In the United States, Flag Day is observed on June 14, which commemorates the adoption of the flag of the United States by a resolution of the Second Continental Congress on Saturday, June 14, 1777. Observance of this annual event, however, did not receive prominence for many years after the approval of the resolution of the Continental Congress. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that established June 14 as America’s official Flag Day. Not until August 1949, however, did Congress move to establish a National Flag Day through official act.
In contemporary America, Christians must look beyond superficial popular presentations recounting national holidays and history to discern the influence Christianity has had upon the conception and construction of America. By considering a series of developments related to the use of the American flag, Christians will arrive at a deeper appreciation for the overwhelming influence that their faith has wielded in the development of America.
The Stars & Stripes are born! The Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act: “Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.”
The first and most important development concerning the American flag is the origin of the flag itself. Like so many other subjects concerning American history, the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have dealt harshly with details of national origin that once were very settled and unquestioned. Following an approach to the study of American history that started as early as the 1920s, many American “historians” have attacked the most prominent figures and features in American history and cast doubt and denial upon the historical records concerning them. Often, the motivating force has been a secular or irreligious worldview that refuses to acknowledge the positive influences of Christianity. This irreligious worldview has not limited itself to the consideration of American studies alone, but has also cast its contrived version of the world upon biblical and theological studies and nearly every other subject or discipline. It is similar to the historical efforts of conquering armies to rewrite the histories of the nations they conquered, attempting to remove important events and national heroes and heroines from the memory of those they conquered. Though America and the Christian Church have not been conquered militarily, they have seen their histories and accounts of their heroes rewritten by their enemies!
With this fact in mind, it should not come as a surprise to realize that the role of Betsy Ross, the one most credited with the development of the American flag, is also held up to doubt and ridicule. Betsy Ross, whose given name was Elizabeth Phoebe Griscom, was born January 1, 1752 and died January 30, 1836 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Married to John Ross at the age of twenty-one, she was widowed three years later, early in 1776–the same year that a small delegation from the American Continental Congress called upon her at her shop. She was subsequently married to two sea captains, both of whom were lost at sea; for this reason she is also referred to as Elizabeth Ashburn and Elizabeth Claypoole. Though her Quaker Christian heritage is often associated with her, Betsy Ross and her family came to attend one of the most influential churches in America during the era of the
" >War of Independence–Christ Church of Philadelphia.
Christ Church was an Anglican church and the church attended by other prominent leaders of the Revolution. The ministers of Christ Church, Rev. Jacob Duche and Dr. William White, were the first two chaplains of the Continental Congress. Following the Revolution, Dr. White became one of the founding fathers of the American Sunday School Union (please see discussion below). Dr. White was also instrumental in transitioning Anglicanism in America to the Episcopal Church. For its important role in the life of the nation during this critical era of American history, Christ Church is remembered as “the Nation’s Church.” Where Betsy Ross and her family sat in Christ Church is now remembered with a plaque–a pew not far from where George and Martha Washington sat in worship.
Betsy’s first husband, John Ross, worked as an upholsterer, and was the nephew of George Ross, Signer of the Declaration of Independence and one of three men appointed to design a flag for the new nation. Having been appointed by the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia, this committee of three appeared in the Ross family shop to request assistance with their assignment. The details of this meeting were a matter rehearsed by Betsy Ross for many years to come, and which her family described in detail after her death. In 1871, Betsy’s daughter, Rachel Fletcher, formally composed and signed an affidavit detailing the events surrounding the making of America’s first flag. In that account, Rachel wrote,
I remember having heard my mother Elizabeth Claypoole [or Betsy Ross] 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. I remember to have heard her also say that it was made on the order of a Committee, of whom Col. Ross was one, and that Robert Morris was also one of the Committee. That General Washington, acting in conference with the committee, called with them at her house. This house was on the North side of Arch Street a few doors below Third Street, above Bread Street, a two story house, with attic and a dormer window, now standing, the only one of the row left, the old number being 89; it was formerly occupied by Daniel Niles, Shoemaker. Mother at first lived in the house next East, and when the war came, she moved into the house of Daniel Niles. That it was in the month of June 1776, or shortly before the Declaration of Independence that the committee called on her. That the member of the committee named Ross was an uncle of her deceased husband. That she was previously well acquainted with Washington, and that he had often been in her house in friendly visits, as well as on business. That she had embroidered ruffles for his shirt bosoms and cuffs, and that it was partly owing to his friendship for her that she was chosen to make the flag. That when the committee (with General Washington) came into her store she showed them into her parlor, back of her store; and one of them asked her if she could make a flag and that she replied that she did not know but she could try. That they then showed her a drawing roughly executed, of the flag as it was proposed to be made by the committee, and that she saw in it some defects in its proportions and the arrangement and shape of the stars. That she said it was square and a flag should be one third longer than its width, that the stars were scattered promiscuously over the field, and she said they should be either in lines or in some adopted form as a circle, or a star, and that the stars were six-pointed in the drawing, and she said they should be five pointed. That the gentlemen of the committee and General Washington very respectfully considered the suggestions and acted upon them, General Washington seating himself at a table with a pencil and paper, altered the drawing and then made a new one according to the suggestions of my mother. That General Washington seemed to her to be the active one in making the design, the others having little or nothing to do with it. That the committee then requested her to call on one of their number, a shipping merchant on the wharf, and then adjourned. That she was punctual to her appointment, and then the gentleman drew out of a chest an old ship’s color which he loaned her to show her how the sewing was done; and also gave her the drawing finished according to her suggestions. That this drawing was done in water colors by William Barrett, an