When I was six, my mom gave me a copy of this book.
After reading it, I was hooked. American History was my thing. Betsy Ross was my home girl. All of this is still true. I’m a graduate student in early American history and in my apartment right now, I have a Betsy Ross action figure, a Betsy Ross finger puppet, and a Betsy Ross rubber duck. I love American History like I love Alex P. Keaton. (If you’re looking for an adverb for that last sentence, “passionately” and “hopelessly” might be good candidates.) I’d go door to door selling copies of the Declaration of Independence if I didn’t want to horn in on Mormon territory and I keep a copy of the Constitution in my purse. It is not inaccurate to say that the Fourth of July is my favorite holiday. I have a chart on my wall showing which Mayflower passengers lived to the first Thanksgiving. It’s possible that the letters of John and Abigail Adams make me laugh, cry, and wish that they could come to dinner tomorrow night.
My love affair with history is long, I don’t see it ending anytime soon, and Betsy Ross is to blame. When I was six, soon after I read that book for the first time, I visited her house in Philadelphia. I was just as excited for her house as I was two years earlier for Minnie Mouse.When I was a senior in high school, I played the famous flag designer (and other roles of dubious historical accuracy) in “The Complete History of the United States (Abridged)”.
And last year, when I visited friends in Philly for New Year’s, I happened upon her house again. It was still awesome.
Betsy Ross may be overdramatized in history, but I don’t care. While she may have only suggested that the star on the first American flag have five points instead of six, somewhere along the way someone decided to talk about her, and that’s what mattered.
It’s important to find stories that speak to us, that let us know we’re not alone in what we think or how we feel. That’s one of the great things about history—it encompasses the entire human experience. It’s impossible to know everything, so I’m constantly discovering new people and events and stories that change the way I think about history itself, but also my life, and the world. Another reincarnation of Alex P. Keaton named Marty McFly may have had some success with time travel, but reading about history is just as exciting. Betsy Ross may have just run a quiet, respectable upholstery shop in Philadelphia or she may also have sewn the first American flag. It really doesn’t matter to me either way. It matters that she lived, and that she died, and that she’s remembered for doing something special. In the end, we all want to do something special, something that makes our existence worthwhile. So, thank you, Betsy. Thank you for helping me find my passion. Thank you for leading me to the path I’ll follow to do something special. Maybe someday someone will make a rubber duck of me. Because that would be amazing.
P.S. If you’re looking for an article by a credible historian about Betsy Ross, this is one of the best I’ve read.