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  13 HAND-EMBROIDERED STARS AND EXPERTLY HAND-SEWN STRIPES ON AN ANTIQUE AMERICAN FLAG MADE IN PHILADELPHIA IN BY RACHEL ALBRIGHT OR SARAH M. WILSON, GRANDDAUGHTER AND GREAT GRANDDAUGHTER OF BETSY ROSS, 1898-1913

Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 13.25" x 16.75"
Flag Size (H x L): 5.5" x 9"
Description....:
13 star American national flag, entirely hand-sewn by Rachel Albright or Sarah M. Wilson, the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of Betsy Ross. The stripes are constructed of silk ribbon carefully pieced with tiny stitches and a degree of precision seldom seen on American textiles. The five-pointed stars are executed with lineal lines like a spokes on a carriage wheel or the rowel of a spur. These are sewn with silk floss on a canton made of blue silk taffeta. An open sleeve, made of plain weave cotton, binds the hoist, through which a wooden staff could be inserted if desired.

Beginning around 1898, Rachel began producing flags like this one in the East Wing of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. She sold them to tourists and probably sometimes gifted them to individuals who made donations to the American Flag House and Betsy Ross Memorial Association. She was elderly and sometime around 1902, as her health began to fail, she was joined by her daughter, Sarah Wilson, and the two women operated their tiny cottage industry until 1905, when Rachel relocated to Fort Madison, Iowa. She passed in 1907. Sarah continued in the trade until around 1913.

Rachel was born in Betsy's house in Phildelphia in 1812. Her mother, Clarissa, was assisting Betsy with her flag-making and upholstery business at the time and would eventually inherit it. Raised by her mother and grandmother, Rachel relates how she was "cradled among the Flags made for the United States shipping at the Navy Yard" during the war of 1812, then underway, and how she "learned her first letters, at [Betsy's] knee."* Rachel would eventually be taught the trade by her mother, who would, in turn, pass her knowledge of the craft on to Sarah.

The Albright and Wilson flags are extraordinary because of their tiny size and silk, hand-sewn construction. They are easy to identify because their characteristics are so distinctive. There is nothing else like them among 13 star flags made during this period. That having been said, they were individually made and do exhibit a small degree of personalized variation. The sleeves or hoist bindings vary in width and some have tiny, hand-sewn grommets. These flags typically either came with a separate note or a direct signature. This one has neither, but its condition and colors are exceptional.

Rachael and Sarah proudly proclaimed that a circular wreath pattern was the design on the very first flag in 1777, but no hard evidence exists to substantiate it. In fact, no one knows precisely what the star configuration was on the first flag, but it is unlikely that it had a perfect circle of stars. Of the very few colonial examples that survive, none are in this pattern. Further, while there are thousands of 13 star flags that still exist today, having been made during the 19th century for all manner of patriotic and utilitarian purposes, almost none made prior to the 1890’s survive that have their stars arranged in the “Betsy Ross” pattern.

Research conducted by the National Museum of American History notes that the story of Betsy Ross making the very first American flag for General George Washington, in the company of George Ross and Robert Morris, entered into American consciousness about the time of the 1876 centennial. The tale was immensely popular among an American public eager for stories about the Revolution and its heroes. The first documentation of it appeared shortly beforehand, in 1870, in a paper written by Betsy’s grandson, William Canby, for the Pennsylvania Historical Society. At the time, Canby made no mention of how the flag was designed, save for the fact that it had 5-pointed stars, per his grandmother’s suggestion. Because no earlier documentation supports the story, most flag scholars feel it was a grand hoax, fabricated by Canby for his own interests. Nothing survives in the collective writings of the three men, for example, nor in records of their words and deeds, which are fairly extensive. As with most things, reality is perhaps somewhere in the middle ground, with some of the details based on fact and some on fiction, made up, misinterpreted, or imagined from family accounts.

The first time that a star configuration gets attached to the Ross story appears to have occurred during the last decade of the 19th century. In 1892, Charles Weisgerber painted a nine-by-twelve-foot rendition of the fabled meeting between Betsy and George Washington, in which there is a flag with a circular wreath. Shortly afterwards, in 1898, Rachel began making these little flags while disseminating family folklore. In that same year, Weisgerber and a “group of concerned citizens” sought to preserve Betsy’s former Philadelphia residence at 239 Arch Street, where she lived at the time the flag would have been sewed. Weisgerber moved his family into the house and immediately opened to the public the room in which Betsy was said to have worked her magic. Ten-cent memberships were sold to fund renovations and donors received a small calendar, to which a cotton 13 star Betsy Ross pattern parade flag was affixed. The effects of these events caused the Ross legend to stick, and the story, with the corresponding flag design, has appeared ever since in more places than one could ever hope to count.

One of these small flags appears on the Betsy Ross House website (http://www.ushistory.org/betsy/house/room9.html). A signed example is picture in “The Stars and the Stripes” by Mastai, (1973, Knopf, New York), p. 228.

* Source: A hand-written account of the Ross story, owned by Jeff R. Bridgman Antiques, Inc., penned in 1903, entitled "A sketch of Betsy Ross, who made the first Flag of our nation. June 14th 1777. And also of her Grand-daughter Rachel Albright, who made copies of the original Flag, and has them for sale." Signed "Rachel Albright. Signed with permission." Probably penned by Sarah Wilson.

Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed within our own conservation department, which is led by expert staff. We take great care in the mounting and preservation of flags and have framed thousands of examples.

The exceptional, black-painted, American molding is very early and may date to the 18th century. We modified this by extending the back to accommodate the mount. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic. Feel free to contact us for more details.

Condition: Exceptional.
Collector Level: Advanced Collectors and the Person with Everything
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 13
Earliest Date of Origin: 1898
Latest Date of Origin: 1913
State/Affiliation: 13 Original Colonies
War Association:
Price: SOLD
E-mail: Inquire
 

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