Betsy Ross and the American Flag

Betsy Ross' house and courtyard

Elizabeth Griscom was born on January 1, 1752 in New Jersey.  She was born into a Quaker family and was sent to a Quaker public school.  She learned to read, write, and sew. While she was in school she met John Ross who was also an upholsterer.  Unfortunately he was Episcopal so her family did not approve of him.  They did not care and eloped.  This caused "Betsy" to be cut from the Quaker family.  Her family and her church severed all relationships with her.

Betsy and her husband started their own business in Philadelphia.  When the war started, their small business suffered because many fabrics were hard to come by. People fell into two categories - Loyalists and Patriots. People were very suspicious of each other and this was very hard for the Ross family who needed the business from both sides. Her husband joined the Pennsylvania militia and was killed, leaving Betsy a widow.

Betsy working hard in her shop

upholstery tools

Betsy and the Flag

a thimble and blue fabric

more tools

basket with wool

In May or early June 1776, a small committee came to see Betsy to request a flag.  This committee consisted of George Washington, George Ross, and Robert Morris. The meeting was kept secret and no one was to know about the flag. She married Captain John Ashburn later that June.  They had two children, but one died young.  Captain Ashburn was captured and died in a British prison in 1782.

George Washington was the leader of the Continental Army, George Ross was her late husband's uncle, and Robert Morris was the wealthiest man in Pennsylvania at the time. Some would think it odd that she was picked out of all the upholsterers in Philadelphia but think about it - her pew was right next to General Washington's at Christ Church, so she saw him every Sunday.  George Ross was a family member.  The men showed her a design they wanted - thirteen stripes alternating red and white to signify the original 13 colonies. The blue field with the 13 stars to represent a "new constellation".

Betsy had to sew quietly in her room at night so no one would know and report her suspicious behavior to Loyalists.  The men wanted a six pointed star, but Betsy convinced the men a 5 pointed star would be best. (apparently, 5 pointed stars were much easier to cut, too). She finished the flag in June of 1776.  On June 14, 1777, the flag was adopted as the national flag and flown proudly.  To this day, we celebrate Flag Day on June 14.

Mrs. Cochrane with a Federalist!

In May of 1783, she would marry again to John Claypoole.  A sailor, he retired from the sea and worked at the US Customs office.  They had five daughters together.  Betsy died on January 30, 1836.  She was 84 years old.

Her home fell into disrepair but people sent in thousands of dimes to help repair it. Her home is one of the most visited sights in Philadelphia next to the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.  When you visit her home, you will see her small upholstery shop in the front and will get to speak with Betsy Ross.  She will show you how to make a 5 point star just like the ones used to make our flag. If you travel upstairs, you can see her bedchamber where many nights she sewed by candlelight so no one would know what she was doing.  Finally as you travel to the basement, you can see where supplies were kept and exit the building into a large courtyard.  In the courtyard you will find her grave and a monument to her life.

Betsy's grave

Just like at Elfreth's Alley, you find another "Once Upon a Nation" storyteller.  There are 13 scattered at different historical locations.  Have a seat and learn another little known story about our history.

By the way, we found American - our lovely eagle at Betsy's home.  He joined Righty and Lefty on the rest of our trip!  He was a wonderful addition to our traveling family!!

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