Today is Betsy Ross’s 258th birthday. Generations of American children knew Betsy as the maker, and perhaps designer, of the first flag of the United States of America. Many historians now, however, question Betsy’s participation in this event.
Regardless of whether or not she made the first flag, Betsy Griscom Ross Ashburn Claypoole had plenty of pluck. As a young woman, Betsy was apprenticed to an upholsterer, where she met another young apprentice named John Ross. Betsy, a Quaker, and Ross, son of an Episcopal assistant rector, eloped to New Jersey in 1773, an act which would cut her off from her family and her religion as she was “read out” of the Quaker congregation for marrying outside the faith.
Shortly after their marriage, they opened their own upholstery shop in Philadelphia. As the colonies moved ever closer toward war with England, John Ross joined the militia and was seriously wounded in an explosion while guarding an ammunition cache. He died soon afterward.
Betsy carried on the upholstery business, and it was not long after John’s death that, according to the story she told her grandchildren, none other than George Washington approached her about producing a flag for the soon-to-be nation. As upholsterers of that day also designed and made flags, this is not out of the question .
Betsy married twice more, outliving both husbands and continuing in an active role in the upholstery business until she was 75 years old. Her business thrived, and at one time she had as many as 50 women working for her. Through the years, she brought many of her family members into the business, providing employment and skills which allowed daughters and grandchildren to support themselves.