The History of Betsy Ross

If you think Betsy Ross made the first American flag, think again. While her involvement cannot be completely discounted, many historians believe that she did not actually make the first flag and that in fact, there may have been many first flags in commission at the same time. The original story was told by Ross grandson, William J. Canby. Canby was just 11 when Betsy died in 1836 but the story continued to be told by family members. In 1870, Canby presented the tale to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. In his paper, Canby recounted how George Washington came to Betsy's shop in 1776, along with a congressional committee that included Col George Ross who was the uncle of her first (and then deceased) husband, John Ross. Betsy supposedly showed the men how to fold fabric to produce a 5-pointed star with a single cut and the men were impressed. So much so, that they commissioned her to create the first American flag. This flag, with its 13 stars in a circle on a sea of blue to represent the colonies and of course, the red and white stripes, has since been referred to as the Betsy Ross Flag. Now, it is true that Betsy Ross was quite the seamstress. She and her husband John Ross had established a successful upholstery business in Pennsylvania and after his death, Betsy continued on with the family business. It is also true that she was a flagmaker as her records show having received payment from the Pennsylvania State Navy Board for making ship's colours, etc. But there's no evidence that she and George Washington ever knew each other and the first documented meeting about a national flag was the Flag Resolution of 1777, a year after Ross supposedly met with Washington and his colleagues. Theres also no notation of any payment or commission in Betsy's detailed records and it should be noted that the only contribution she ever claimed was that five-point star. Even her grandson agreed that further confirmation was needed but when the story was told, it was almost immediately published in Harper's Monthly in 1873. Just ten years later, the story was included in most history books in American schools. What is known is that Betsy Ross joined the Free (Fighting) Quakers after being expelled from the Quakers Friends Meeting for marrying Angelican John Ross. Eloping to New Jersey, they were wed by then-Governor, William Franklin, Ben Franklin's son. After Johns death, Betsy would marry two more times, first to Joseph Ashburn in 1777 and then to John Claypoole in 1783. Ashburn was a sailor who was captured by the British in 1781 and died in prison the following year. Claypoole was a cell-mate with Ashburn and it was he who delivered the news of Ashburns fate to Betsy. Betsy Ross died on January 30, 1836 and was buried in the Mt. Moriah Cemetery. She was then reburied in 1857 in the Free Quaker Burying Ground. Betsy Ross is now buried in the courtyard on Arch Street next to the Betsy Ross House.

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