Betsy Ross permanently etched her name in American history by sewing the first American flag in Philadelphia in 1776. However, many have called her contribution to the American Revolution a legend, a fairy tale coined by her grandson.
Here are 12 interesting facts about Betsy Ross, an American icon.
Fact 1: Elizabeth Griscom, also known as Betsy, was born on January 1st 1752. She was the eighth of seventeen children born into the Quaker family of Samuel and Rebecca Griscom.
Fact 2: Betsy was a trained upholsterer. After completing her education, she became the apprentice of John Webster, a popular Philadelphia upholsterer.
Fact 3: Betsy fled with her beloved John Ross, an Anglican, of whom her family of devout Quakers did not approve, and married him in 1773 in New Jersey. However, their happy union was cut short by his death, leaving Betsy a childless widow at the age of 24. She continued their upholstery business and eventually married again, a sailor named Joseph Ashburn with whom she had a child. However, in 1782 Betsy again become a widow, her beloved dying during a prison sentence. She married her third husband John Claypoole in 1783 with whom she had five daughters, one dying at birth.
Fact 4: In late May 1776, Betsy met George Washington, Robert Morris and George Ross, members of a secret committee from the Continental Congress, who called upon her to sew the first American flag.
Fact 5: How did Betsy come to know these three men? Betsy was married to George Ross’s nephew, while Washington and she worshipped at the same church. Her daughter recalled; „That she was previously well acquainted with Washington, and that he had often been in her house in friendly visits, as well as on business. That she had embroidered ruffles for his shirt bosoms and cuffs, and that it was partly owing to his friendship for her that she was chosen to make the flag.”
Fact 6: George Washington showed Betsy a rough design of the flag with six pointed stars, after she demonstrated how to cut a five pointed star with a single move, the committee entrusted Betsy the honor of creating the first American flag. The five-pointed star, found on today’s flag, was Betsy’s invention.
Fact 7: Betsy’s story was revealed by her grandson who in March of 1870 presented a paper to the Pennsylvania Historical Society detailing the contribution his grandmother made to American independence. Other members of the family supported his claims; however, there is no first hand evidence that the recounted events actually took place. By the 1880’s the story was recorded in textbooks along with a painting of the „Birth of Our Nation’s Flag“, depicting Betsy as holding the flag and surrounded by the secret committee from the Continental Congress.
Fact 8: Betsy’s home is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Philadelphia.
Fact 9: One receipt dating back to May 29th, 1777, shows that Betsy was a flag maker. The receipt reads: “An order on William Webb to Elizabeth Ross, for 14 pounds, 12 shillings and 2 pence for making ships colors and put into William Richard’s stores”.
Fact 10: There are no records proving the existence of the secret Committee. There are also no records of the debate over the appearance of the flag. The Flag Resolution passed on June the 14th, 1777, read: “Resolved. That the flag of the United States be 13 stripes alternate red and white, that the Union be 13 stars white in a field of blue representing a new constellation.”
Fact 11: Despite the fact that skeptics and critics have doubted the tale of Betsy for hundreds of years, artists John Trumbull, an Aide to George Washington, and Captain Charles Willson Peale depicted the Betsy Rose flag in their paintings. Both gentlemen were believed to have been there at the time when the flag was made.