Betsy Ross, A Legendary Woman
Elizabeth Griscom was born on New Years day 1752. Known as Betsy to family and friends, she was the eighth of seventeen children born to Rebecca and Samuel Griscom. They lived in Philadelphia. Being staunch Quakers, they were very conservative. Betsy was entirely educated at a friend’s Quaker school. It was in this Quaker school that she learned how to upholster. With her parents permission Betsy became an apprentice in the upholstery shop of John Ross.
Betsy soon fell in love with John Ross and they eloped on November 4th 1773 in Gloucester, New Jersey. Betsy and John ran the upholstery shop together for three years. In 1775 John joined the militia. While serving the Militia he was killed when a store filled with gunpowder blew up. John was very badly burned. Betsy treated him the best way she knew how, but despite her efforts he died in the middle of January. Against her parents will, Betsy continued to run the upholstery shop.
Six months later, in June of 1776, with her husbands death behind her she was approached by George Washington, Robert Morris, and her uncle George Ross. They wanted to discuss the possibility of her sewing the first American flag. The meeting was held in the back room of her home, and was kept very secret.During the course of the meeting George Washington presented Betsy with his idea for the flag. George Washington’s idea included a six-pointed star (1. Encyclopedia Britanica). Betsy saw the need for a few changes in the idea including changing the six-pointed star to a five-pointed star. Washington disagreed because he thought the five-pointed star would be more difficult to sew. Betsy quickly changed his mind by making a few simple folds in a piece of scrap cloth, and one snip to unfold a five-pointed star (2. Spencer). Betsy also wanted the flag to be a rectangle instead of a square. Betsy went to work on the flag. It was presented to and accepted by Congress on June 14, 1777. Just one short day before she was to marry her second husband.
A short time before she met her soon-to-be second husband, Joseph Ashburn, the first mate of the Brigantine Patty and was wed to him on June 15, 1777 (3. Compton’s Encyclopedia). Joseph and Betsy had two children. Their children were both girls, the oldest Zillah who died in her youth and the younger Elizabeth.
Joseph’s ship was captured at sea several years after he and Betsy’s marriage, and he died in the Old Mill Prison in Plymouth, England on March 3, 1782 (4. ushistory).
Betsy was soon married for the third time to John Claypole, the cellmate of her late husband. John and Betsy had five children all girls, Clarissa, Sidney, Susannah, Rachel, Jane, and Harriet. Claypole and Ross were married happily until she was again widowed in 1817.
Betsy continued making flags for the government for many years. She would live with one of her daughters until she died on January 30, 1836.
The flags that she made would fly high over forts and other government buildings. As the Civil War approached, the flag would come to serve as reminder of what some felt should be no more. By the end of the war, it would serve as a reminder of what cannot be split apart. It would prove resilience and an everlasting belief in freedom and democracy.
Betsy Ross left an endearing mark on the history of the United States. Her flag became an everlasting symbol of freedom and patriotism that continues to stand for the beliefs of the United States as it looks towards the new millennium. It was a flag like Betsy’s that became the subject of Francis Scott Key’s poem entitled “Defense for Fort McHenry.” This poem would soon become the country’s national anthem, “Defense at Fort McHenry” would be appropriately renamed “The Star Spangled Banner.” The first musical edition was published by Benjamin Carr it was actually made our national anthem by an act of congress in 1931.
The “Betsy Ross Flag” as it is known today was not the first flag flown in the U.S., however it was the first flag representing the original thirteen colonies, the United States of America. The “Betsy Ross Flag” contains thirteen alternating red and white stripes and thirteen white stars on a blue background (5. Wallis, 13). Today, two hundred and twenty-two years after the flag was first accepted by Congress, it looks a little different. There are now fifty stars on the flag, each one representing the fifty states. The stripes remain as symbolic reminder of the nation’s humble beginnings.
As the last year of the twentieth century is getting under way, there is a possibility that a new flag will be necessary. Puerto Rico has long been a territory of the United States and some people now feel that it is time the United States annex it as the fifty-first state. Only time will tell if fifty-one stars begin to fly high. Maybe it will even inspire a young ambitious man to write a poem.