Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Friday, June 10, 2016

JOANNA TROUTMAN

“The Betsy Ross of Texas”

On June 14 of every year, we, as Americans, celebrate Flag Day in honor of the “Stars and Stripes,” traditionally, but not positively, designed as the first flag of the United States of America.  On this Flag Day, let us take time to remember another famous flag designer whom you may have never heard of.  This is the story of a young Middle Georgia girl, who, 180 years ago,  designed one of the most enduring  flags in American history  - the legendary “Lone Star Flag” of Texas.

Joanna Troutman, a daughter of Hiram Baldwin Troutman, was born on February 19, 1818.  Some of her biographers state that she was born in Crawford County, but at that time, the state of Georgia’s boundaries did not include any land west of the Ocmulgee River.  Joanna was most likely born in Baldwin County, the state capital, where her parents were living during the 1820 Census.  After the lands west of the Ocmulgee were opened, the Troutmans moved to Crawford County, southwest of Macon.

When an urgent call was sent out throughout Georgia and the South for volunteers to aid Americans living in Texas against the threat of harm from the Mexican Army, Col. William Ward, of Macon, recruited a company of volunteers from the Middle Georgia area and Columbus.

During a November 12, 1835 meeting in Macon, more than $3,000.00 was raised to form a company for service in Texas.

Seventeen-year-old Joanna heard of the mission from family and friends who were volunteering.  The legend is that Joanna took a portion of her white silk skirt and fashioned it into a battle flag with a five-pointed blue star on both sides with "Liberty or Death" on the obverse and "Ubi libertas habitat.”  On the reverse it was written, “Ubi nostra patria est,"  or "Where liberty dwells, there is our country."   One story goes that Joanna presented the flag to Col. Ward while his battalion was marching through tiny Knoxville in Crawford County on its march to Texas.

Unlike the legend of Betsy Ross, which most likely was concocted by her grandson after the Civil War, absolute proof of Joanna’s creation of the flag can be found in an extant letter.

     "Columbia, Ga., Nov. 23, 1835.
     
     "Miss Troutman: Col. Ward brought your handsome appropriate flag as a present to the Georgia Volunteers in the cause of "Texas and Liberty." I was fearful from the shortness of time that you would not be able to finish it as tastefully as you would wish but I assure you, without emotion of flattery,  that it is beautiful and with us its value is enhanced by the recollection of the donor.”
     
     “I thank you for the honor of being made the medium of presentation to the company, and if they are what every true Georgian ought to be your flag shall wave over fields of victory in defiance of despotism. I hope that proud day will soon arrive, and, while your star presides, none can doubt our success.”
     
     “Very respectfully,”
     
     Your friend, Hugh McLeod
   
It is believed by some that it was Lt. McLeod to whom Joanna delivered her flag.  McLeod, a native of New York City, had just  moved to Macon.  He had graduated dead last in his United States Military Academy class at West Point in 1835.  While on his way to his first assignment in Louisiana, Lieutenant McLeod was attracted to the Georgia Battalion of Volunteers and followed them to Columbus.  McLeod would have to wait to go to Texas until he resigned his commission a year or so later.  He served as the adjutant general and the inspector general of the Texas army.

Troutman’s flag was first unfurled on January 8, 1836, in Velasco on the Gulf Coast at the American Hotel in what is now Freeport, Texas.  Col. Ward’s battalion joined the army of  Colonel James Walker Fannin, who is said to have raised the “Lone Star” as the first national flag of Texas. Fannin,  a native of Twiggs County, Georgia, and his command were captured and massacred at Goliad on Sunday, March 27, 1836.

After the massacre, the story of Troutman’s flag was soon to be forgotten.  Torn to shreds during the battle, not a single scrap was saved as a souvenir.  In gratitude for her gift of the battle flag, Troutman was presented with two pieces of silver from the personal belongings  of the captured Mexican leader General Santa Anna.

Joanna Troutman returned to a normal life.  She married S. L. Pope in 1839. The Popes, who had four sons, lived on their  large farm, “Elmwood,” outside of Knoxville.   In 1875,  after her husband died in 1872, Joanna married W.G. Vinson, a one time state representative.

Joanna Troutman died on July 23, 1879 and was buried in her family cemetery near her home.    Lying in eternal peace and obscurity for more than a third of a century, memories of Joanna and her important contribution to the State of Texas were resurrected in 1913.

Texas governor and native of Camilla, Georgia, Oscar B. Colquitt, sought and was granted written permission to have Joanna’s remains reinterned in the state capital at Austin.  Texas officials hired prominent sculptor Pompeo Coppini to design a proper and fitting bronze statue to capture the importance of her memory to all Texans.  Eventually, a portrait artist was hired and his painting of the “Betsy Ross of Texas” hangs in the capitol building.

So now you know the story of a famous heroine of Texas, who never traveled to the Lone Star State, but whose memory will continue to live on in the minds of true Texans for as long is there is a Texas. 

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