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"American Flag house and Betsy Ross Memorial Association Membership certificate"

(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
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In 1870 William J. Canby, a grandson of Elizabeth (Betsy) Ross of Philadelphia, read a paper before the Philadelphia Historical Society. He claimed that in June, 1776, his grandmother had, in consultation with Gen. George Washington, created the original flag of the United States. He based his claims on several statements made by Betsy Ross (who had died in 1830) and her daughter, William's mother. Charles H. Weisgerber then painted the "Birth of Our Nation's Flag," imagining the meeting between Washington and Ross. In 1898, his brother George Canby and nephew Lloyd Balderston, expanded the story in a book and formed the Betsy Ross Memorial Association. To raise funds to purchase Ross's house (at 239 or 241 Arch St. in Philadelphia), they sold ten-cent subscriptions to the American Flag House and Memorial Association. Their campaign was part of a national mania for the American flag that had begun in the 1890s. Prior to then, although the flag had been an important national symbol, it was not given the kind of reverence it is shown today. Particular flags were venerated but even as late as 1889, most of the country's schools did not fly flags. That changed dramatically in the 1890s. The Grand Army of the Republic, the Civil War Union veteran's organization, made the veneration of the flag its own crusade. It took up the creation of Flag Day, finally made a national holiday in 1916 and pressed for laws requiring the public display of the flag. There is some debate as to whether Ross did, in fact, design the flag; the answer is "probably not." She certainly did not do it in 1776; as late as 1779 Washington was corresponding with Congress about a standardized flag for the United States.


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