Betsy Ross and the First American Flag



Elizabeth “Betsy” Ross is best known for creating the first American flag depicting stars and stripes. During the American Revolutionary War, she may or may not have continued to sew flags for soldiers, however there is no evidence to prove this. Her original flag continued thirteen stars and stripes. To this day there are still thirteen stripes on the American flag, but now fifty stars.

On January 1, 1752 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Griscom was born to father Samuel Griscom and mother Rebecca James Griscom. Her parents had seventeen children in all, Betsy being the eight, though only nine lived to adulthood. Betsy grew up in a Quaker household and attended a Quaker state school.

Betsy was sent to apprentice under William Webster, an upholsterer, after her education was finished. John Ross, another apprentice, and Betsy quickly fell in love. At twenty-one years old, Betsy eloped with John Ross in 1773. Because her husband was not a Quaker like the Griscom family, Betsy was suspended from the church and had to split with her family. Betsy and John then opened their own upholstery business. From there they also joined the Christ Church. The couple would not have any children though.

John was a member of the Pennsylvania Provincial Militia when the Revolutionary War began. He was said to have been killed by a gunpowder explosion, but no one was quite sure how he died. Betsy was only twenty-four when he died. She did not give up on their upholstery business though and kept working.

Not long after on June 15, 1777, Joseph Ashburn married Betsy. Three years later, the Royal Navy captured his ship and charged him with treason. Ashburn died while being kept in British jails after his daughter Zilla died at nine months and his second daughter Eliza was born.

For the third time, Betsy married, this time to John Claypoole. The two had met before when Claypoole had come to tell her of Ashburn’s death. Their wedding was in May of 1783. Betsy and John Claypoole had four daughters who lived through childhood, Clarissa (1785-1864), Susanna (1786-1875), Jane (1792-1873), and Rachel (1789-date of death unknown). Their fifth daughter, Harriet, died as a baby though.

John Claypoole passed away in 1817 due to his bad health. For ten more years, Betsy would continue to run her upholstery business before retiring and moving in with Susanna. Clarissa took over her mother’s upholstery business.

At eighty-four years old, Betsy died on January 30, 1836 in Philadelphia. She had been living with her daughter Jane after being completely blind for three years.





The story of Betsy Ross’s flag starts off shortly after her first husband had died. General George Washington paid her a visit in either the summer of 1776 or 1777 about a flag for their new nation, that was if they ever won their independence. The Continental Congress had come up with a general idea for the flag, though Betsy perfected it. She also changed the stars from six to five points. Betsy’s grandson was the one to make the encounter between Betsy and Washington public, but that wasn’t until 1870. She was known to have continued making flags after the war with help from her daughters.