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The Ranger Flag Legend

JPJ and the flag /


The story of Helen Seavey's quilting party is among Portsmouth's most cherished stoires. Yet it is, as far as we can tell, totally untrue. Here Clara Lynn, the blind poet, puts the tale into rhyme for an early 20th century audience. Is there even an ounce of truth to this popular tale? So far, we haven't found it.




VISIT: Our John Paul Jones section

A Legend Put to Verse

Amateur poet Clara Lynn was fascinated with local history in an era when the facts were less important than the effect of a good story. Among her many ballads of Seacoast, NH folk history is the tale of the local girls who reportedly sewed Paul Jomes' flag from material taken from their own gowns. The incredible detail is taken directly from a footnote in the 1900 biography of Jones by Augustus C. Buell. Later historians, including Samuel Eliot Morison have suggested that Buell simply invented the entire tale as he did other inaccurate stories and letters by Jones. The story may have its origin in the fact that the fledgling US Congress assigned Jones as captain of the Ranger out of Portsmouth Harbor on the same day that it approved the design for the new American flag.

While technically a crude poem about an untrue event, "The Ranger Flag" offers a fascinating shot of patriotic zeal at the end of the Colonial Revival era. Unaware of Buell's inaccuracies, Clara Lynn grasped the energy and the romance of the story. About the time this poem was written the John Paul Jones House Museum first opened in Portsmouth. A brass plaque still on the side of the building tells the story of the "quilting party" and this story may have influenced locals who saved the 1758 gambrel-roofed colonial home from destruction. As far as we know, no rigorous research has been done into the source of the details in Buell's story. The surnames of the women in the story are all familiar in the region. -- JDR

SEE ALSO: The Bonhomme Richard Flag Hoax
SEE ALSO: The Importance of the Ranger

The Ranger Flag
By Clara Lynn (1929)

Our nation's flag, the stars and stripes,
Was made long, long ago,
The work of a young Quakeress
Named Betsy Ross, we know,
In Portsmouth, in the days of yore,
A handsome flag was made,
The handy work of many girls,
And on a ship displayed.

They made it for John Paul Jones' ship,
The "Ranger" was its name,
A ship at Badger's Island built,
Along the coast of Maine.
"The flag and I are twins," Jones said,
"A nation's place we won,
For I received a ship's command,
The day the flag was born."

Paul Jones, alert and handsome too,
Won praise from every one,
The Portsmouth lassies honored him,
For victories he had won.
A flag to float o'er his new ship,
These girls resolved to make,
With thirteen stripes of red and white,
And stars for ever state.

At Widow Purcell's boarding house,
When in Portsmouth, he would stay.
This house is now in history known
And bears his name today.
The widow had eight daughters,
And one of them became
The wife of Major Gardner,
Who had both wealth and fame.

Another of her daughters,
Was Captain Manning's wife,
He was a loyal patriot
In the colonial strife.
But these girls were unmarried when
The Ranger's flag was made,
And they with several other girls,
Flag making zeal displayed.

To Augusta Pierce, John Paul Jones told
The size the flag should be,
He said, " 'Twill bring me memories
of Portsmouth when at sea."
The maidens spent their afternoons
In making this big flag,
And from the first stitch to the last,
These lassies did not lag.

'Twas Helen Seavey, a young bride,
Who gave her wedding dress, :
She said, "A skill at needlecraft
I never did possess.
I cannot help at sewing stripes,
I'll cut the stars instead.
And of the flag's material
I will not waste a thread."

'Twas Mary Langdon's loom that wove
The cloth for the blue field,
And Caroline Chandler spun the threads
For weaving, on her wheel.
They said, "The flag's material
Must be the very best,"
They made a fast dye that was used
In coloring many a dress.

At Stoodley's Tavern, on Daniel Street,
Elijah Hall was host,
And workmen on the "Ranger" ship,
Of Stoodley fare would boast.
The landlord's daughter Dorothy,
Was one who helped to make
The "Ranger" flag that has renown,
Throughout the Granite State.

This sewing club, the lassies named,
"The Ranger Sewing Bee"
And proudly each maid did her work
With stitches hard to see.
And many were the words of praise,
For loyal zeal they had,
They showed their love for this free land,
By making the ship's flag.

On July 4th, seventeen seventy-seven,
The flag was on display,
The place where all could gaze on it,
Was "Mason's Hill," they say.
And on the "Ranger" that same day,
The flag waved in the breeze,
And proud was the commander, Jones,
To take it o'er the seas.

Today the name of Betsy Ross
Blends with our nation's fame,
But Portsmouth boasts the "Ranger" flag
That blends with Paul Jones' name.
The girls who made this famous flag,
Like Betsy Ross of yore,
Made a memorial that will stand,
Till flags shall be no more.

From "Poems About Portsmouth"
© 1929 Clara Lynn
Illustration from the Heroic Life of Captain Paul (1904)

ALSO by Clara Lynn: The Hidden Gold

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