ENTIRELY HAND-SEWN 13 STAR FLAG MADE BY RACHEL ALBRIGHT, THE GRANDDAUGHTER OF BETSY ROSS, IN PHILADELPHIA IN 1903, AN ESPECIALLY LARGE EXAMPLE:
13 star American national flag made by Rachel Albright, granddaughter of Betsy Ross, in the East Wing of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. She produced small flags like this for the tourist trade and possibly sometimes presented as gifts to individuals who made donations to the American Flag House and Betsy Ross Memorial Association. She appears to have begun in 1898, then was joined by Betsy's great-granddaughter, Sarah M. Wilson, around 1902. Rachel continued until around 1905, then moved to Iowa, where she had family, and passed in 1907. Sarah continued their little cottage industry until approximately 1913.
The stripes of the flag are constructed of silk ribbon and hand-sewn with especially tiny stitches. The five-pointed stars are executed with lineal lines like a spokes on a carriage wheel or the rowel of a spur. These are constructed of silk floss on a canton made of blue silk taffeta. There is a wide, treadle-sewn binding along the hoist, which is signed with a dip pen in the following manner:
"First flag made 1777 by Betsy Ross. This copy of the original flag made Mar. 1903, by Rachel Albright, aged 93 y. 9 m. grand-daughter of Betsy Ross."
The Albright and Wilson flags are extremely easy to identify because their construction is so distinctive. There is nothing else like them made during this period. That having been said, they were individually made and do exhibit a small degree of personalized variation. The sleeves or hoist bindings vary in width and some have tiny, hand-sewn grommets.
These flags typically either came with a separate note or a direct signature, such as this one. Many times the notes are lost, and sometimes the signatures continue from one side of the sleeve to the other, so the bold signature on the broad sleeve of this example, written on one side only so it can be readily viewed in full, is of substantial interest.
Among the flags made by the two women, this one, which measures approximately 7" x 12", is one of the larger examples and is quite rare among its counterparts. While the pair is rumored to have produced flags as large as 3 by 5 feet, and one may guess that they sometimes participated in the making of even larger national colors, their standard fare was a small souvenir of the same basic type as this one, which measured just 5.5” x 9.5”.
Rachael and Sarah proudly proclaimed that this is what the original flag looked like, with a perfect wreath of 13 stars, but no hard evidence exists to substantiate it. In fact, no one knows precisely what the star configuration was on the first flag, but it is unlikely that it had a perfect circle of stars. Of the very few Colonial examples that survive, none are in this pattern. Further, while there are thousands of 13 star flags that still exist today that were made during the 19th century for all manner of patriotic purpose, almost none made prior to the 1890’s seem to have survived with a “Betsy Ross”, perfect circle pattern. The Albright and Wilson flags are among the very first to be produced in this design and are probably responsible for the fact that this pattern is now so popularly connected with the Ross name. In other words, flags in this pattern made afterwards were probably copied from the Ross Granddaughter flags.
One of these small flags appears on the Betsy Ross House website (http://www.ushistory.org/betsy/house/room9.html). A signed example is picture in “The Stars and the Stripes” by Mastai, (1973, Knopf, New York), p. 228.
Accompanying the flag will be a high-quality scan of a hand-written history of the Ross family, penned by Rachel, will accompany the flag. I discovered the document, also written in 1903, accompanying another large scale example of an Albright flag [though smaller than this one]. I lent the original to the first major exhibit on Betsy Ross, held in the late fall and early winter of 2010-2011 at Winterthur, the estate and museum of the collection of Henry Francis Dupont, which houses one of our nation's very best textile collections and conservatories.
Mounting: The gilded, American molding dates to the period between 1840 and 1870. The flag has been pressure-mounted between 100% cotton and U.V. protective acrylic. The black fabric has been washed to reduce excess dye. An acid-free agent was added to the wash to further set the dye and the fabric was heat-treated for the same purpose.
Condition: Overall excellent, with only minor to moderate fading of the blue canton.
Frame Size (H x L): 20.75" x 16"
Flag Size (H x L): 12.25" x 7.25"