20 Fun Flag Facts (To Break Out at the New Years Party).

Betsy Ross image

1. The author of the Pledge of Allegiance, Francis Bellamy, an editor at the Youth’s Companion magazine, created it in 1892 for students to help commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage to the New World, and as a way to help immigrant children and the children of immigrants build loyalty to the United States.

2. A small-town Wisconsin schoolteacher, B.J. Cigrand, first conceived of, and worked for, the idea of a national June 14 Flag Day in 1885.

3. There is no historical evidence that Betsy Ross made the first American flag—nor that she helped design it. The preponderance of historical evidence points to the fact that Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence from New Jersey, designed the Stars and Stripes.

4. The Pledge’s words have been changed three times. The words of Bellamy’s original Pledge, which was used until 1923, are: “I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands; one nation indivisible, with liberty and Justice for all.”

5. The American public did not learn the Betsy Ross story until 1870, when her grandson, William Canby, held a press conference in Philadelphia to report that his research, based on family stories, showed that his grandmother made the flag at the behest of George Washington.

6. The Stars and Stripes was not flown by Washington’s forces in the Revolutionary War. The flag most widely used by his forces was the Continental Colors, which had thirteen red and white stripes and the Union Jack in the canton. After-the-fact paintings such as “Washington Crossing the Delaware” that depict the Stars and Stripes in the war are inaccurate.

7. The first noon martyr in the Civil War was Col. Elmer Ellsworth, a close friend of Abraham Lincoln’s who was shot and killed in Alexandria, Virginia, in May of 1861 by the owner of an inn after Ellsworth tore down a Confederate flag flying over the establishment.  Ellsworth’s body lay in state at the White House and the slogan “Remember Ellsworth” accompanied by images of the American flag was popular in the north throughout the war.

8. Martin Van Buren was the first U.S. President to be born as an American citizen under the Stars and Stripes. Van Buren, our 8th president was born in 1782 in Kinderhook, New York. Andrew Jackson, his predecessor, was born in 1767, ten years before Congress adopted the first Flag Resolution on June 14, 1777.

9. “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which Key wrote in 1815, did not become the National Anthem until 1931.

10. The only battle deaths at Ft. Sumter were two men who were killed after the Union surrender during an aborted 50-gun salute to the flag order by Major Robert Anderson, the fort’s commander, as the flag was lowered over the fort.

11. Although many have speculated, we do not know why the American flag contains stars and stripes, nor why the colors red, white and blue were chosen.

12. It was almost unheard of for Americans to fly the flag at their homes or businesses until the fall of Ft. Sumter in April 1861. Until then, the flag was primarily used by the military as a communications device (mostly on Navy ships).

13. The first Union martyr in the Civil War was Col. Elmer Ellsworth, a close friend of Abraham Lincoln’s who was shot and killed in Alexandria, Virginia, in May of 1861 by the owner of an inn after Ellsworth tore down a Confederate flag flying over the establishment.  Ellsworth’s body lay in state at the White House and the slogan “Remember Ellsworth” accompanied by images of the American flag was popular in the north throughout the war.

14. On June 5, 1862, Union General Benjamin Franklin Butler, as military governor of New Orleans, gave the order to execute 21-year-old William Mumford for pulling down the Stars and Stripes from the U.S. Mint. In reaction, Confederate President Jefferson Davis issued a death sentence for Butler, and President Lincoln relieved Butler of his command.

15. U.S. Navy hero John Paul Jones has three flag firsts. As senior lieutenant on the Alfred in December 1775, he was the first person to unfurl the Continental Colors on a naval vessel. On February 14,1778, Jones arranged for his ship, the Ranger, to exchange salutes with a French Admiral in Quiberon Bay, marking the first time a foreign nation saluted the American flag. On April 24, 1778, Jones and the Ranger captured the British sloop Drake off the English coast—the first victory at sea for a U.S. Navy ship flying the American flag.

16. The consensus of historical opinion is that the story of 95-year-old Barbara Frietschie of Frederick, Maryland, defiantly waving the American flag troops as Confederate soldiers marched through the city on September 10, 1862, which was immortalized in John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem, is a myth.

17. The Star-Spangled Banner, the historic flag made by Mary Pickersgill in Baltimore in 1815, had 15 stars and 15 stripes. Three years later, Congress enacted the third and final Flag Resolution, mandating that official flags thereafter would have thirteen stripes and one star for each state.

18. The first African-American recipient of the Medal of Honor, William Carney, was honored for his actions with the Massachusetts 45th Regiment at the Battle of Ft. Wagner in South Carolina when Carney, severely wounded, picked up the American flag of his unit’s slain flag bearer and led the troops in the assault—the battle is portrayed in the movie, Glory.

19. The flag’s image became part of a national political campaign for the first time in the presidential election of 1840 when William Henry Harrison and his running mate John Tyler (“Tippecanoe and Tyler, too”) used a log cabin on campaign banners, bandannas, ribbons, and broadsides. The flag flew prominently beside cabins. The campaign also employed Stars and Stripes banners with Harrison’s name inscribed on them.

20. Only one state, Pennsylvania, observes June 14 as a legal state Flag Day holiday, and has done so since 1937.

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