Historical Markers
Pulaski's Banner Historical Marker
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Pulaski's Banner

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
W. Market St. at Moravian Cemetery, Bethlehem

Dedication Date:
October 12, 1974

Behind the Marker

The American Revolution changed the lives of many women. Their household manufacturing was extremely important to the war effort. Their expanded roles also led many Americans to rethink their ideas and attitudes about family life. With their husbands and sons away at war, many of Pennsylvania's women abandoned their day-to-day household chores to take a more active role in the war effort.
Faded fringed banner
Casimir Pulaski's original cavalry banner, circa 1778.

Before the outbreak of the war, boycotting British goods in opposition to Parliament's revenue-raising measures was a popular form of resistance by women. Styling themselves the "Daughters of Liberty," they organized spinning bees to produce homespun for local consumption and pledged to stop serving tea to their guests. During the war, some, like Lydia Darragh of Philadelphia, provided indispensable military intelligence for the Continental Army. Others, like markerCatherine Smith of Union County, produced gunpowder and shot. Still others, like markerSarah Benjamin of Wayne County, and Mary Hays and Margaret Corbin, both of Cumberland County, followed their husbands to support them at the battlefront. Women's contributions on the home front and to the military proved critical to Continental Army's success in the War for American Independence.

In the decades following the Revolution, women's involvements in the war would be mythologized through literature and art, and used in the 1800s by those involved in growing movement for women's rights. The story of Pulaski's Banner was part of this popular movement to mythologize the patriotic activities of women during the American Revolution.

The son of a Polish count who fought to free his homeland from foreign rule, markerCasimir Pulaski fled to Paris in the early 1770s, where he met markerBenjamin Franklin, who persuaded him to immigrate to America. So impressed was Gen. George Washington by Pulaski's skill as a cavalryman, that in 1777 he arranged a Congressional appointment as brigadier general and leader of the Continental cavalry for the Polish mercenary. Pulaski trained the Continental troops and established a riding school, but within a year's time he proved to be difficult and unhappy. Unhappy with his subordinate role, he resigned his post in March, 1778, and took command of an independent legion.

Stationed along the Delaware River in Northampton County to guard the inhabitants from British attack, the strikingly handsome mercenary was well received by the Moravian women of Bethlehem, who allegedly made him a cavalry banner. When Congress sent him to the southern theater of war the following year, Pulaski's cavalry took the banner with them. Mortally wounded while charging enemy lines in the battle for Savannah on October 9, 1779, Pulaski died a few days later.
Betsy Ross presents the flag to George Washington, Colonel George Ross, and the Honorable Robert Morris. Washington sits in a chair to the left, Morris sits to his right, and Colonel Ross stands.  Betsy Ross, sits holding the flag for display, as it spreads across her lap and across the floor.
Betsy Ross presents the flag to George Washington, Colonel George Ross, and...

The legend of Pulaski's Banner took hold in the 1800s as the Revolutionary generation was dying off and Americans struggled to hold on to the memory of the War for American Independence. At a time when cultural conventions about gender and sex role were rapidly changing, the story of Pulaski's Banner achieved popularity. Romantic poetry about the American Revolution flourished as a genre of national expression. In this climate, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow memorialized the story of Pulaski's banner in a marker poetic tribute to the flamboyant Polish mercenary of the Continental Army.

Heroic women also became favorite subjects for nineteenth-century artists. Between 1799 and 1807, various gold coins were minted bearing the handsome profile of "Miss Liberty," who personified feminine strength and resolve. During the 1830s, the poetry of Virginia W. Cloud ("The Ballad of Sweet Penelope Penwick") and Will Carleton ("Little Black-Eyed Rebel") celebrated women who used their feminine wiles to deceive the British in order to aid the Continental Army.

During a period of intense nationalism in the late 1800s, American painters further enhanced the mythology of the heroic women of the Revolution. Gilbert Gaul's painting, Molly Pitcher at the Battle of Monmouth (1892), immortalized the composite figure, who represents Mary Hays and Margaret Corbin, camp followers who manned cannon for their wounded soldier-husbands. Similarly, Charles Weisgerber's painting, The Birth of Our Nation's Flag (1893), depicting a fictional meeting at which Philadelphia seamstress Elizabeth Ross showed the flag she had just completed for the Continental Army to General Washington, markerRobert Morris, and George Ross, helped spread the story that it was "Betsy Ross" who had designed and sewn the first Stars and Stripes.

Although none of these paintings are substantiated by documentary evidence, all of them fixed in the public imagination the heroism and assertiveness of women during the Revolutionary era. In the process, the artists served to further the political objectives of a small but growing women's rights movement as well as to honor its antecedents in the American Revolution.
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