artist, who lived on the North side of Cherry Street above Third Street, a large three story brick house on the West side of an alley which ran back to the Pennsylvania Academy for Young Ladies, kept by James A. Neal, the best school of the kind in the city at that time. That Barrett only did the painting, and had nothing to do with the design. He was often employed by mother afterwards to paint the coats of arms of the United States and of the States on silk flags. That other designs had also been made by the committee and given to other seamstresses to make, but that they were not approved. That mother went diligently to work upon her flag and soon finished it, and returned it, the first star-spangled banner that ever was made, to her employers, that it was run up to the peak of one of the vessels belonging to one of the committee then lying at the wharf, and was received with shouts of applause by the few bystanders who happened to be looking on. That the committee on the same day carried the flag into the Congress sitting in the State House, and made a report presenting the flag and the drawing and that Congress unanimously approved and accepted the report. That the next day Col. Ross called upon my mother and informed her that her work had been approved and her flag adopted, and he gave orders for the purchase of all the materials and the manufacture of as many flags as she could make. And that from that time forward, for over fifty years she continued to make flags for the United States Government.
Rachel Fletcher’s description of the details related to her mother’s work in the construction of America’s first flag is one of most authentic description of how this important symbol came into existence. That those who deny this account base much of their arguments upon a lack of specific details in the Journals of the Continental Congress can be attributed to two important facts. First, that General Washington’s invitation to Philadelphia in May of 1776 was secret, and second, the financing of the flag’s production was private, requiring no payment from Congress. A quotation from a less-skeptical nineteenth-century history records these important facts:
On May 20, 1776, Washington was requested to appear before Congress on important secret military business. Major-General Putnam, according to Washington’s letters, was left in command at New York during his absence. It was in the latter part of May 1776, that Washington, accompanied by Colonel George Ross, a member of Congress and by the Honorable Robert Morris, the great financier of the revolution, called upon Mrs. Betsy Ross, a niece of Colonel Ross.
. . .
The resources of Congress were meager and at best legislative action was then, as now, slow and tedious. The flag as indicated was wanted, and so Colonel Ross expedited its appearance by paying for the first order himself.
Nearly a year after the three-man committee entered the shop of Betsy Ross, the Continental Congress took official action to ratify the decisions that had been made concerning the new flag. However, little is recorded in the Journal of the Continental Congress for Saturday, June 14, 1777 concerning this decision. The resolution simply reads,
Resolved, That the flag of the (thirteen) United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white: that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.
Christ was born that he might die for us as the lamb of God. His sacrifice involved three colors tied to our ultimate liberty from sin, death, and hell. These three colors are reflected in the American flag, the design of which was given to a special committee put together to create the various emblems of this new nation in the 18th century. On September 13 of 1775 the Colonial Congress appointed this committee to design a new flag for the emerging free nation of America, then under the rule of Britain. The committee was made up of five men at the time. Eventually it would include a unique elderly gentleman called “the Professor”, and one woman by his request, making a total of seven members. They included:
Betsy Ross was not the designer of the American flag, nor was Benjamin Franklin or George Washington, though the two men were on the original committee which approved it, the design of which was given the committee by “the Professor”. This mysterious stranger seemingly “came out of the blue” for the purpose of helping the American flag design come forth in an appropriate way for this new nation founded upon the principle of liberty. The Professor disappeared just as quickly.
The Professor: The flag committee met in Cambridge at an unspecified home on Dec. 13 of 1775. According to Robert Allen Campbell, there happened to be visiting there, “a very peculiar old gentleman who was a sojourner with the family”. Campbell states, “He was evidently far beyond his three score and ten years; and he often referred to historical events of more than a century previous just as if he had been a living witness of their occurrence; still he was erect, vigorous, and active – hale, hearty, and clear-minded – as strong and energetic in every way as in the mature prime of his life. He was tall, of fine figure, perfectly easy, and very dignified in his manners; being at once courteous, gracious and commanding. He was, for those times and considering the customs of the Colonists, very peculiar in his method of living; for he ate no flesh, fowl, or fish; he never used as food any “green thing,” any roots or anything unripe; and he drank no liquor, wine or ale; but confined his diet to cereals and their products, fruits that were ripened on the stem in the sun, nuts, mild tea and the sweets of honey, sugar or molasses. He was well educated, highly cultivated, of extensive as well as varied information, and very studious. He spent considerable of his time in the patient and persistent conning of a number of very rare old books, and ancient manuscripts, which he seemed to be deciphering, translating or rewriting. These books and manuscripts, together with his own writing, he never showed to any one; and he did not even mention them in his conversations with the family, except in the most casual way; and he always locked them up carefully in a large, old fashioned, cubically shaped, iron bound, heavy, oaken chest, whenever he left his room, even for his meals. He took long and frequent walks alone, sat on the brows of the neighboring hills, or mused in the midst of the green and flower-gemmed meadows. He was fairly liberal – but in no way lavish in spending his money, with which he was well supplied. He was a quiet, though a very genial and very interesting, member of the family; and he was seemingly at home upon any and every topic coming up in conversation. He was, in short, one whom everyone would notice and respect, whom few would feel well acquainted with, and whom no one would presume to question concerning himself – as to whence he came, why he tarried, or wither he journeyed”1
When the committee met with the host of the home, Benjamin Franklin recognized the nameless “Professor” and with the approval of all, made him a sixth member of the committee. The Professor’s first recommendation as a committee member was to suggest that a seventh member be added. He stated that, “by the introduction of an element that is usually objected to – in all national and political affairs. I refer to woman – the purifying and intuitional element of humanity”. This was an usual recommendation to a group of Freemasons who were used to excluding women from their meetings. Yet the committee, seeing that the female counterpart was a missing key, unanimously endorsed the suggestion and invited the hostess of the home to act as secretary in the committee. They then adjourned until the afternoon for a more formal session.
