Oh Flag Betty, Bam A Lam

Betsy Ross is widely credited with being the creator of the first American flag. Despite much debate over this fact, one thing is true, Betsy Ross is one of the most prominent faces in both American and flag history.

Elizabeth Griscom was born on January 1, 1752 in Philadelphia, PA; the 8th of 17 children. She was born into a strict Quaker environment where she learned to sew early in her life from her great-aunt Elizabeth Griscom. After becoming an upholstery apprentice following Quaker schooling, she soon fell in love and married her coworker John Ross. Because Ross was an Episcopal Christian, the Quaker community quickly separated itself from Elizabeth. Betsy and John soon joined Christ Church of Philadelphia where George Washington attended. As you can guess, this is important for the rest of the story.

Betsy and John soon opened up their own upholstery business to start their lives together. When the Revolutionary war began in 1775, John joined the militia, leaving Betsy to remain with their upholstery business. John would eventually be killed in January, 1776 by a gunpowder explosion, leaving Betsy widowed at the young age of 24. Betsy continued to run the upholstery shop…

According to Betsy, George Washington (leader of the Continental Army), Robert Morris (one of the wealthiest men in the US) and Colonel George Ross (uncle of John) approached Betsy about making the first American flag. At that point, she had known Washington from church and had often sewn for him and Martha. Washington had apparently wanted a 6 point star, but after showing how to cut a 5-point star with one swipe of the scissors, they were convinced that she was the right person for the job. She created a 13 star design in a circle. The 13 stars represented the original 13 colonies and is still used in many American flag designs today.

Grand Union Flag

Grand Union Flag

As the Revolutionary War continued, a new flag was needed for the American colonies. Up until this time, most colonies were using flags inspired by Great Britain, such as the Grand Union flag. This is where most of the story gets tricky. The reason most people believe that Betsy Ross created the first American flag is because of a letter that William Canby, Betsy’s grandson, sent to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1870, 34 years following her death and a full 96 years following the actual creation of the flag. In this paper, Canby recounts a story that his Aunt had told him regarding the creation by Betsy. However, many of the stories and accounts in this paper have been unable to be verified; however, by most Americans, the story has been accepted as truth and she is generally regarded with the first American flag creation. Will we really ever know if Betsy Ross was responsible for creating the first official American flag? Sadly, probably not.

Getting back to the story! Following the death of John, she returned to her Quaker roots. She would then get remarried to a mariner by the name of Joseph Ashburm. With Joseph, Betsy became pregnant with two daughters, one of which miscarried. A British ship captured Joseph and returned him to a prison in England where he died of unknown reasons without ever meeting his daughter.

Betsy Ross Headstone

Betsy Ross Headstone

She eventually married again to a man named John Claypoole and had 5 more daughters, all the while still running the upholstery shop. John passed away in 1817 after 34 years of marriage. Betsy never remarried and eventually moved in with one of her daughters in Philadelphia following her retirement. She passed away in 1836 and was buried in a Quaker burial site in Philadelphia, PA.

If you are looking for a Betsy Ross flag or any other historical flags for that matter, please check out our website at www.flagexpressions.com.

The History Behind The Conch Republic Flag

Conch Republic Flag

Conch Republic Flag

Working for a flag company you get a lot of questions about the meaning behind all the different flags that we carry. We had been getting a lot of request for the Conch Republic flag and also a lot of questions about it. So I thought I’d take the time to discuss it’s unique and interesting history. For those of you who have never been to the Conch Republic also known as Key West, it is an understatement to say that it stands out from the rest of the United States. The people that live there are truly a great and unique bunch. Everyone is on island time, like a vacation year round. You never know what you may experience; if you wander into a unknown bar you may find that you are that only one in attendance that is fully clothed. The history of Key West has always been outside the norm from the rest of the United States. This is something they take great pride in, so why should their flag represent anything less?

The Southern Most point of the United States

The Southern Most point of the United States

To drive to Key West, you have to travel the only route south of Florida, crossing several bridges, islands and one 7 mile bridge. It is about a 160 mile drive from the tip of Florida. In fact it is known as the southern most point of the entire United States. Most of Key West’s income relies on tourism. It is such a popular tourist destination because of the year round warm climate, blue water, beaches, seaport, history, abundance of activities and it’s relaxed and unique atmosphere.

