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Friday, June 15, 2012

BETSY ROSS

Every June 14th, the United States of America celebrates Flag Day, a day we associate with Betsy Ross. Yet, a controversy remains to this day as to the veracity of the story of Betsy Ross being commissioned by George Washington to sew the first American flag. Whether the account is true or merely legend, we know some very interesting things about this remarkable woman.

Elizabeth “Betsy” Griscom was born January 1, 1752 into a fourth generation American Quaker family in Philadelphia. She was the eighth in a family of seventeen children. Her father and grandfather were both well known carpenters. Betsy received an extensive education in a Quaker public school where she was also was taught the trade of sewing. She was apprenticed to work in a local upholstery shop where she met John Ross, another apprentice and the son of an Anglican assistant rector at Christ Church. Quakers did not take kindly to inter-denominational marriages, which may have been the reason why twenty-one year old Betsy and John eloped in 1773, causing a permanent separation from her family.

In 1775 John and Betsy Ross began their upholstery business. However, with no support from the Quaker community, with significant competition, and a war that was making access to needed fabrics difficult, their business faltered. John joined the Pennsylvania militia but died in January 1776 as a result of wounds he received in an ammunition explosion.

“The Birth of Our Nation’s Flag”
By Charles Weisgerber
Depicting the alleged meeting of the Committee of Three
It’s been suggested that Betsy did some tailoring for George Washington, and in May or June of 1776 she claimed to have met with the Committee of Three (George Washington, Robert Morris and John Ross) who brought her a design for the flag. The controversy started later, stemming from the story of the flag’s origin being relayed by one of her grandsons, William Canby, at a meeting of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1870, ninety-four years later. Many historians have researched his account through government records and the three men’s personal letters or diaries and found no verification of the meeting or of the commissioning of the creation of a national flag. Perhaps adding to the confusion, Betsy Ross was known to have made some ship’s colors for Pennsylvania state ships. In 1909, William Canby’s brother published a book to support the story of Betsy’s tie to the creation of the first American flag.

After John’s death, Betsy remarried in June of 1777 and had two daughters with sea captain Joseph Ashburn. During that winter she was forced to house British solders in her home. Betsy’s husband was captured by the British, sent to prison in England for treason, and died there in 1782. News of his death was brought to Betsy by another imprisoned sailor and friend, John Claypoole, whom she married in 1783. He passed in 1817.

Many people believe that the legend of Betsy Ross creating the first American flag was fabricated (no pun intended).  They argue that not much was known or promoted about the important role women played during the time of our nation’s founding and this narrative would add that dimension to our national story. Fortunately, in later years, much has come to light about our Founding Mothers, many women who valiantly served our country in various capacities during the Revolutionary period.

Betsy Ross House
 Philadelphia, PA
Whether the legend of Betsy Ross is true or not, we do know that this amazing woman was well educated, an entrepreneur who continued in business during and after the death three husbands until she was seventy-five years old.

She passed away in 1836 and is buried adjacent to the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia, where it held its first Flag Day celebration on June 14, 1891.

12 comments:

  1. I've always been intrigued by Betsy, Janet, and thank you for bringing her to life here. One of my favorite places on my Philadelphia tour last summer was her house. Charming and snug and memorable. I loved her sewing room and the little winding stairs everywhere. She was certainly one of a kind! This reminds me I need to finish the bio I bought of her last year...:)

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  2. Thank you, Laura. Betsy certainly was a remarkable woman with a spirit of "soldiering on" in the face of adversity.

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  3. What a fascinating history, Janet. I'm so glad you did this post for Flag Day, so fitting. I watched The Patriot last night on the History Channel and whenever they showed the flag it made me think of Betsey! I almost went into my office to get my 13 star flag that Carrie gave me from CQ and waived it!

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  4. Thanks Carla. I love to see the flags displayed. It reminds me of so many who sacrificed so much to preserve our nation. I also enjoy watching the Patriot (except for the parts where I cover my eyes).

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  5. What an interesting tutorial of Betsy Ross and our flag. When I was in high school I can remember studying the controversial part she may or may not have played in our country's first flag. At that time I tried to learn more about her, but found our small town resources insufficient for any real research. Thank you for your contribution here and also sparking my curiousity to search out more with the wealth of resources we have today.

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  6. Thank you, Mary. I agree, reading about historical events characters is fascinating.

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  7. Thanks, Janet, for this information. When we were in Philly last summer I did not get to go to the Betsy Ross house because it was too late in the day both times we went. I had wondered why there was controversy, as we tend to take the Betsy Ross account as fact. But your post clarifies that for me. Blessings!

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  8. Thank you so much for the Post about Betsy Ross, very interesting.

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  9. This post was a delight! My family and I visited her home some years ago and were overwhelmed with a great feeling as we walked through this historical place.

    Hello, Carrie! I wanted to let you know that I featured "Colonial Quills" on my blog. Just your link in hopes that more will visit here to learn more about inspirational fiction writers. I hope you do not mind.

    Blessings.

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  10. I never knew about the controversy! Thanks for blogging about it! The Flag is one of my favorite things! I am thankful for it no matter who designed it!

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  11. Janet, thank you for this very interesting post. And I too love the movie Patriot. Especially the opening scene and the debate about why and why not to start a revolution.

    Has anyone ever done a post on Mary Pickersgill and the flag she made that inspired Key to compose our national anthem.

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  12. Thanks ladies. I was so impressed with Betsy Ross. Just goes to show that feisty, motivated women, who are entrepreneurs and independent, aren't only found in the 20th and 21st century. There are many of he fairer sex to be proud of also!

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