Sunday, May 19, 2013

Who Made The First American Flag? Not Betsy Ross.

The American Revolution is shrouded in many myths and legends. From the ideas that Americans won the war fighting in a guerilla style, to the notion that the war was strictly between the Brits and us, even Molly Pitcher the heroine of the Battle of Monmouth. But one myth that really bothers me is the Betsy Ross flag myth. So what is my beef with Betsy Ross? Nothing really, but she did not make the first American Flag and it is time most Americans know why she gets the credit but more importantly why she doesn't deserve it.

We all know the story of Betsy Ross. She was just sitting around her house in Philadelphia in 1776, when all of a sudden George Washington showed up and was like, "Hey Betsy, stitch me a flag really quick." Ok, so that is not an exact quote or even what happened but I am just having a little fun here. To be honest Ross was a well know upholsterer in the city of Philadelphia, but one of many upholsterers. She repaired uniforms, tents, blankets and so on, but flags? Well that is whats up for debate here. The truth is there are several other people ahead of Ross as creators of an American flag, but not the present day American Flag, you know, Old Glory, the Stars and Stripes, The Star Spangled Banner.

So if Ross wasn't first who could have it been? Well the list is pretty long, there's Margaret Manny, who is credited with creating the Grand Union Flag. There is also  Rebecca Young, Anne King and Cornelia Bridges, all who were better known flag makers than Ross. Other options would be William Barrett, Hugh Stewart, Francis Hopkinson or William Alliborne, all of whom were involved with flags in one way or another. Aside from these possible flag makers there are a few other facts to take into consideration. First, there is no evidence that Ross and Washington knew each other, or that Washington ever visited her shop. Second, the flag is never mention at all, in any letters by any member of the Continental Congress in 1776, in fact there is no mention of a flag by anyone in that year. Third, and perhaps most important, Congress issued the Flag Resolution in 1777, a full year after the supposed Ross Flag was made. But why does Ross get all the credit?

The name William J. Canby really does jump out as one of those big names in History, but Mr. Canby is the reason why Ross gets the credit for the first American flag. Canby was the grandson of Ross and was the first to make the claim about Ross's role as the mother of the American flag. It happened in 1870, six years before the American centennial celebration. His proof? Family stories passed down from generation to generation. And because of Canby and his claim people now visit 239 Arch Street every time they visit Philadelphia to see where the first American flag was made, and learn a little more about Betsy Ross.
However, what is not mentioned is that Canby's story and history really don't match up. For most of 1776, George Washington was preoccupied with the British in the Northeastern states and then later in New York and New Jersey. It wouldn't be till the end of 1776 that Washington would spend some considerable time in Philadelphia, but even then he was preparing for his counter attack that would then sing the tide of war in favor of the Americans.

So who made the first flag? Well, I am not sure, but I am sure it wasn't Betsy Ross. Lets review the facts, there are no letters, diaries, newspaper accounts or bills of sale implicating Ross had anything to do with the creation or even making of the flag. Even the National Museum of American History's research has proven that there is no evidence supporting the Ross Flag and have deemed it just part of American folklore. Also Ross biographer Marla Miller said, Betsy Ross was one of several flag makers in Philadelphia, and her only contribution to the design was to change the 6-pointed stars to the easier 5-pointed stars. So, Facts 3, Ross 0. But lets remember Ross only gets the credit because her grandson claimed she made it first. Had any grandchildren of the other flag makers made the claim we'd be visiting their homes in Philadelphia and passing on their legend instead. However, Ross gets the credit and until some evidence arises that she didn't make the first flag she will continue to get the credit. But one can say even though she doesn't deserve it, Ross is still a great piece of legend that surrounds the American Revolution still some 237 years later.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Happy Train Robbery Day!!!

When it comes to train robbers people always talk about Butch Cassidy Wild Bunch or the Reno Gang and great train robberies like Canyon Diablo Train Robbery or Fairbank Train Robbery. There is one train robbery that is always overlooked though, The Great North Bend Train Robbery of 1865. As you can see from the date it becomes obvious why it is overlooked, and for those not paying attention the Civil War was winding down, and that is why it is never talked bout. Well that is the main reason but there are a couple of parts to this story and why Americans don't know about it. What may be worse is that this train robbery is the first train robbery in American History!

So what happened that May 5, 1865 night. The 8pm, Ohio & Mississippi from Cincinnati to St. Louis left on time and very uneventfully. It was a fully load ride too, four passenger cars, two baggage cars, one of which was an Adams express car which carried three safes. Over 100 passengers boarded and mainly women were making the trip.The ride was going smooth until about 20 miles outside of Cincinnati between the stations of Gravel Pit and North Bend. Between these two stations the train suddenly derailed and flew off the tracks. What happened next? Well cue the bad guys...whoever they might have been.

Now it is here that the story get a little fuzzy because, well know one knows who robbed the train. After the train was derailed 20 armed men boarded the train and held the passengers at gun point. After taking the terrified passengers valuables the robbers headed to the baggage cars. There they blew open 3 safes that were on board which contained roughly thirty thousand dollars in U.S. Bonds. Then the pioneers of train robbery made their way across the Ohio River and into Kentucky. Local authorities were notified but due to the scale and uncommon type of robbery the U.S. Army was brought in to find the culprits. Unfortunetly for the U.S. Army and passengers, but luckily for the train robbers, no one was ever found or tried for the robbery. Which leads us to the mystery. Who did it?

Who were these daring bad guys? Confederate soldiers? Run of the mill bad guys? Very creative criminals? Frank & Jesse James? The Reno brothers? Well, no one knows. what we do know is that is wasn't Frank & Jesse James or the Reno brothers as, even though suspected, could have never carried out the crime. Stories conflict with one another, but there are some clues that can help us figure out maybe who pulled off this robbery. Some passenger retold the story of the night as seeing one of the robbers wearing a uniform very similar to that of the Rebels, and hearing the men refer to each other as lieutenant and captain. Now could they have been Confederates? Perhaps, but the robbery took place well north of the fighting and deep in Union territory. Secondly, the robbers were armed with various types of pistols, were if it were a group of Rebels, they surely would have been armed with rifles. Another reason it was not Confederates on a mission is the way the train was derailed. If it was some southerns they would have destroyed the whole track, the robbers only blew up one side of the track, an easy fix come the morning. So what does all of this mean?

So here is my take. With the calling of military names and the possibility of a uniformed man, I think these could have been Confederate soldiers on the run. Remember it is May of 1865, Sherman had left a path of destruction across the south, Richmond had fallen and Lee had surrender to Grant. The war was more than over and the south would soon go through Reconstruction and northern occupation. It only makes sense that the men that robbed that train were Confederates, Confederates looking to get the hell outta dodge and make new start for themselves in the north or west. But we will never know. It one of America's greatest mysteries and is often overlooked and even forgotten. That May 5, 1865 the first train robbery in American History, and should be retold as the rest of the great train robbery tales are told. So instead of celebrating Cinco De Mayo, celebrate Train Robbery Day (Patent Pending, so hands off Hallmark) and honor who ever it was that held up that train and got away for the first crime of its kind.