In 1982 the United States government felt that illegal immigrants and drugs could easily be brought into the US through the Keys because of its close proximity to Cuba (90 miles away). The government felt it was best to set up a inspection check point or border patrol on the only road leaving the Keys because it was too difficult to watch all of its shore line. The inspection point was so heavily monitored that traffic backed up for miles while all cars were searched. Because there is only one road going in and coming out of the Keys, traffic can be delayed easily on a good day so this newly added check point was not welcomed. The delays became well known and tourism decreased drastically which hurt the economy. The people of the Keys were so upset with the United States and their border control that they began protesting. All protests went unanswered and the people demanded to be heard. On April 23, 1982 the Prime Minister of Key West (Dennis Wardlow) decided they would be heard so he proclaimed the secession of Key West from the United States. The new country would be known as the Conch Republic, they had a flag made and threatened to remove the American one. Immediately following the proclamation read by the Prime Minister the people of Key West started “beating” federal officials in attendance with stale bread. They then surrendered to the federal officials and asked the United States for Foreign aid. Just like the history of Key West their methods were unconventional but they got their point across. The protests of the people were finally heard, although the United States government never formerly acknowledge the succession, they did however remove the border patrol road block.

Key West

Key West

Since then the people of the keys have been proud to be the people of the Conch Republic, the only group to successfully secede from the United States. Their motto is “We seceded where others failed”. It may have only happened in their eyes and the US government never took it seriously but they did what they had to do to save their community. It was a very brave thing but there was some humor behind it. They knew after all, that without the importing of supplies and food from the United States the only thing they would have to eat is Conch.

Sunset Sailing at Key West

Sunset Sailing at Key West

Although the Conch Republic flag initially represented Key West it can now can be seeing flying throughout all the other keys. It represents the unique culture and unconventional ways of the people of the Keys.

History Behind Semaphore Flags

Optical “telegraphs” or signaling devices have been traced back to ancient times (using torches) and were the fastest systems to convey messages over long distances. These “telegraphs” could have since been in the form of torches, smoke signals and eventually semaphore towers.

Semaphore towers used large blades/paddles to convey messages. These messages were decoded based on the fixed positions of these arms and could transmit signals up to 150 miles in two minutes using multiple towers.

The semaphore tower/semaphore line design was first thought up by Robert Hooke in 1684 and submitted to the Royal Society. The system was not implemented though due to military concerns. However, this did lead to Claude Chappe developing the first visual telegraph in 1792 – eventually covering much of France via 556 stations. In France, this was the primary source of communication for military and national applications, until it became more widely used in the 1850’s. Designs varied between using shudders open and closed to holes being open and closed, but Chappe’s design became the most widely used semaphore design.

Chappe’s design used large towers that had a single crossbar with large pivoting “arms” at the ends and were spaced as far as part as the eye could see. The crossbar could be used in 4 different positions while the arms could be in 7 different positions each, for a combination of 196 (4x7x7) characters. These 196 characters could be combined to create a multitude of messages and phrases. Some have estimated that there were as many as 9,999 different “codes” created.

Many other takes of semaphores became created, including the naval signaling code flags which are still used today. These flags could be used in combination to become different words and messages and thus not have to spell out each word since messages were usually needed to be displayed quickly. This system however proved to be slow during battle since these flags were hoisted to the top of the ship for display.

Even Napoleon used one design to communicate to his army strategies and locations of his enemies. These semaphore stations were so successful that the French government rejected Samual Morse‘s first proposals of the electrical telegraph, citing that its design was flawed by wires being able to be cut easily.

These visual messaging systems eventually led to semaphore flags. These flags were used in the same way that the arms were used on the semaphore towers – different fixed positions mean different messages. Semaphore flags were primarily used for naval applications to communicate message between boats. It proved to be a very useful tactic during battles, most famously the Battle of Trafalgar during the Napoleonic Wars.

