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Not only is this the earliest flag that I have ever encountered in the Betsy Ross pattern, it is also the most beautiful.  The stars, which are oriented in various directions around the circumference of the wreath, are hand-embroidered in a golden brown thread.  Whimsically irregular, they are also particularly large, especially for embroidered stars, which adds to their striking presentation.  I have handled only one other flag that had larger embroidery-work stars.


Unbeknownst to the vast majority of Americans, the star pattern most often associated with our first flag, as seen in countless books, motion pictures, and elsewhere, is the perfect circle of 13 stars.  This is the design linked in American mythology to the seamstress Betsy Ross, who was long reported to have designed and made the first flag.  Accompanying this act is a fabled tale in which George Washington, Robert Morris, and George Ross went to Betsy�s House and requested her to do so.  Today flag historians know that a large body of research has dispelled the event.  Betsy did make early flags�some of the first�but along with the myth of her being its creator, the concept of the stars having been placed in a perfect circle has also disappeared.


I have bought and sold many 13 star flags�too many to remember.  At any given time I own at least 200 of them, many of which date to the 19th century.  We have made 13 star flags for many reasons throughout our history as a nation, almost all of the surviving ones well after we had 13 states.  We still make them today; but what many people don�t know, is that we have made them continuously.  In fact, it has been suggested by flag historians, including myself, that 13 may be the most common star count found among all flags made during the 19th century.  The U.S. Navy flew them on ships, private individuals flew them on yachts, Civil War soldiers carried them, and they were flown at countless patriotic events.


So with all of these 13 star flags that have survived from the beginning of America until now, one would expect that if the first flag had a perfect circle of stars, i.e., the �Betsy Ross pattern�, then many 13 star flags made after the fact would also have been made in the same pattern.  This, however, is simply not the case.  13 star flags with a perfect circle of stars are not seen until one of Betsy�s descendents started to make flags in this design during the last decade of the 19th century.  To put it another way, earlier examples have not existed in that design, until now.


The stripes and canton of this 13 star, Betsy Ross pattern flag are made of wool bunting that has been entirely pieced with hand-stitching.  There is a hand-sewn cotton hoist, along which the name �C.A. Forbes� is inked with a dip pen.  The date of construction is sometime between the 1860�s and the 1880�s, with a most probable year being that of the Nation�s centennial of independence in 1876.  This was a particularly poignant occasion on which to fly a flag that related in some way to the Revolutionary War and our colonial past.


The Ross myth went public in 1870 when Ross's grandson, William J. Canby, presented a paper to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, in which he claimed that his grandmother had "made with her hands the first flag" of the United States.  Theoretically, the Betsy Ross design may have been revealed by Canby at that time, in which case one might expect to see 13 star flags made in the Betsy Ross perfect circle pattern shortly thereafter.  One might especially expect to see them in use at the Centennial International Exposition in Philadelphia, the 6-month-long, World�s Fair event that was held to celebrate the 1876 event.  In my experience, however, this is not the case and according to what is known about the Ross Family history, Canby did not reveal a specific design in 1870.  In fact, no one knows when precisely the Betsy Ross pattern became linked with her name.  In my experience buying and selling antique Stars & Stripes, 13 stars are almost never seen in a single, circular wreath until Betsy�s Granddaughter, Rachel Abright, began making flags in that pattern to sell to tourists in Philadelphia around 1898.


This particular flag with the �C.A. Forbes� inscription might therefore be the first documented exception.  But even if  that were not the case and some other example were revealed, it is both a significant piece of American history and a beautiful object among known 13 star flags and is by far the best that I have ever personally encountered in the Betsy Ross design.


Forbes Family Research


According to genealogy research of Edmund Janes Cleveland of Hartford, CT, contained in �The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record� (New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, 1889), Sir Alexander Forbes of Scotland (b. 1669, d. 1742) appears to have been the father or grandfather of one Captain Alexander Forbes (i), (b. about 1720).  An officer in the British Army, this man married Abigail Lawrence of Newtown, Long Island, NY, and together they had one son, who they also named Alexander, and who also obtained the rank of Captain in the British Army.


This Captain Alexander Forbes (ii) (b. ?, d. ?) married Susannah Gifford of Newark, NJ and is recorded as having received a military promotion from his friend, General Cleveland.  Probably this was General Samuel Cleveland, who participated in the Battle of Bunker Hill.  Cleveland is unfortunately remembered for being indirectly responsible for ordering cannon balls that were too big for his guns, which slowed the attack.  This blunder resulted from an appointment he granted to a younger brother of his sweetheart, the daughter of a schoolmaster.  Cleveland posted the boy in the ordinance office, though he had no experience, and he obtained the wrong sized ammunition.


Captain Alexander Forbes (ii) named one of his children Cleveland Alexander Forbes (i) (b. 1780, d. 1857), out of respect for his friend, the General.  This Forbes, who settled in Perth Amboy, NJ, also obtained the rank of Captain, but his appointment was in the American Merchant Marines.  According to records at Mystic Seaport Museum (Mystic, CT), Captain Cleveland Alexander Forbes (i) sailed as a privateer during the War of 1812 and later served as Captain of a ship called the FRANCES DEPAU, which sailed between New York and Harve, France from 1833-36 and ran cotton and passengers between ports in the American South from 1836-43.


Capt Cleveland Alexander Forbes (i) married Susan Foster and together they had a son Cleveland Alexander Forbes (ii) (b. 1814), who also became a ship captain.  According to Mystic Seaport, �it was likely this man who commanded the S.S. CALIFORNIA on her historic passage from New York to San Francisco� between 1848 and 1849, on the heels of the discovery of gold.


Captain Cleveland Alexander Forbes (ii) married Mary McKinney and together they had a son also named Cleveland Alexander Forbes (iii) (b. 1842).


The name having been unusual, and with such a long family history of military involvement, it is reasonable to assume that it most likely one of these last two men who owned the flag in question and inscribed his name upon the hoist with a dip pen.


Mounting:  The flag has been stitched to 100% silk organza on every seam for support.  The flag was then stitched to its background of 100% cotton twill, black in color, which was washed to reduce excess dye.  And acid-free agent was added to the wash to further set the dye and the fabric was heat-treated for the same purpose.  The mount was then placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding.  The front is u.v. protective acrylic.


Condition:  There is minor mothing throughout, accompanied by minor soiling at the fly end, but there are no serious condition issues.  Many of my clients prefer early flags to show their age and history of use.

Inventory Number:


Jeff R. Bridgman American Antiques, llc
Contact   Jeff Bridgman Phone: (717) 502-1281
Period: 19th Century (1801-1900)
Date: 1860's-1880's
Origin: USA
Condition: see description
Measurements: flag-36" x 55.25", frame-47.25" x 67"
Inventory Other Inventory by this Dealer
Price: SOLD
E-mail: Inquire
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