Unfortunately, most of what you may have learned in school about Betsy Ross and the creation of the American flag is most likely myth. Here are a few facts about Betsy Ross one of American’s most honored seamstresses. (For more fascinating history check out the Wiki page “Betsy Ross Flag”)
• Elizabeth “Betsy” Griscom was born on January 1, 1752, and lived in Philadelphia for most of her life.
• She was number eight of seventeen children!
• Ross was raised as a Quaker.
• She learned sewing as a child and later moved into upholstery, meeting her first husband, John Ross.
• John Ross was an Episcopalian. She had to elope and was kicked out of her church.
• They ran away to New Jersey when Betsy was 21 years old.
• She ran the sewing/upholstery business on her own after Ross was killed by an explosion.
• She supported her family but sewing uniforms and making quilts for the military.
• There is proof that she did make flags for the Pennsylvania State Navy.
• She continued to run her upholstery business while making flags for the U.S. until the late 1820s.
• Betsy Ross was the mother of 7 daughters and had 3 husbands.
• She died on January 30, 1836 and now is residing in Mt Moriah Cemetery in Philadelphia.
The Betsy Ross Legend
The legend is that George Washington visited Betsy in Philadelphia with a sketch of a flag that he wanted made. Apparently her idea was for a five pointed star rather than a six pointed one. She showed George the technique and he liked it, and then she got busy. There are all sorts of lofty descriptions of their meeting but sadly there is no definitive proof that they even met.
The truth is that there is no solid evidence who made the first flag, but there is general agreement that Francis Hopkinson designed the “Betsy Ross” flag. Maybe it was designed by a man, but without a doubt, whether it was in fact Betsy Ross or some unsung, long forgotten woman, this work was done by a woman. My favorite photo of the ‘birth’ of the American flag is the one below. It represents so much of what I love about sewing: the very act of creating, community and fellowship with others who love the same thing that I do. God bless sewing!
Happy 4th of July!
For more fascinating facts on Betsy Ross go to http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com/betsy-ross-facts.html
1. The latest scholarship on the life and legacy of Betsy Ross has been uploaded to the Wikipedia article on Betsy Ross (as of 2021), https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betsy_Ross
2. The Flag Manufacturers Association of America (FMAA) issued the following Tweet on February 4, 2021:
FMAA@FMAA_USA – Feb 4
#FlagFact: The designer of the American flag was Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence as a delegate from New Jersey.
3. The latest scholarship on Hopkinson and the origin of the American flag has been upoaded to the annotated Wikipedia article on Francis Hopkinson (as of 2021), https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Hopkinson
Submitted by Earl P. Williams, Jr., U.S. flag historian (paleovexillologist)
Thanks for the Betsy Ross truisms. I’m besotted by the Revolutionary War era, especially after watching TURN on the AMC channel, and reading the two books about the Culper spy ring. I hope Betsy Ross will make an appearance in the next season of TURN!
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