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The Betsy Ross Story: Truth or Legend?

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  • Arts & Humanities
    Language Arts, Fine Arts
  • Social Studies
    U.S. History


  • 3-5
  • 6-8
  • 9-12
  • Advanced

Brief Description

Students investigate the facts behind the story of Betsy Ross.



  • discover that some historians question the story of Betsy Ross's involvement in the creation of the first U.S. flag.
  • learn why historians question the story.
  • list reasons the story of Betsy Ross might not be true.
  • note the counterpoints offered by those who say Betsy Ross did play a key role in the creation of the U.S. flag.
  • use The Betsy Ross Story: Truth or Legend? work sheet to document some of those points and counterpoints.
  • synthesize and evaluate what they learn by responding to the question "Is the story of Betsy Ross's grandson William Canby true?"


Betsy Ross, flag, George Washington, America, symbol, synthesize, evaluate, debate, point of view, point, legend, fact, discuss, graphic organizer, drama, theater

Materials Needed

Lesson Plan

Was Betsy Ross approached by George Washington to create a flag for the United States? The real story might never be known. Many accounts of the history of the Americans flag include Betsy Ross as a central figure. Some historians question those accounts. They point out that the accounts are based on The History of the Flag of the United States, a paper delivered to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1870 -- nearly 100 years after the flag was introduced -- by William J. Canby, the grandson of Betsy Ross.

Should Canby's account be believed? Many historians say that no such account should be accepted without documentation. In the case of Canby's Betsy Ross story, documentation is limited. Nevertheless, Canby's story, told many years after the flag was first flown and after Betsy Ross died, has become the basis for many accounts of how the flag came to be.

After sharing the above information with your students, introduce one person's account of the story of Betsy Ross. This Web site states that the Betsy Ross story is, at best, a legend that cannot be verified.

Invite students to contribute to a class list of points that contradict Canby's version of the Betsy Ross story. For each point on that list, introduce an appropriate counterpoint from Betsy Ross and the Flag: Point-Counterpoint at The Betsy Ross Homepage. That site offers a rebuttal to most of the points at the first site. The fact remains, however, that although there is little to rebut Canby's version of the story, there is also little to support it. (Older students might be given a copy of the Point-Counterpoint information to read on their own.)

Many of the disputes surrounding the history of the American flag were probably covered in the above discussion, but it might still be appropriate to follow up that discussion by having students complete the The Betsy Ross Story: Truth or Legend? work sheet. It details five of the points historians raise about the Betsy Ross story and provides space for students to write counterpoints based on classroom discussion or on information from Betsy Ross and the Flag: Point-Counterpoint. The final question on the work sheet -- Is William Canby's version of the Betsy Ross story true? -- offers students an opportunity to use higher-level thinking skills to synthesize and evaluate the information they have collected.

Extension Activities

  • Read aloud or invite students to read various accounts of the Betsy Ross story as they appear in published children's books, school history books, or on the Internet. Ask: Knowing what you know now about the Betsy Ross story, do those accounts tell the full story? Do some of those accounts reflect a single point of view? Encourage students to play the roles of critical readers and reflectors as they search for one-sided retellings of the story.
  • Organize students into two groups and stage a debate. Have one group support William Canby's story and the other refute it.
  • Challenge students to write a script that demonstrates the points and counterpoints that surround the Betsy Ross story.
  • Encourage a group of students to draft a script that brings to life William Canby's version of the Betsy Ross story, as told in The History of the Flag of the United States. Present the dramatization in class.


The final question on the work sheet can serve as the assessment question. Evaluate students on whether they can cite facts to defend their positions.

Lesson Plan Source

Education World

Submitted By

Gary Hopkins

Return to the Flag Day lesson plan page.

See additional Flag Day lessons in the Education World articles A Salute to Flag Day and Celebrate the Stars and Stripes.


Originally published 05/24/2002
Last updated 05/26/2017