Oh Flag Betty, Bam A Lam

Betsy Ross is widely credited with being the creator of the first American flag. Despite much debate over this fact, one thing is true, Betsy Ross is one of the most prominent faces in both American and flag history.

Elizabeth Griscom was born on January 1, 1752 in Philadelphia, PA; the 8th of 17 children. She was born into a strict Quaker environment where she learned to sew early in her life from her great-aunt Elizabeth Griscom. After becoming an upholstery apprentice following Quaker schooling, she soon fell in love and married her coworker John Ross. Because Ross was an Episcopal Christian, the Quaker community quickly separated itself from Elizabeth. Betsy and John soon joined Christ Church of Philadelphia where George Washington attended. As you can guess, this is important for the rest of the story.

Betsy and John soon opened up their own upholstery business to start their lives together. When the Revolutionary war began in 1775, John joined the militia, leaving Betsy to remain with their upholstery business. John would eventually be killed in January, 1776 by a gunpowder explosion, leaving Betsy widowed at the young age of 24. Betsy continued to run the upholstery shop…

According to Betsy, George Washington (leader of the Continental Army), Robert Morris (one of the wealthiest men in the US) and Colonel George Ross (uncle of John) approached Betsy about making the first American flag. At that point, she had known Washington from church and had often sewn for him and Martha. Washington had apparently wanted a 6 point star, but after showing how to cut a 5-point star with one swipe of the scissors, they were convinced that she was the right person for the job. She created a 13 star design in a circle. The 13 stars represented the original 13 colonies and is still used in many American flag designs today.

Grand Union Flag

Grand Union Flag

As the Revolutionary War continued, a new flag was needed for the American colonies. Up until this time, most colonies were using flags inspired by Great Britain, such as the Grand Union flag. This is where most of the story gets tricky. The reason most people believe that Betsy Ross created the first American flag is because of a letter that William Canby, Betsy’s grandson, sent to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1870, 34 years following her death and a full 96 years following the actual creation of the flag. In this paper, Canby recounts a story that his Aunt had told him regarding the creation by Betsy. However, many of the stories and accounts in this paper have been unable to be verified; however, by most Americans, the story has been accepted as truth and she is generally regarded with the first American flag creation. Will we really ever know if Betsy Ross was responsible for creating the first official American flag? Sadly, probably not.

Getting back to the story! Following the death of John, she returned to her Quaker roots. She would then get remarried to a mariner by the name of Joseph Ashburm. With Joseph, Betsy became pregnant with two daughters, one of which miscarried. A British ship captured Joseph and returned him to a prison in England where he died of unknown reasons without ever meeting his daughter.

Betsy Ross Headstone

Betsy Ross Headstone

She eventually married again to a man named John Claypoole and had 5 more daughters, all the while still running the upholstery shop. John passed away in 1817 after 34 years of marriage. Betsy never remarried and eventually moved in with one of her daughters in Philadelphia following her retirement. She passed away in 1836 and was buried in a Quaker burial site in Philadelphia, PA.

If you are looking for a Betsy Ross flag or any other historical flags for that matter, please check out our website at www.flagexpressions.com.

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