Michael Bushnell
Contributing Historian

During the American Revolution, a number of patriots created flags for our new nation. Among them included Cornelia Bridges, Elizabeth (Betsy) Ross and Rebecca Young — all of whom were from Pennsylvania — and John Shaw of Annapolis, Md.

Although Betsy Ross  made flags for 50 years, and is the best known of the four mentioned, there is no proof that she made the first Stars and Stripes. She did make flags for the Pennsylvania State Navy in 1777. This flag, popularly known as the “Betsy Ross flag,” which arranged the stars in a circle — did not appear until the early 1790s. According to its oral history, in 1777, George Washington, Robert Morris and George Ross, visited Ross in her upholstery shop. Washington pulled a folded piece of paper from his inside coat pocket. On it, was the sketch of a flag with 13 red and white stripes and 13 six-pointed stars. Washington asked if Ross could make a flag from this design. Betsy responded, “I do not know, but I will try.” This line was used in the sworn statements of many of Ross’s family members — suggesting that it is a direct quote from her. As the story goes, Ross suggested changing the stars to five points, rather than six, showing them how to do it with just one snip of her scissors.

They all agreed to change the design to have stars with five points. June 14, 1777, Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes as our official national flag. The moniker of “Old Glory,” however, wasn’t applied to the flag until 1831, when Capt. William Driver of Salem, Mass., was presented a flag of 24 stars for his ship — the USS Charles Doggett. Upon setting sail to rescue the mutineers of the HMS Bounty, the Doggett crew unfurled the flag atop its main-mast, causing Driver immediately to exclaim “Old Glory!” Upon his death in 1886, Driver was buried in the old Nashville City Cemetery, and his grave is one of three places authorized by act of Congress, where the flag of the United States may be flown 24 hours a day.