Tradition credits Betsy Ross with sewing the first American flag. Historians, however, can’t prove that this story is true. But Betsy Ross did witness the American Revolution (1775-1783) and the birth of a new nation, the United States of America. Elizabeth Griscom “Betsy” Ross, née Griscom, also known by her second and third married names, Ashburn and Claypoole, is widely credited with making the first American flag.
WHO WAS BETSY ROSS?
Elizabeth, or Betsy, Griscom was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1752. In 1773, she married John Ross, who owned an upholstery business (covering furniture with fabric). When John died three years later, Betsy took over the business.
The sewing machine had not been invented in the 1700s. In her work, Betsy Ross sewed every stitch by hand, using a needle, thread, and a steel thimble to protect her fingers.
THE FIRST FLAG
According to tradition, General George Washington and several other men asked Betsy Ross to help design and sew a flag. The year was 1776 and the 13 American colonies had boldly issued the Declaration of Independence. This document cut ties with Great Britain and formed the United States of America. American and British troops had already been fighting for more than a year. The new country needed its own flag. Betsy Ross agreed to the task.
WHAT DID THE FIRST FLAG LOOK LIKE?
No one knows exactly how that first flag looked, or when or where it was first used. We do know the flag featured 13 stripes in alternating colors of red and white. A dark blue field held 13 white stars, one for each colony. Most early flags arranged the stars in a circle against a blue square background.
BETSY ROSS’S FAMILY
Betsy Ross married again in 1777 to a man named Joseph Ashburn. The couple had two children. But the British captured Ashburn during the war and he died in a military prison in 1782.
In 1783, the year the war ended, Betsy married a third time. Her new husband, John Claypoole, had been imprisoned with Ashburn. Betsy and John Claypoole had five daughters. When Claypoole died in 1817, Betsy moved in with one of her daughters. In 1836, Betsy Ross died in Philadelphia.
No one knew about the story of Betsy Ross and the flag until her grandson first told it in 1870. To this day, people don’t know who really sewed the first American flag. But Betsy Ross lives in legend as the woman who served her country by stitching together the first red, white, and blue.