Sunrise Above American Flags | Westhampton Beach, New York

© Sophie W. Smith

Joined October 2012

  • Available
    Products
    29
  • Artist
    Notes

Apparel

Cases & Skins

Wall Art

Home Decor

Bags

Stationery

Artist's Description

Designer of the first stars and stripes
Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey, a naval flag designer, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, designed the 1777 flag while he was the Chairman of the Continental Navy Board’s Middle Department, sometime between his appointment to that position in November 1776 and the time that the flag resolution was adopted in June 1777. The Navy Board was under the Continental Marine Committee. Not only did Hopkinson claim that he designed the U.S. flag, but he also claimed that he designed a flag for the U.S. Navy. Hopkinson was the only person to have made such a claim during his own lifetime, when he sent a letter and several bills to Congress for his work. These claims are documented in the Journals of the Continental Congress and George Hasting’s biography of Hopkinson. Hopkinson initially wrote a letter to Congress, via the Continental Board of Admiralty, on May 25, 1780. In this letter, he asked for a “Quarter Cask of the Public Wine” as payment for designing the U.S. flag, the seal for the Admiralty Board, the seal for the Treasury Board, Continental currency, the Great Seal of the United States, and other devices. However, in three subsequent bills to Congress, Hopkinson asked to be paid in cash, but he did not list his U.S. flag design. Instead, he asked to be paid for designing the “great Naval Flag of the United States” in the first bill; the “Naval Flag of the United States” in the second bill; and “the Naval Flag of the States” in the third, along with the other items. The flag references were generic terms for the naval ensign that Hopkinson had designed, that is, a flag of seven red stripes and six white ones. The predominance of red stripes made the naval flag more visible against the sky on a ship at sea. By contrast, Hopkinson’s flag for the United States had seven white stripes, and six red ones – in reality, six red stripes laid on a white background. Hopkinson’s sketches have not been found, but we can make these conclusions because Hopkinson incorporated different stripe arrangements in the Admiralty (naval) Seal that he designed in the Spring of 1780 and the Great Seal of the United States that he proposed at the same time. His Admiralty Seal had seven red stripes; whereas, his second U.S. Seal proposal had seven white ones. Hopkinson’s flag for the Navy is the one that the Nation preferred as the national flag. Remnants of Hopkinson’s U.S. flag of seven white stripes can be found in the Great Seal of the United States and the President’s seal. When Hopkinson was chairman of the Navy Board, his position was like that of today’s Secretary of the Navy. The payment was not made, however, because it was determined he had already received a salary as a member of Congress. This contradicts the legend of the Betsy Ross flag, which suggests that she sewed the first Stars and Stripes flag by request of the government in the Spring of 1776. Furthermore, a letter from the War Board to George Washington on May 10, 1779, documents that there was still no design established for a national flag for the Army’s use in battle.

The origin of the stars and stripes design has been muddled by a story disseminated by the descendants of Betsy Ross. The apocryphal story credits Betsy Ross for sewing the first flag from a pencil sketch handed to her by George Washington. No evidence for this exists either in the diaries of George Washington nor in the records of the Continental Congress. Indeed, nearly a century passed before Ross’ grandson, William Canby, first publicly suggested the story in 1870. By her family’s own admission, Ross ran an upholstery business, and she had never made a flag as of the supposed visit in June 1776. Furthermore, her grandson admitted that his own search through the Journals of Congress and other official records failed to find corroboration of his grandmother’s story.

The family of Rebecca Young claimed that she sewed the first flag. Young’s daughter was Mary Pickersgill, who made the Star Spangled Banner Flag. According to rumor, the Washington family coat of arms, shown in a 15th-century window of Selby Abbey, was the origin of the stars and stripes. Read more

desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait
desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait

10% off

for joining the Redbubble mailing list

Receive exclusive deals and awesome artist news and content right to your inbox. Free for your convenience.