National Geographic : 1959 Jul
Star-Spangled Banner Shows Ravages of Time This drawing of the famed flag outlines the 42-by-30 foot original. Decay has nibbled away a fourth. Dis played in the Smithsonian Institution (page 88), the banner has only one face. Linen covers the reverse to prevent further deteriora tion. By 1962 the museum expects to have a magnifi cent new building with a ceiling high enough for the relic to be hung properly. Baltimore's Star-Spangled Banner Flag House pre serves several pieces. a 13-stripe, 13-star flag which they commis sioned her to copy. The attractive young widow (she was mar ried three times) agreed to make the sample flag, the story goes. But first the pattern was changed, at her suggestion, to use five-pointed instead of six-pointed stars. Today flag scholars rule out the Betsy Ross legend, charming and popular though it is. It has the fatal time defect that the Na tion's independence was yet to be proclaimed, and that the Stars and Stripes was not ap proved by Congress until a year later. More over, decades of research through revolution ary documents-including George Washing ton's voluminous writings-have failed to yield a single notation of such an occurrence. Said President Woodrow Wilson when he was asked for an opinion on the matter: "Would that it were true! " Designer Asks Reward in Wine Better evidence supports another claim to participation in the starry flag's birth. Francis Hopkinson-a signer of the Decla ration of Independence and member of the Continental Navy Board-wrote a letter to the Navy in 1780 asking recognition for his work in designing, among other devices, "the flag of the United States of America." As "a reasonable Reward for these Labours of Fancy," he thought that "a Quarter Cask of the public Wine" might be about right. Later, when required to restate his case be fore a succession of Government authorities, Hopkinson put a substantial money value on his services. Arguments followed, and even tually, after congressional investigation, the claim was disallowed. But not, it should be 90 noted, on grounds that the work had not been done. Rather it was felt that Hopkinson "was not the only person consulted on these exhibi tions of Fancy," and that the public should not have to pay "for these little assistances, given by gentlemen who enjoy a very con siderable Salary under Congress." Grand Union Before Stars and Stripes Actually, the life story of the American flag had already begun, and with a quite differ ent design, at least a year and a half before Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes. During the uncertain period that followed the first clashes with British troops at Lexing ton and Concord,* the rebellious colonists dreamed up a national standard that was both a compromise and a hope. Called the Grand (or Great) Union flag, it displayed 13 red and white stripes in honor of the 13 Colonies instead of the solid red field of the British flag. At the same time it retained Great Britain's Union Jack in its upper left-hand corner, or canton. The British flag-carrying England's red Cross of St. George overlying Scotland's white Cross of St. Andrew-already was intimately associated with the colonists' lives, both in battle and maritime trade. Under it New England sailors and soldiers had won a great victory for Britain at the 1745 siege of French held Louisbourg in Nova Scotia (opposite). Thus it was quite natural that the United Colonies' first national flag should present the "English colours, but more Striped," asa contemporary writer described the new Grand * See "History and Beauty Blend in a Concord Iris Garden," by Robert T. Cochran, Jr., NATIONAL GEO GRAPHIC, May, 1959.