3’x5′ Sewn & Embroidered Betsy Ross Flag
Betsy Ross is best known for making the first American flag. The story told is that she made the flag after a visit in June 1776 by George Washington, Robert Morris, and her husband’s uncle, George Ross. She demonstrated how to cut a 5-pointed star with a single clip of the scissors, if the fabric were folded correctly.
So the story goes — but this story was not told until 1870 by Betsy’s grandson, and then even he claimed it was a story that needed confirmation. Most scholars agree that it was not Betsy who made the first flag, though she was a flagmaker who, records show, was paid in 1777 by the Pennsylvania State Navy Board for making “ship’s colours, &c.”
She was born Elizabeth Griscom in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Samuel and Rebecca James Griscom. She was the great-granddaughter of a carpenter, Andrew Griscom, who had arrived in New Jersey in 1680 from England.
Young Elizabeth probably attended Quaker schools and learned needlework there and at home. When she married John Ross, an Anglican, in 1773, she was expelled from the Friends Meeting for marrying outside the meeting. She eventually joined the Free Quakers, or “Fighting Quakers” because they did not adhere strictly to the historic pacifism of the sect. John and Elizabeth (Betsy) Ross began an upholstery business together, drawing on her needlework skills.
John was killed in January 1776 on militia duty when gunpowder exploded at the Philadelphia waterfront. Betsy acquired property and kept up the upholstery business, beginning to make flags for Pennsylvania as well.
In 1777 Betsy married Joseph Ashburn, a sailor, who had the misfortune of being on a ship captured by the British in 1781. He died in prison the next year.
In 1783, Betsy married again — this time, her husband was John Claypoole, who had been in prison with Joseph Ashburn, and had met Betsy when he delivered Joseph’s farewells to her. He died in 1817, after a long disability.
Betsy lived until 1836, dying on January 30. She was reburied in the Free Quaker Burying Ground in 1857.
When Betsy’s grandson told his story of her involvement with the first flag, it quickly became legend. published in Harper’s Monthly in 1873, by the mid-1880’s the story was included in many school textbooks.