Osborne provided the Bennington Museum with an affidavit describing the flag and its descent from mother to daughters.
Ironically, Betsy's story may have survived because there was no actual flag to confirm or undermine it. In contrast, the flag Mary Pickersgill made for Fort McHenry survives in all its tattered glory, though the story of its manufacture is little known. When Pickersgill's daughter Caroline Purdy heard that the flag that inspired the National Anthem was going to be exhibited in Philadelphia in , she wrote Georgianna Appleton, who had inherited the flag from her father, George Armistead, the commander at Fort McHenry during the War of Mary Pickersgill, and I assisted her.
My grandmother, Rebecca Young made the first flag of the Revolution, under General Washington's direction and for this reason my mother was selected by Commo. Barney and George Stricker family connections , to make this 'Star-Spangled Banner' which she did, being an exceedingly patriotic woman. The themes in Purdy's story are much like those in other nineteenth-century flag stories. She emphasized her mother's work ethic and skill and the approbation of the men who commissioned the flag.
The result of her mother's labors, she believed, had four hundred yards of bunting, and her mother had "worked many nights until 12 o'clock to complete it in the given time. Purdy, who was then thirteen years old, assisted in the work. She remembered seeing her mother "down on the floor placing the stars," and she insisted on "topping it" herself to make sure that in the heat of battle it would not be "torn away by balls. The flag survived, not only because of the bravery of the fort's defenders but also because of her secure stitching.
The commander of the fort was so pleased that he "declared that no one but the maker of the flag should mend it, and requested the rents be merely bound round" as a memorial to the fort's night of glory. No one questioned Purdy's claim that her mother made the star-spangled banner, but the comment that her grandmother, Rebecca Young, "made the first flag of the Revolution" caused some confusion.
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Mary Pickersgill, who forty-seven years later made the flag in Baltimore that inspired Key's lines, was the daughter of Betsy Ross, whose work from the design of Gen. Washington was adopted by Congress. One could argue that Young was simply unlucky in leaving so few descendants willing to press her case. Or perhaps the stories she told her children were less dramatic, less insistent. To appreciate the triumph of Betsy Ross, we need to appreciate how many stories women told in the decades after the Revolution. Historians are now beginning to recapture this lost archive, a repository of oral tradition that, like the slave stories gathered by the WPA, offers a complex mixture of history and memory.
As Carol Berkin has written, "These stories of Revolutionary War heroines reveal surprising humor and resourcefulness. In them, young girls chew and swallow documents rather than have them discovered by the enemy; middle-aged women listen at keyholes to spy on military planning sessions; and old women serve liquor to soldiers and rob them of their guns.
In , Michael Frisch tried a now famous experiment with students in his introductory American history course. At the beginning of the semester, he gave them a simple test. Part one asked them to write down the first ten names that came to their minds at the prompt, "American history from the beginning to the Civil War. Then he asked them to do the same thing again, this time excluding "presidents, generals, and statesmen. The year he neglected to exclude "statesman," she came in second to Benjamin Franklin.
No other woman came close. When I tried the same experiment in the early s with my own students at the University of New Hampshire, I got almost identical results.
From Baseball to Basketball, the Stars Show Their Stripes as National Anthem Songsters
Frisch argues that Betsy Ross endures because of her association with our "most inclusive symbol of national identity," the flag. If George Washington is the father of the country "then surely Betsy Ross exists symbolically as the mother, who gives birth to our collective symbol. In the classic version of the Ross legend, as in the biblical story of Mary, an ordinary woman "is visited by a distant god, and commanded to be the vehicle, through their collaboration, of a divine creation.
And indeed, in the classroom pageants enacted by generations of American schoolchildren over the past century, that is exactly what we see: Washington calls on the humble seamstress Betsy Ross in her tiny home and asks her if she will make the nation's flag, to his design. And Betsy promptly brings forth—from her lap! If the religious symbolism seems far-fetched, consider an painting by Charles Weisgerber, still featured on the Betsy Ross House Website. The flag maker sits with the flag in her lap as streams of light enter from an open window linking her to the three bewigged men on the other side of the room.
This is not just a patriotic illustration. He cannot find the material wherewith to build his body everywhere. He needs particular help to build the three semi-circular canals of his ear in such a manner that they will point as nearly as possible in the three directions of space; he also needs special help to build the delicate fibres of Corti, for his ability to distinguish shades of tone depends upon these features.
In such a case, when a family of musicians with whom he has connection is in a position to give birth to a child, he may be brought there, though his stay in the Heaven World should not ordinarily terminate for another hundred years, for perhaps another opportunity might not offer for two or three hundred years after he should be born if the law were adhered to. Then, of course, such a man is ahead of his time, and not appreciated by the generation among which he lives.
He is misunderstood, but even that is better than if he had been born later than he should have been, for then he would have been behind the times. Thus it is that we so often see geniuses unappreciated by their contemporaries, though highly valued by succeeding generations who can understand their viewpoint. ANSWER: No, there is something more required, and there are many people of just that belief who have a rather unenviable time in the Desire World after death.
They are, of course, to be looked up to from the standpoint of this life only, but at the present time we are required to at least cultivate some altruistic tendencies in order to progress beyond our present evolutionary status. We find the people who have neglected the higher duties in the fourth region of the Desire World after death. There is the business man who paid a hundred cents on the dollar, who dealt honestly by everyone; who worked for the material improvement of his city and country as a good citizen, paid his employees fair wages, treated his wife and family with consideration, gave them all possible advantages, etc.
He may even through them have built a church, or at least given very liberally to it, or he may have built libraries or founded institutes, etc. He only took interest in the church for the sake of his family or for the sake of respectability; he had not heart in it, all his heart was in his business, in making money or attaining a worldly position. When he enters the Desire World after death he is too good to go to Purgatory and not good enough to go to heaven.