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:
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!