Roanoke finds own Betsy Ross to sew flag for state’s bicentennial

Jo DeFord (right) stands beside the 19-star U.S. flag she created and sewed, along with Roanoke Area Heritage Center Secretary Sharon Williams, inside the center on Thursday, Sept. 22. The flag was flying at the time Indiana became the 19th state of the Union in 1816. DeFord’s flag will be displayed at Roanoke’s bicentennial celebration on Friday, Sept. 30.
Jo DeFord (right) stands beside the 19-star U.S. flag she created and sewed, along with Roanoke Area Heritage Center Secretary Sharon Williams, inside the center on Thursday, Sept. 22. The flag was flying at the time Indiana became the 19th state of the Union in 1816. DeFord’s flag will be displayed at Roanoke’s bicentennial celebration on Friday, Sept. 30. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

When members of the Roanoke Area Heritage Center were looking for a good way to honor the state’s bicentennial, they thought that making a United States flag from the state’s birthday year would be a great idea.

Problem was, after museum President Steve Williams researched the flag design, it was discovered that Congress never officially adopted a 19-star ensign to commemorate Indiana’s admission to the Union, which occurred on Dec. 10, 1816. The nation was still flying a 15-star version of Old Glory.

Congress adopted a 20-star flag in 1818, after Mississippi became the 20th state, Williams says. However, a few unofficial period flags sporting varied designs had appeared in the meantime.

“There is evidence which suggests Hoosiers grew impatient with Congressional dithering and — demonstrating characteristic, independent spirit — stitched a few native versions that were proudly emblazoned with a 19th constellation,” he wrote during his research.

Undaunted, Williams began looking for Roanoke’s Betsy Ross to bring a 19-star banner into reality.

“He’s a history nut,” says his wife, center secretary and caretaker Sharon Williams. “He thought it would be something unique that no one else would have.”

Heritage Center board member Fred Johns approached rural Roanoke resident Jo DeFord about stitching the flag.

“I knew she was a very good seamstress and enjoyed doing things like that,” Johns said.

“And he’s right,” DeFord adds, matter-of-factly, with a smile on her face.

She got right to work. She obtained the cotton fabric for the stars, stripes and field of blue from the town’s Fabrics & Friends Quilt Shop, and began the process of measuring, piecing and sewing — a nine-month process, hampered by a couple of bouts with ill health.

“I’d say, altogether, if I had worked straight through it would have taken me — 24 hours?” she estimates. “Oh no, maybe it would have taken me 48 hours.”

DeFord appliquéd 19 stars on each side of the blue field — a total of 38 — and used flat-felled seams on the striped fabric to prohibit fraying. The result was a sturdy, 3.5-foot by 5-foot flag, fastened to a staff by cloth ties, which Steve Williams says are authentic to the period, instead of modern-day grommets.

On DeFord’s flag, the 19th star, which represents Indiana, the 19th state to join the Union, is located in the middle of the field, surrounded by 18 others.

“It’s very, very, very nice. We’re proud of it,” Sharon Williams says. “It’s something that will remain permanent, hopefully for the next 200 years, if we’re still here. We won’t be here, but the flag will be.”

DeFord, who quilts as well as does other types of sewing, was also delighted with the outcome.

“I was pleased that they asked me to make it,” she says. “I enjoyed making it. But, of course, I enjoy sewing.”

The flag will be displayed on stage along with the Indiana and bicentennial flags during Roanoke’s bicentennial torch ceremony, Friday, Sept. 30, beginning at 9:45 a.m. on Main Street in downtown Roanoke. Following the ceremony, it will have a permanent home, on display at the Roanoke Area Heritage Center.

The Roanoke ceremony precedes a bicentennial celebration at Hier’s Park, in Huntington, which takes place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The bicentennial torch is passing through Huntington County that day on its trip around all 92 Hoosier counties.

The center’s hours are Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon, April through November. However, Sharon Williams said she will open the center for special viewings by calling her at 672-3252.

More information about the Roanoke Area Heritage Center can be found online at roanokeareaheritagecenter.weebly.com/.