True or false? Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag.
Would you be surprised to know both answers could be right? Many historians say, yes. Others, no. Let’s look at some facts about this amazing Revolutionary lady and see what you think.
Elizabeth, or Betsy, was born on January 1, 1752 to Samuel and Rebecca Griscom of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Griscom family were Quakers. Quakers are a religious group who lead a simple, prayerful life and do not believe in violence.
Betsy was the eighth child in a family of seventeen children, so it was only natural she would learn to sew. During the 1700’s, everything a family used from clothes to blankets must be made by hand.
Stories tell us Betsy enjoyed sewing during her years at the Friends School. (Friend is another name for Quaker.) She designed her own samplers and won many prizes. When her school days ended, she went to work in an upholster’s shop in Philadelphia. An upholster made clothes, blankets, covers for furniture and flags.
Betsy soon met John Ross and they were married in 1773. They decided to open their own upholstery shop. The Ross’ worked long hours but business was slow.
America was at war with Great Britain and times were hard. Even though Betsy believed America’s dispute with the British should be solved in peaceful ways, she tried to help. She gave food and water to soldiers and helped nurse the injured.
John joined the Pennsylvania militia. Sadly, he was guarding a storehouse of ammunition when it exploded. Betsy nursed him for months until he died of his wounds. Now a widow, Betsy decided to keep her shop open.
At the beginning of the war, American’s fought under the Grand Union Flag. It had thirteen stripes of red and white with a small British flag in the upper left corner. As the war progressed, General Washington did not want our flag to have any reminders of Britain. We needed a new, all American flag.
Legend tells us that General Washington went to visit Betsy and asked her to sew the first flag. He had drawn the design of a square flag with thirteen red and white stripes. The stripes and thirteen stars on a blue background would represent the thirteen original colonies.
According to the story Betsy told her grandchildren, General Washington suggested she make six pointed stars. She told him five pointed stars were easier to sew and wastes less fabric. Betsy also suggested making the flag rectangular so it could be seen more clearly from a distance. With the General’s permission, Betsy began to sew.
While it would be hard today to prove beyond a doubt this legend is true, there are some clues that tell us the story is fact not fiction. General Washington did call on Betsy in her sewing shop.
Also, on June 14, 1777, Congress passed a resolution about what could have been the flag sewn by Betsy. “Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes alternate red and white, that the union be thirteen stars in a blue field…”
During the war, Betsy became well known for her beautifully designed flags. She remarried twice and had five daughters. She taught them all to sew.
Betsy worked in her little sewing shop until failing eyesight caused her to quit at age seventy-five. She loved to tell her children and grandchildren the story of how she sewed the first flag for America. She died in 1836 at age 84.
In 1870, just forty years after Betsy’s death, her grandson, William J. Canby told Betsy’s story at a meeting of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Chances are good he heard the story from Betsy’s lips.
Betsy Ross was buried in the garden of her little house on Arch Street. If you are ever in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, you can visit her house. It’s easy to spot---the United States flag flies over her grave 24 hours a day.
Now that you have the facts, what do you think? Did Betsy Ross sew our first flag?