Betsy Ross And The First American Flag
by Stan Griffin


These are the facts.

Elizabeth Griscom was born in Philadelphia (Pennsylvania colony) on January 1, 1752. She was the eighth child of 17 born to Samuel Griscom (a carpenter) and Rebecca Griscom. Her family were Quakers. One of the family chores Elizabeth performed was sewing the white Quaker caps worn by her sisters every day.

Elizabeth attended the Friends School in Philadelphia with other Quaker children. In addition to the standard school subjects, each student was required to spend four hours daily on special tasks. Elizabeth enjoyed sewing, so she used this time to create complicated quilts and samplers. She won many prizes for her innovative designs. As a teenager, Elizabeth went to work for a Philadelphia upholsterer, sewing coverings for sofas and chairs. In the shop she met John Ross; they eloped and were married in 1773. The two of them opened a small upholstery shop in 1775. The American Revolution had begun in Massachusetts a few days earlier, but that did not discourage them. John and Elizabeth worked together to make a success of their new business.

John joined the army in 1776 and was killed in an ammunition explosion the same year. Elizabeth continued to operate their business alone. She had earned a city-wide reputation as an expert seamstm ress. She became an official flagmaker for the Pennsylvania Naval Board and was paid to make "ships' colors" (flags flown on vessels).

The Continental Congress approved a design for the first U. S. flag on June 14, 1777. It had thirteen stripes, one for each colony, alternating red and white. There were also 13 white stars in a circle on a blue background.

Elizabeth married Joseph Ashburn, a sea captain, in that same year. While he was away on a voyage, British soldiers occupied

Philadelphia for a few months. In spite of their presence (even in her home), Elizabeth continued to operate her business.

Joseph was captured by the British. Elizabeth learned after the war that he had died in prison. In 1782 she married John Claypoole. After a short period of working in her upholstery shop, he took a job with the U. S. Customs House. He died in 1817.

Elizabeth gave birth to seven daughters, and she also had a number of grandchildren. She taught sewing to all the girls; and when they grew up, they helped her in the shop. At the age of 75, Elizabeth retired because of failing eyesight. She died in 1836.

In 1870, one of her grandsons, William J. Canby, wrote a paper. In it he related a story that Elizabeth had told him at the age of 11. She was 84 years old at the time.

This is that story.

In June, 1776 Elizabeth ("Betsy") Griscom Ross was visited in her shop by a committee of three men. Heading that committee was General George Washington. Elizabeth was asked to make a flag (the "Stars and Stripes") according to a rough sketch they gave her.

Elizabeth made two suggestions which were accepted by the committee: (1) The proposed flag had six-pointed stars. She advised changing to those with five points, saying that they were easier to sew and wasted less cloth. (2) The committee's sketch showed a square flag. Elizabeth suggested that it should be a rectangular shape because it would look better waving in the wind.

In making the first American flag, Elizabeth sewed thirteen stars shaped in a circle on a blue field. She placed it against thirteen red and white stripes.

There is no absolute proof that this story is true and that "Betsy" Ross sewed the first American flag.


You might also enjoy these stories by Stan Griffin:

Thaddeus Kosciuszko-"A Hero of Two Worlds"

Tennessee's "Christian Warrior"--Alvin York

Norman Rockwell : "The People's Artist"

"A Prophet Without Honor In His Own Land"--William "Billy" Mitchell

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