At this year’s “First Crossing” at Washington’s Crossing, I got into a conversation with a reporter from Malibu California who was trying to reconcile what he was with the well-known Washington Crossing the Delaware painting by Emanuel Leutze.  I am amazed at the number of people who see things like this famous painting and fail to understand that this is not a contemporaneous record of the event.  Leutze painted his portrait in Bremen Germany in 1851 not at MacConkey’s Ferry in 1776.  The number one question he kept asking, interestingly was about the flags.  He could not understand why the Betsy Ross American Flag was not being ferried across with Washington.

Let’s review a few flag facts.  The American Army in 1776 was not really a united American Army.  The official Continental Army was only one of many American Armies under Washington’s command.  Each of these armies marched under their own standard.  Below is a list of links to those flags:

1st Infantry Regiment 1st Navy Jack 1st Pennsylvania Rifles 2nd Connecticut Regiment 2nd New Hampshire Regiment 3rd New York Regiment 11th Virginia Regiment 13 Star U.S. Flags 17 September 1788 flag Alexander Hamilton Battery Alliance Anthony Wayne Treaty Flag Bedford Flag Bennington Flag Betsy Ross Flag Brandywine Flag Bunker Hill Flag Bucks of America Flag Calvert Arms/King’s Colors Commander in Chief’s Guard Connecticut Colonial Privateer Constitution Flag Continental Army Continental Navy Cowpens Flag  Culpeper Dansey Flag Dorr Rebellion Easton Flag Forster Flag Fort Mifflin Free Trade and Sailor’s Rights French Alliance French-Indian War Gadsden Gostelowe Standard No. 10 Grand Union Flag Green Mountain BoysGuilford Courthouse Hanover Associators Hulbert Huntington Independent Co. of Newburyport Kentish Guards Liberty Tree Flag Lord Baltimore Flag Massachusetts Rev. War Flags Moultrie Flag Nathan Beman’s flag New England Flags New York Rev. War Flags Newburyport Independent Marine Company Flag Newport Light Infantry Pepperell flag Philadelphia Light Horse Proctor’s Battalion Pulaski’s Legion Rhode Island Rev. War Flags Rhode Island Regiment Russian American Company Schuyler Flag Serapis Flag Sons of Liberty South Carolina Rev. War Flags Taunton Flag Valley Forge flag Virginia Colonial Flag United Company of the Train of Artillery Washington’s Cruisers Washington’s Personal Position Flag Webb’s Continental Regiment Whiskey Rebellion Flag White Plains Flag

The flag Leutze portrays is the “Betsy Ross” flag which has its own mythology, but these are the important dates to remember about the “Betsy Ross” flag:

  • The Continental Congress resolved to adopt a unified American Naval Jack with thirteen alternating stripes on June 14, 1777. 
  • Debate on how to interpret this resolution continued until September 3, 1777 when the first flag using the orders of Congress was actually made – possibly by Betsy Ross.
  • Washington did adopt this flag for his army but not until the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777.

So, why does Washington not carry the “American Flag” across the Delaware as shown in the portrait.  They would have if they had one, but that flag won’t exist for another nine months!

Published by Michael Carver

My goal is to bring history alive through interactive portrayal of ordinary American life in the late 18th Century (1750—1799) My persona are: Journeyman Brewer; Cordwainer (leather tradesman but not cobbler), Statesman and Orator; Chandler (candle and soap maker); Gentleman Scientist; and, Soldier in either the British Regular Army, the Centennial Army, or one of the various Militia. Let me help you experience history 1st hand!

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