At Old Bethpage Village Restoration (OBVR), the historic houses that are open each day for tours and presentations are indicated by having an American flag in front of them. One thing you may notice about these flags is that they are all different. Reason being each flag corresponds to the time period of that specific house. America has actually changed its flag 26 times and each flag has a certain number of stars that correlates with the date of the building and number of states at the time.
There are various theories as to who designed the first American flag. There are some who claim that three members of a secret committee from the Continental Congress – including George Washington – came to Betsy Ross in May 1776 and gave her a design of the flag. They then asked her to sew the first American flag. Ross went to the same church as Washington so some believe it was their friendship that led to the sewing of the first American flag.
While the story has gained popularity the mention of the story that it was Ross did not occur until almost 100 years after she made the flag. There are others who claim responsibility for creating the flag. There is Rebecca Young whose children claim she made the first flag. It was Young’s daughter’s flag that flew over Fort McHenry in the War of 1812. This flag inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem that eventually became our national anthem.
This story may ring true but there is also Francis Hopkins. Hopkins, who was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, claims he designed the flag in 1776. He was the only person to make the claim of designing the flag during his lifetime. He even submitted a bill to Congress for the job but would not get paid because he already got paid as a member of Congress.
It may be unclear who actually designed the flag but we know for certain that the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution on June 14th, 1777. The resolution stated: “Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars’ white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.” This resulted in 'Flag Day' being observed every year on June 14th.
The flag is now 13 horizontal stripes – seven red alternating with six white. The stripes symbolize the first 13 colonies with 50 stars representing the 50 states of the United States. As time went on from the first flag, America would add more states and the flag would add more stars. The flag act of 1818 called for a new star to be added to the flag each time another state was added. The last time it was changed was 1960, with the inclusion of Hawaii, but the symbols of the colors remain. Red stands for hardiness and valor. White symbolizes purity and innocence. Blue represents vigilance, perseverance and justice.
Throughout the history of the United States the flag has proved to be a powerful symbol. The flag was given the name Old Glory during the Civil War by William Driver who was a sea captain from Massachusetts. Driver’s flag survived many attempts to be destroyed and at the end of the Civil War was flown over the Tennessee State House once the war ended.
During the Civil War the flag became a symbol of a United America and flew over houses, and churches. The flag today and in the past can still serve as a reminder of our unity and strength as a nation.
- Jonathan Lekstutis