Today these flags have become smaller and are usually mounted to small dowels or poles to allow them to be seen easier. Maritime use flags are red and yellow (or the OSCAR) flag and while in land use, the flags are blue and white (or the PAPA) flag. Even though they are not in use much anymore, they still serve for some boats and ships.

So why did we get rid of them?

Well, there were two critical downfalls of all the systems:

  1. They had no secrecy. Everyone within visual distances could see the message and therefore react to it. This proved to be one of the design’s most fatal wartime attributes.
  2. They were practically invisible at night time and during heavy fog and rain.

Both of these reasons lead to the electrical telegraph and Morse Code, both “invented” by Samuel F.B. Morse.

So, the next thing you know, we went to electrical telegraphs, pony express, telephone, radio, television, computers, fax machines, satellite televisions, cellular phones and the internet. What is next to come in communication? I for one can not even begin to imagine all of the amazing devices we will see in the future. The one thing I do know is that ultimately semaphore flags and towers inspired all designs since. To see how basic letters are signaled with semaphore flags, please check out this video:

History of the Gadsden Flag

Gadsden Flag

Gadsden Flag

Lately on the news I have been seeing people lining up at town halls, mayor offices, and government buildings rallying for their causes. Whether it be health care, bail out plans, or a hopeful bid to reinstate bell bottom jeans as the official pants of Minnesota, we all have our causes. One thing I have noticed at most of these rallies is a weird looking yellow flag with a rattlesnake…what I have found out to be the Gadsden flag. I decided to do a little investigation into the history of this flag so we can all understand the exact meaning. Hope you guys (and girls) enjoy!

So what is the significance of the rattlesnake, I mean that is a little scary, but at least he shakes his tail to let you know you are in danger. Rattlesnakes are not more intimidating than the Numa Numa guy. Well there is more to the rattlesnake story. The US colonies were first depicted as a rattlesnake in a political cartoon in 1774 by…Benjamin Franklin. Yes sir, you heard that right, Mr. Bifocals himself is responsible. In his cartoon, the US colonies were depicted as an 8 sectioned snake with the saying: “Join, or Die”, referring to the “disunited state” of the colonies. This was designed to inspire unity in the defense against France but was later used in defense from the British.

This is where Christopher Gadsden comes in. Now Christopher Gadsden was a true man’s man. He was a founder and leader of the Sons of Liberty and a delegate on the First Continental Congress before leaving to become a colonel in the Continental Army. Between Gadsden and the Continental Congress, they chose Esek Hopkins as their commander-in-chief of the US Navy. Believing in the importance of Navy commanders to have their own “distinct personal standard”, Gadsden created what is now called the Gadsden Flag or sometimes the Hopkins Flag. The flag was presented in Charleston, South Carolina, where it is still proudly flown today, among many other places.

Since the creation, it was altered to become two other separate important flags in US history…the Culpeper Flag and the First Navy Jack Flag. The Culpeper Flag, which was used during the American Revolution by the Culpeper County, VA minutemen. This flag however was white instead of yellow and bore an added slogan “Liberty or Death”. Also, it is correctly spelled Culpeper, not Culpepper…so all of your Detroit Lions fans, if there are any left, you have the wrong Culpepper!

Also, the First Navy Jack Flag has adopted the Rattlesnake design and was first distributed as fleet signals by Hopkins. This flag features 13 red and white alternating stripes with an uncoiled rattlesnake with “Dont Tread On Me” on the 12th stripe. These stripes represent the first 13 colonies and was probably first introduced as a US Navy flag following the 1777 adoption of the First Stars and Stripes Law. This law said that the flags of the United States consist of 13 red and white alternating stripes symbolize the 13 colonies. The First Navy Jack has been flown on the oldest serving ship in the Navy, with the last as the USS Kitty Hawk. Then, in May 31, 2002 the Secretary of Navy ordered all Navy ships to fly the First Navy Jack during the War on Terrorism.

The Gadsden Flag started as a military flag to inspire unity, to inspire change, and to inspire freedom amongst all Americans. Now, after 235 years, it still serves as a symbol to stand up for the things we believe in and stand firm to our positions. Be true to yourself, your country, and your beliefs and don’t let anyone tread on you!