This week, Nike is halting distribution of a new sneaker featuring the “Betsy Ross” American flag, which features 13 stars in a circle for the original 13 states.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the decision came after former NFL player and activist Colin Kaepernick complained that the flag was a throwback to an era when prominent Americans held slaves.
As the most famous seamstress in American history comes back around for another 15 minutes of fame, it’s worth dusting off a history book to see what’s behind the flag that was sewn into the new line of shoes.
You may have learned in elementary school that Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag at the request of Gen. George Washington.
In an interview with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Marc Leepson, author of “Flag: An American Biography,” argued that the story is more fable than fact.
“Every historical study has come to the same conclusion,” he said. “There’s no good historical evidence that she did. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t. There’s simply a lack of documentation. Most historians believe the story is apocryphal.”
On what would become Flag Day, June 14, 1777, Congress passed a law calling for single American flag to replace the various standards flying at the time. “Resolved. That the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternating red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”
The Betsy Ross flag may just be a tall tale
But according to Ross family legend, it was a year earlier when the Founding Fathers walked into Ross’ home, where she sat sewing. Nearly a century later, Ross’ grandson William Canby published the first known written account of the original flag in a paper entitled “The History of the Flag of the United States.”
His story depicts Washington and his men stating that they’re members of a committee of Congress and that they had been appointed to create a flag.
According to Canby, they asked his grandmother whether she could make one, and Ross told Washington that “she did not know but she could try; she had never made one but if the pattern were shown to her she had not doubt of her ability to do it.”
According to the story, Ross went back and forth with Washington and his men on design ideas before agreeing on a final look.
Canby’s written version of the Ross family history picked up attention and was essentially the mainstream view with the publication of the book “The Evolution of the American Flag” in 1909, according to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
Historians agree, however, that Ross later sewed American flags for the Pennsylvania navy, Leepson says.
And regardless of whether the story of the very first flag is true, it’s an endearing one, and it endures.