Betsy Ross is known throughout the country as the maker of the first American flag. However, as seen below, there was a lot more to this colonial woman’s life than her role as a patriotic seamstress. The facts below outline the life of a woman, wife, mother, entrepreneur and colonial era icon.
1. Although she was one of 17 children, Betsy Ross and her first husband, John Ross, never had any children
Betsy Griscom was a young girl when her father apprenticed her to an upholsterer named William Webster. It was here that she fell in love with her future husband, John Ross. Ross was a member of the Episcopal Christ Church, while Griscom was raised a Quaker. They knew their love was forbidden, especially by Betsy’s family, and so the couple eloped. They established an upholstery shop together. When the American Revolution began, John Ross joined the militia in Pennsylvania. Tragically, he was killed in 1776 when a shed of ammunition exploded near where he was standing on guard. Betsy was only 24 years old when she was widowed.
2. After her first husband’s death, Betsy Ross joined the Fighting Quakers
The Quakers were a pacifist group that did not believe in any kind of fighting, regardless of the cause or purpose. However, during the American Revolution, some Quaker members felt strongly that the British should be fought in the name of America. Fighting Quakers were not recognized or welcomed by the peace-seeking Quakers, but were shunned and expelled from their communities. Family members deciding to take arms and fight had to do so at the cost of losing their families. These arms-bearing Quakers numbered in the hundreds during the American Revolution.
After using the name Fighting Quakers, three members, Christopher Marshall, Timothy Matlack and Samuel Wetherill formed a group called the Free Quakers, who were the same as the Quakers in every way, except in their belief on pacifism.
3. Betsy remarried one year after her first husband died
In 1777, just one year after John Ross died in an unfortunate and accidental explosion, Betsy Ross wed Joseph Ashburn, someone she knew as a younger girl. Ashburn was a sea captain, and, in light of the revolution at hand, he was at sea for long periods of time. Together they gave birth to two daughters (one died when she was only 9 months old). In 1781, Ashburn became a prisoner of war by British soldiers. One year later, just five years after they were married, Ashburn died while in capture.
4. Betsy remarried one of the other captors that John Ashburn was imprisoned with
Betsy’s third husband, John Claypool, was a friend of Joseph Ashburn’s. The three had all known each other as children. Claypool was able to escape from prison and was the unfortunate bearer of the news of Ashburn’s death to his young wife, Betsy. Soon after she heard the news, Claypool and Ross began courting, and were married on May 8, 1783. Together, the couple had five daughters. John Claypool did not die until the after-effects of a stroke took his life in 1817. He was 65 years old.
5. George Washington, George Ross and Robert Morris all visited Ross’ upholstery shop to speak with her about sewing a flag for America
The only account of Ross as the maker of the first American flag came from her grandson, William Canby. He came forward with the claim in 1876, 100 years after the flag was supposedly sewn. As a younger boy, Canby had been told the story by his grandmother, Betsy, of a secret committee comprised of George Washington, George Ross and Robert Morris. This committee, a part of the Continental Congress, came forth to Betsy with a drawing of what they envisioned for the flag. She suggested some slight changes, including the shape of the stars, and their arrangement on the flag.
After this meeting, Ross went on to sew the first flag, and then many others after it. The upholsterer turned flag sewer continued sewing the flags for the next 50 years of her life.
6. The location of Betsy Ross’ buried body is unknown
Ross died at the age of 84, on January 30, 1836. She was originally buried in the Free Quaker cemetery in Philadelphia, however she was moved 20 years later to Mt. Moriah Cemetery in Cobbs Creek, Philadelphia. In 1975, as the United Statesgeared up for the 1976 bicentennial of America, the government wanted to move Ross’ remains to her house, so workers dug into her tombstone in Mt. Moriah, but discovered no coffin or skeleton. In a somewhat crude gesture, it was decided that the bones of nearby plots belonged to Betsy, and they were removed and transported to the Betsy Ross House.
7. Betsy Ross was a lifelong Philadelphia resident, having moved there with her family when she was only three years old
Betsy Griscom (maiden name) was born into a wealthy family. Quakers, Samuel and Rebecca Griscom were successful in the work and personal lives. Samuel was a carpenter by trade, and Rebecca gave birth to seventeen children, the eighth of which was Elizabeth Griscom (Betsy).
8. There is controversy as to whether or not Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag
The story was originally told almost 100 years after Betsy sewed the flag. It was told by her grandson, and became widely accepted as truth. This might have been because the story was a good one. Betsy was a young woman, widowed early and struggling with a second husband away at war. She had two young daughters to raise alone after her second husband was imprisoned, and the war was making it hard for the family upholstery business to make ends meet. Her patriotism and ability to rise up after being beaten down time and time again makes her a perfect figure to stand as an American legend and icon.
9. The Betsy Ross Home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania might not have been Betsy’s actually house
The home, located at 239 Arch Street in Philadelphia was built around 1740. Betsy Ross supposedly occupied the house from 1773 until 1785, but there is speculation as to whether or not this is true. The claims that this was her house came from daughters, grandchildren and a niece, and was generally accepted as truth.
The home was occupied by private families and businesses until a major restoration was performed and completed in 1937. At this time, the Betsy Ross House was opened to the public.
10. Betsy Ross outlived three husbands and died at the age of 84
On January 30, 1836, Betsy Ross died in her sleep. The legendary American woman lived a long life, outliving three husbands, giving birth to seven daughters, running a successful business and becoming a symbol for patriotism throughout the country.