Betsy Ross was born on January 1, 1752 and died on January 30, 1836. She has been credited with being the maker of the first American flag.
Betsy Ross was born with the name Elizabeth Griscom to her parents, Rebecca James and Samuel Griscom in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was the eighth out of seventeen children in the family. In her home, there was strict discipline and plain clothing due to their association with the Society of Friends. Her great aunt, Sarah Griscom, taught Betsy to sew. Her great gradfather, Andrew Griscom, was a carpenter of Quaker faith who immigrated from England to New Jersey in 1680.
After Betsy finished her schooling, she was apprenticed by her father to an upholsterer with the name of William Webster. While there, she fell in love with John Ross, a fellow apprentice and the son of assistant rector Aeneas Ross at the Episcopal Christ Church. When Betsy was twenty-one years old, the couple eloped, causing her to be expelled from the Quakers and separated from her family. The couple opened their own upholstery business and joined the Christ Church. Together, they did not have any children.
Once the American Revolutionary War came about, the Rosses were struggling financially. The fabric that they needed was no longer always available. Business was not good. John decided to join the militia of Pennsylvania, but he was killed in January of 1776 after the ammunition in a storehouse he was responsible for guarding exploded. Following John’s death, Betsy became a part of the “Fighting Quakers” who supported the war effort, which was unlike the traditional group of Quakers. Betsy married Joseph Ashburn, sea captain, in June of 1777. They had two children together. While the British were around in 1777, they forcibly occupied the Ross home. After the Battle of Germantown, she took care of British and American soldiers.
Today Betsy Ross is remembered as the flag maker of the United States flag. Ross met with George Washington, George Ross, and Robert Morris at her upholstery shop, which resulted in her sewing the very first stars and stripes flag for the United States.
In May of 1783, Betsy Ross married John Claypoole, who was an old friend who informed her of her second husband’s death in a British prison where Ashburn and Claypoole had been imprisoned. Together, the couple had five daughters. Following twenty years of poor health, he died in 1817. Following his death, Betsy Ross continued to work in her upholstery business, and this included making flags for the U.S. reportedly until 1827. Once she retired, she lived with her married daughter, Susannah Satterthwaite, who kept operating the upholstery business. Betsy Ross died in Philadelphia when she was 84 years old on January 30, 1836.
Betsy Ross’s body was originally buried at the Free Quaker burial ground in Philadelphia on South 5th Street. Twenty years after her burial, her remains were exhumed from her grave and she was reburied in the Mt. Moriah Cemetery in Philadelphia in the Cobbs Creek Park section. When the United States was preparing for the United States Bicentennial, the city ordered that the remains of Betsy Ross be transferred to the Betsy Ross House in 1975, but the workers found no remains underneath her tombstone. As a result, the bones found in other areas of the family plot were said to be hers and were re-interred in the grave site of the Betsy Ross House that has visitors.
On January 1, 1952, there was a stamp issued by the United States Postal Service in order to honor the 200th anniversary of her birth. The illustration on the stamp shows Betsy Ross presenting the U.S. flag to George Washington, George Ross, and Robert Morris.
There has been research conducted by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. The research shows that the story of Betsy Ross making the very first American flag for George Washington was first believed to be true around the time of 1876 and the Centennial celebrations. The grandson of Ross, William J. Canby, presented to the Historical Society his claim that his grandmother had been the one to make the first flag with her own hands. He said that he had learned of this from his aunt Clarissa Wilson in 1857, just twenty years following Betsy Ross’s death. The making of the flag itself was said to have occurred in late May or early June of 1776, approximately a year prior to Congress passing the Flag Act. The Smithsonian experts wrote a book in 2008, called The Star-Spangled Banner: The Making of an American Icon, stating that the story told by Camby appealed to the American public, who was very eager to hear about the heroes and the heroines from the Revolutionary War. In the process, Betsy Ross has been promoted as a patriotic female role model for girls as well as an example of female contribution to the war effort and to American history in general.