Born in Bordentown: The Hopkinson Stars and Stripes
The history of the American flag is steeped in myth and mystery. In the most popular account, George Washington personally paid a visit to Betsy Ross and asked he to sew the first American flag from a design penned by his own hand. Although Ross did indeed manufacture a number of early American flag, historians believe that her role in creating the "first" American flag is more legend than reality.
The historical evidence actually points to a New Jersey resident name Francis Hopkinson as the true originator of the American flag. Born in Philadelphia in 1737, Hopkinson moved to Bordentown following his marriage to a local woman named Anne Borden. He went on to serve as a delegate to the Continental Congress and become one of the five New Jerseyans to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Hopkinson also distinguished himself as a talented artist with a particular interest in heraldry.
According to letters housed in the National Archives, Hopkinson design the American flag during the Revolutionary War while serving with the Continental Navy Board. In a series of letters written in 1780, Hopkinson asserted that he has design "the flag of the United States of America" and requested payment for his contribution. After a lengthy deliberation, Congress declined to pay for his services on the grounds that he was a civil servant at the time, and others were involved, however they did not deny his role in the flag's design. The archival evidence is bolstered by the fast that Hopkinson worked for the Navy during the time period that most historians believe that the American flag was derived from a Navy flag, or ensign.
Because no actual flags or sketches have survived, the exact appearance of the Hopkinson remains unknown. It likely consisted of a field of thirteen alternating red and white stars arranged in a "staggered" pattern - an arrangement forming the outline of the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew that appear on the British flag. The stars on the flag are believed to have been six-pointed. Similar six-pointed stars can be found on other documents connected to Hopkinson, including his proposed design for the Great Seal of the United States. Hopkinson's use of the red and white stripes came from a similar design found on his family crest.
Amazingly, the basic design elements - stars and stripes - that Francis Hopkinson created are still found in today's American flag - a testament to the legacy of a New Jersey patriot whose achievement has largely been obscured by lore and legend.
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- Released: 6/20/2020