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Betsy Ross and the Making of America Hardcover – April 27, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Many Americans accept as true the story of Betsy Ross's role in creating the first American flag. Many modern historians believe the tale is apocryphal. But Miller, an associate professor of history at UMass-Amherst, says the story perpetuated by Ross's family is neither altogether right nor altogether wrong. There is no doubt, Miller says, that the skilled needlewoman was one of Philadelphia's most important flag makers from the Revolution through the War of 1812, and that Ross is important because she offers a unique lens on Philadelphia in that era. Ross's uncles were deeply involved in the Stamp Act protests; a Quaker who left her church to marry her first husband, herself a supporter of the colonies' rebellion, Ross was twice widowed by the Revolution and was married again to a war veteran. The lives of her family members were claimed by the yellow fever epidemic brought by refugees from revolutionary Haiti who flooded Philadelphia in 1793; her artisanal family's prosperity was sacrificed to war and political upheaval. This first-rate biography of Ross (1752–1836) is authoritative and engrossing and goes a long way toward recovering the history of early American women and work. 8 pages of b&w photos. (May)
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Historian Miller moves well beyond the realm of popular biography, reinvigorating a timeworn American icon by placing her firmly into historical and social context. Though most Americans are familiar with the myth of Betsy Ross and the first flag, few are aware of the intimate details of her life or realize how and why her life was both shaped by and reflective of the Revolutionary era. According to the author, the American Revolution was forged by working men and women: artisans, craftspersons, and farmers formed the nucleus of a new nation, and by examining their lives a portrait of a colonial culture precariously teetering on the brink of independence emerges. By turning a keen biographical eye on Betsy Ross, she illuminates the significant role that ordinary citizens—especially women—played in the birth of the new nation. Readers who imagine Ross frozen in one particular time, place, and role will also be fascinated by the details of her life outside and beyond the scope of the Revolution. --Margaret Flanagan
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Professor Miller's work is a major boon for other historians, and for all persons who have wanted to know more about Betsy Ross. With imaginative methods and exhaustive research, she has artfully sorted fact from fiction, uncovered a great deal of new information, and presented her findings in a narrative that is both clear and engaging. This is an important book that enables us to ask new questions, develop new insights, and better understand the many ways that Betsy, and other tradeswomen of her time, made significant (if heretofore overlooked) contributions to the making of America.