Previous to the afternoon meeting, Benjamin Franklin and the Professor met privately. As Franklin took the floor, he turned time over to the Professor, who subsequently presented his own design to the committee, giving reasons for its adoption. The Professor spoke with authority on the principles of allegiance and the determination of the colonists to secure justice and liberty from their mother country. He predicted that the rights the people hoped for could not be secured as British colonists, but only as united citizens of a free and independent American nation. He prophesied of the birth of this nation, and that it would rise above subordination to any other nation. He further prophesied that General Washington, in the months to come, would lead this new nation of liberty.3
The First Flag Design The Professor had a flag design ready to present to the committee. It contained both familiar and unique new elements in order to reflect the colonist’s allegiance to their mother country, and at the same time, a regard for the inevitable change of allegiance that was to come, apart from England. The familiar element was the Cross of St. George Union, adopted from the Cross of Christ used by the Christian armies of the crusades. The new feature of the flag was its field of 13 alternating red and white stripes, not seen in the American colonies. The stripes were common among the ancient Native Americans, however. The Professor was somehow a “living witness” to their use of this ancient symbol of blood and sacrifice on this land. The alternating red and white stripe design has been used by the Hopi in their ceremonial kilts. It is also found in pre-Columbian codices, as applied to the bodies of sacrificial victims, intended to be surrogates of “god himself”. The red stripes have clear ties to this land, a land redeemed by the shedding of blood.
The Professor provided a drawing with his suggested design, adding that the design mixing the Union Jack with new Native American stripes would be a temporary one, a way to transition from allegiance to England to complete independence. He then revealed, “There are other weightier and eternal reasons for a flag having the field [of stripes] I suggest”. He reserved further elaboration for a future point in time when the final design would be established. The Professor’s design featured thirteen alternating red and white stripes (7 red, 6 white) leading away from the Union Jack and its Cross of Christ. The committee enthusiastically endorsed it, especially General George Washington and committee chairman Benjamin Franklin. Following the meeting, a full-sized flag was made in strict accordance with the Professor’s drawing.
On January 2nd of 1776, at Cambridge, General Washington personally hoisted this new flag upon a “towering and specially raised pine tree liberty pole.” British officers, seeing if from afar, saluted it with thirteen hearty cheers and an official thirteen gun salute. This act became “one of the most singular, most mysterious and most prophetic procedures of Revolutionary days”. It would foreshadow the importance of the number 13 in the Great Seal of this nation (one dollar bill).
New Independent Design: After the original Cambridge committee meeting, the Professor then privately presented to Washington and Franklin a new modified flag design to be used once the New American Nation took its place among the recognized governments of the world. The Professor then completely disappeared, never to be seen again. (See footnote 1 links for more information on the Professor.) This second design featured the removal of the Union Jack, replacing it with a square field of blue, upon which were thirteen white, five-pointed stars; one surrounded by twelve. The blood stripes no longer proceeded from a cross but from a field of stars representing heaven, with ties to the twelve stones of the twelve tribes of Israel, those Joshua set up at Gilgal (Josh. 4:20- 24). The Gilgal circle of stones was a reunion center, the place where all Israel gathered to renew the kingdom, receive a new leader, and review the history of the people (1 Sam. 11:14-15). This circular arrangement was secretly revealed by Jesus as He stood in the center while the twelve Apostles surrounded Him in a linked prayer circle. A similar order of prayer is utilized by Native Americans who dance in a circle around an altar of light – the sacred fire. It also mirrors the heavens above us, with thirteen signs of the zodiac revolving around the sun, our source of light. The divine design reflected both ancient Egyptian and Hebrew thinking. A pole with cloth streamers attached was a sign for God in ancient Egypt. The Hebrews utilized holy banners at the head of their armies and had inscriptions upon them denoting particular tribal symbols. The second flag design with the circle of twelve stars around one became the first official American flag, heralding the beginning of the nation’s independent existence – its liberty.