Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
The famous always seem to have a cloud of mystery, myth, and controversy surrounding them. No matter how pure their actions or how noble, something always seems to cloud it. Because of the never fail of being famous, so does a cloud shadow the image of our revered Betsy Ross.
Ask anyone who Betsy Ross was and they will tell you that she sewed the first American flag. Beyond that, very few non-historians know much more about her. But this woman led a strong and courageous life in a time when rebelling and moving forward was becoming popular.
Ushering in a new year in 1752, a Quaker couple in Philadelphia welcomed their eighth child, a daughter named Elizabeth Griscom. She would be raised following Quaker customs and upon reaching adulthood went into a trade – upholstery. Doing this job, she learned to sew flags, tents, and all manner of sewing needs. It was there at this job that she met the man who would claim her heart. There was just one problem. He was Episcopalian. Quakers did not believe in marriages between religions. The penalty of such an act was expulsion from the Quaker community. In other words, the person was considered dead or never existed at all. Elizabeth, Betsy, took that chance as she agreed to marry John Ross and they eloped.
Not too many years later, the waves of revolution were in full action. Her husband joined the militia and fulfilled his patriotic duty. In 1776, John was guarding ammunition when an explosion occurred. Though he did not die instantly, Betsy tried to nurse him back to no avail. She was a widow with no children to comfort her at the young age of 24.
A year later she met and married Joseph Ashburn who was a sea captain. They had two children together before he was captured by the British as he was making a run for the rebellious young country. Later he died in prison in 1782 after the surrender of Cornwall.
A year later she married the very man who brought her the news of her death, John Claypoole. He was a sailor that had been imprisoned with her second husband. John gave up sea life and eventually was working in the U.S. Customs House. They had several children together.
Betsy Ross continued to live in the Philadelphia area until she died at the age of 84 in 1836. The woman who would become famous for her sewing died totally blind.
So, what shadows this woman’s image? Could it possibly be the multiple marriages? Goodness, no. It is the fact that in 1776 it was reported by her grandson that George Washington, George Ross, and Robert Morris approached the young widow to make the first flag for the new country. Many people in the family and a few friends swore that she told them the story of that first meeting and how she showed General Washington that a five pointed star was possible and extremely easy. But historians who have dug deeper have begun to question to legitimacy of these claims.
Did Betsy Ross make flags for the new country? Yes. But many historians claim that according to records, they were only for a few ships. They can find no records of any plans for a flag being designed or approved of in 1776. There is no mention of her in any proceedings. It was not until a few years later that her name appears and that was to make the flags for ships.
Those that stand on the side of Betsy Ross being the first flag maker, cite the fact that the meeting was intentionally secret and that it made sense since her uncle was on the committees and appeared at the meeting.
We may never know the complete truth about Betsy Ross. What we do know is that she stood against tradition that was ingrained in her. She was willing to step out and take a stand. She strove on in life despite the knocks it brought her and died with her head held high. If we know nothing else, we know that this was a woman that helped shaped America not by her famous achievements but by her personality, her spirit, and her pride.