Monday, February 21, 2022

A Founding Mother

by Paula Gail Benson

On this President’s Day, as we remember George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and their contributions to the United States, I’ve been reading about Betsy Ross. I knew she had been asked by George Washington to sew the first U.S. flag, but I was not aware of her personal history.

Elizabeth Griscom was born in New Jersey, the eighth of seventeen children in a Quaker family. They moved to Philadelphia when she was three.

Betsy was an enterprising young woman. Following her formal education, she apprenticed to an upholsterer, where she met her first husband, a fellow apprentice and Anglican named John Ross. They eloped when her family did not approve and set up their own business on Chestnut Street, where they were employed to make curtains for George Washington when he served in the Continental Congress.

In 1774, two years after their marriage, John passed away, leaving Betsy a twenty-four year old widow without children. She had to fend for herself and continued her business. From their past dealings, Washington knew he could trust her and approached her to make a flag he designed.


George Washington’s battlefield standard featured thirteen six-pointed stars on a blue background. His original design for the U.S. flag also had six-pointed stars, but according to an account by Betsy’s grandson, William Canby, she convinced him to agree to five-pointed stars by folding a paper into triangles and creating a five-pointed star with a snip of her scissors.      

From: Wikipedia Commons

Following her first husband’s death, Betsy married Joseph Ashburn, a seamen whose vessel, The Lion, was captured. After being charged with treason, he died in the Old Mill Prison in Plymouth, England. He and Betsy had two daughters, only one of whom lived to be an adult. A fellow prisoner, John Claypoole, brought Betsy the news of Joseph’s death. John and Betsy married and became members of the Society of Free Quakers, which supported the colonists’ fight against Great Britain. The Claypooles had five daughters, one dying while young.

As she grew older, Betsy Ross took in many family members and offered them a home, including nieces, Betsy’s widowed daughter Clarissa, and Clarissa’s five children. With Clarissa’s help, Betsy continued to work as an upholsterer and flag-maker until she retired at the age of seventy-six and went to live with her daughter Susanna outside Philadelphia. Despite losing her vision, Betsy made the weekly carriage ride into Philadelphia to attend services at the Free Quaker Meeting House. Three years before her death, Betsy was completely blind. She spent the last years of her life with her daughter Jane in Philadelphia.

From: Mommie Nearest

Philadelphia maintains 239 Arch Street as the building where between 1776 and 1779 Betsy Ross resided, conducted her business, and created the first U.S. flag. In 1876, her descendants identified the building as the place where she lived and worked. Today, it continues to house a collection of Ross memorabilia as well as being a place where history is interpreted and presented and where events (private or public) may take place.

As we celebrate the founding and continuing of our country, why not check out the Betsy Ross House?


  1. More history here than i knew. thank you.

  2. Really enjoyed this history lesson. Thanks, Paula.

  3. Great post, Paula. I knew little beyond the basic facts and this was fascinating.

  4. Such a shame we don'learn more about the women who helped found this country. Thanks, Paula, for shedding a little more light on Betsy Ross.

  5. This is fantastic, Paula! I had no idea! Sharing this on Twitter and beyond. Happy President's Day.


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