The “Did she or didn’t she?” debate over Betsy Ross and the creation of the country’s first flag in 1776 has gone on for centuries.
The anti-Betsy faction usually advances these arguments: There’s no paper trail. The Ross family made up the story of her quick fingers folding a piece of paper and creating — with one snip — a five-pointed star in front of George Washington. Americans choose to believe the tale because they wanted a female to balance out the “Founding Fathers.”
The pro-Betsy group counters: Members of the Ross family signed affidavits attesting to the truth of their matriarch’s role in history, and they were devout Quakers and wouldn’t lie. In the 1920s, a five-pointed paper star was found in a safe that had once belonged to Samuel Wetherill, one of Ross’ friends, and it had to have had significance or wouldn’t have been locked up.
And now, Betsy’s supporters also have this: George Washington knew Betsy and her husband, John Ross, because he’d hired the couple two years earlier to do work for his home atMt. Vernon. Last March, Mt. Vernon Associate Curator Amanda Isaac found a receipt for “five half joes” made out to a Mr. Ross of Philadelphia for bed furnishings. That’s 55 pounds, 12 shillings and six pence — a very large sum at that time — to completely outfit at least three beds plus labor and materials, including a cotton calico print and muslin for lining. That’s everything from canopies to sheets and covers.
“It’s the only documentation we have that these two icons of the American Revolution, Betsy and George, actually met. Before, it was all mythology,” Isaac said. “For years, Betsy Ross has been a shadowy, mythical figure and … she’s coming into focus as a real-life person. Someone who was creative, ambitious and an entrepreneur, not a quaint domestic figure we might associate with women of the Revolution.”
The information had been in Mt. Vernon’s collection for years, but the discovery was only made recently as curators…
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