The story of the Stars and Stripes is the story of the nation itself; the evolution of the flag is symbolic of the evolutions of our free institutions and their development as part of the great nation they represent.
In the early days of the Republic, when the Thirteen Original States were still British Colonies, the banners borne by the Revolutionary forces were widely varied.
The local flags and colonial devices displayed in battle on land and sea during the first months of the American Revolution carried the various grievances that the individual states had against the Mother Country.
The first public reference to the flag was published on March 10, 1774. A Boston newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, ran this poem to the flag:
"A ray of bright glory now beams from afar.
Blest drawn of an empire to rise:
The American Ensign now sparkles a star
Which shall shortly flame wide through the skies."
On June 15, 1775, when General Washington had been appointed commander-in-chief of the Continental forces for the defense of American Liberty, the Continental Congress was still corresponding with King George to present their grievances.
In the fall of 1775, the revolting colonies chose a flag that reflected their feeling of unity with the Mother Country, but also expressed their demand to obtain justice and liberty.
In Taunton, MA, a flag was unfurled in 1774 which carries the British Jack in the canton and was combined with a solid red with the words, "Liberty and Union" printed on it.
The famous Rattlesnake flag carried by the Minutemen in 1775 showed thirteen red and white stripes with a rattlesnake emblazoned across it and the warning words "Don't Tread on Me".
In 1775, the banner that flew over Fort Moultrie displayed a crescent on a blue field with the word "Liberty" printed in white. When this flag was shot down by the enemy muskets, a brave sergeant named Jasper nailed it back to the staff at the risk of his life.
The Pine Tree Flag, which flew over the troops at Bunker Hill in 1775, displayed the pine tree symbol of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was a white flag with top and bottom stripe of blue and it showed a green pine tree with the words "Liberty Tree - An Appeal to God".
The first flag or ensign to represent the colonies at sea was raised by John Paul Jones from the deck of the ship Alfred on Dec. 3, 1775. A month later George Washington displayed this same design and named it the Grand Union Flag. This was on Jan. 2, 1776. It had thirteen alternate red and white stripes and a blue field with the crosses of Saint Andrew and Saint George on it.
After July 4, 1776, the people of the colonies felt the need of a national flag to symbolize their new spirit of unity and independence.
"Resolved that the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes alternate red and white: that the union be thirteen stars, white on a blue field."
The significance of the colors was defined thus: "White signifies Purity and Innocence; Red, Hardiness and Valor; Blue, Vigilance, Perseverance and Justice."
Francis Hopkinson, signer of the Declaration of Independence and a member of the Continental Congress is credited with having designed the American flag.
Betsy Ross, a flag maker of Philadelphia, is credited by some historians with having made the first flag and with having suggested that the start be five-pointed.
The home of Betsy Ross, at 239 Arch Street, Philadelphia, is a National Shrine and the flag flies on a staff from her third floor window. Thousands of people of all nations visit this house, which s known as the Birthplace of Old Glory.
Betsy Ross had a grandson, William J. Canby, who wrote, in 1857, that he was told the story as a boy of eleven by his eighty-four year old grandmother, Betsy Ross.
It is true that Betsy Ross was known as a flag maker and that there is in the archives of the Navy, an order to Elizabeth Ross "for making Ships Colors for 14 pounds 12 shillings and 2 pence, paid to her exactly two weeks before the Marine Committee's resolution of June 14th, 1777, which adopted the theme of the red and white striped Union Flag of Holland to the flag of the 13 United States of America".
Ezra Stiles, President of Yale University, recorded in his diary the resolution passed by Congress in 1777.
"The Congress have substituted a new Constella of 13 stars (instead of the union) in the Continental Colors."
On May 1, 1795, our flag was changed to 15 stripes and 15 stars with the inclusion of Vermont (1791) and Kentucky (1792) into the Union.
It was this flag that was "so gallantly streaming" over Fort McHenry when Francis Scott Key wrote The Star Spangled Banner. The fifteen striped, 15 starred flag was flying from 1795 to 1818.
On April 4, 1818, Congress enacted the following law which is still in effect:
"That the Flag of the United States be 13 horizontal stripes, alternate red and white, and that on the admission of every State into the Union, one star to be added on the Fourth of July next succeeding admission."