by Paula Gail Benson
On this President’s Day, as we
remember George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and their contributions to the
United States, I’ve been reading about Betsy Ross. I knew she had been asked by
George Washington to sew the first U.S. flag, but I was not aware of her personal
Elizabeth Griscom was born in
New Jersey, the eighth of seventeen children in a Quaker family. They moved to
Philadelphia when she was three.
Betsy was an enterprising young
woman. Following her formal education, she
apprenticed to an upholsterer, where she met her first husband, a fellow
apprentice and Anglican named John Ross. They eloped when her family did not
approve and set up their own business on Chestnut Street, where they were
employed to make curtains for George Washington when he served in the Continental
In 1774, two years after their marriage, John
passed away, leaving Betsy a twenty-four year old widow without children. She
had to fend for herself and continued her business. From their past dealings,
Washington knew he could trust her and approached her to make a flag he
George Washington’s battlefield standard
featured thirteen six-pointed stars on a blue background. His original design
for the U.S. flag also had six-pointed stars, but according to an account by
Betsy’s grandson, William Canby, she convinced him to agree to five-pointed
stars by folding a paper into triangles and creating a five-pointed star with a
snip of her scissors.
|From: Wikipedia Commons|
her first husband’s death, Betsy married Joseph Ashburn, a seamen whose vessel, The Lion, was captured. After being charged with treason, he died in
the Old Mill Prison in Plymouth, England. He and Betsy had two daughters, only
one of whom lived to be an adult. A fellow prisoner, John Claypoole, brought
Betsy the news of Joseph’s death. John and Betsy married and became members of
the Society of Free Quakers, which supported the colonists’ fight against Great
Britain. The Claypooles had five daughters, one dying while young.
As she grew older, Betsy Ross took in many
family members and offered them a home, including nieces, Betsy’s widowed
daughter Clarissa, and Clarissa’s five children. With Clarissa’s help, Betsy
continued to work as an upholsterer and flag-maker until she retired at the age
of seventy-six and went to live with her daughter Susanna outside Philadelphia.
Despite losing her vision, Betsy made the weekly carriage ride into
Philadelphia to attend services at the Free Quaker Meeting House. Three years
before her death, Betsy was completely blind. She spent the last years of her
life with her daughter Jane in Philadelphia.
|From: Mommie Nearest|
maintains 239 Arch Street as the building where between 1776 and 1779 Betsy Ross resided, conducted
her business, and created the first U.S. flag. In 1876, her descendants identified the building as the place where she lived
and worked. Today, it continues to house a collection of Ross memorabilia as
well as being a place where history is interpreted and presented and where
events (private or public) may take place.
As we celebrate the founding and continuing of
our country, why not check out the Betsy Ross House?