Barnabas Webb was a Revolutionary War soldier. Like most other soldiers of the time, he carried a powder horn filled with gunpowder. Also like many of his mates, he carved images on the powder horn that meant something to him. Historians are now interested in what Barnabas Webb engraved on his powder horn: an image of a flag with stars and stripes. Is it the earliest known flag with Stars and Stripes? The historians disagree.
The image on Barnabas Webb's powder horn is tiny: fingernail sized. If those are indeed stars, Web made tiny representations of them that look more like dots. Click on the image above to see a larger picture. Note that the flag is shown on the extreme left of the powder horn and is reversed from the manner in which we would display it today: the stripes are to the left and the stars (if any) are to the right. However, the flagpole is also to the right so it is correctly displayed for a wind that is blowing from right to left.
First of all, no one claims that it is the first American flag. In fact, a number of flags of varying designs had been flown previously by American ships and militia units for years. The designs of these flags varied widely and there was no standardization. The only question in this case was whether or not Barnabas Webb was the first to use Stars and Stripes.
In fact, Betsy Ross did not design the first flag although she probably did sew a design that others asked her to make. It is possible that she was the first to use a five-pointed star instead of six. However, there is no written record of Betsy Ross sewing of the first flag, only an oral tradition started by her grandson, William Canby. Canby was 11-years-old when his grandmother died and his recollections have been challenged by many. Without documentation, there is no proof that Canby's story was truthful or even likely. However, it is known that seamstress Betsy Ross did make a number of flags over the years and that she mended torn and damaged flags for many years afterwards. The only question is: did she make the first one to use Stars and Stripes?
There is no contemporary reference in any known letter, newspaper, or diary that refers to the original flag. Neither Betsy Ross, the members of the committee, Washington, Congressmen, nor soldiers, wrote anything at that time about Betsy Ross' first flag. Congress did not adopt an official flag until June 14, 1777, a full year after the claim that Betsy made the first flag. The first written reference to Betsy Ross' sewing of the first flag appears nearly 100 years later in the claims of her grandson, William Canby. Some have suggested that Canby invented the story to bring himself fame.
The next question is: was the image on the powder horn original with Barnabas Webb? That is, did he invent it or did Betsy Ross or is it a representation of a flag that Webb saw somewhere else?
You can read more in an article by Rachel Emma Silverman published in the Wall Street Journal at http://goo.gl/Ib6r0.
My thanks to Larry Head, Jr. for telling me about this article.
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