History's Women: Early America: Betsy Ross - Patron Saint of the Revolutionary PeriodBetsy Ross
Patron Saint of the Revolutionary Period
1752 – 1836 A.D.

The story of Betsy Ross, the woman who made the first flag for the young American republic, has been written for this volume by her great-granddaughter, Mrs. Mary Claypoole Albright Robinson, of Fort Madison, Ia., a member of the Jean Espy Chapter, D.A.R.

“…Within a few years, there have arisen cavillers [sic], who would have it that Betsy Ross and her connection with Old Glory are a myth. Therefore what I am about to write I will preface by giving my direct line of descent, which comes from this same Betsy Ross. All living descendants of Betsy are from her third marriage; our forbears being the Betsy Ross of flag fame and John Claypoole: Mary C. Albright Robinson, daughter of Rachel J. Wilson Albright, daughter of Clarissa S. Claypoole Wilson, daughter of Elizabeth Griscome Claypoole, who was the widow of John Ross, when she made the flag in 1777, always spoken of as ‘the Betsy Ross flag.’

“My mother, Rachel J. W. Albright, was born in Betsy’s home, brought up under her grandmother’s care, and was twenty-four years old when she died. So from Betsy Ross’s own lips she received the flag’s history, and I from my mother and grandmother, who spent her last years in our home.

“Betsy Griscome was the daughter of Samuel Griscome of Philadelphia, a Quaker. She was born January 1, 1752, and died January 30, 1836. When quite young she married John Ross, nephew of Colonel George Ross of Revolutionary fame. John Ross lived but a few years, and died leaving no children. Betsy’s father was much opposed to this marriage, for John Ross was not only a Quaker, but was a strong advocate of ‘Colonial Rights,’ while Samuel Griscome, her father, was a Tory in sentiment.

“After her husband’s death, which I have heard my mother say was caused from an injury received while guarding a Colonial store-house from British pillage, Betsy, rather than return to her father’s house, a discordant element because of her strong Colonial sympathies, decided to continue her late husband’s business, upholstering and ship-furnishing, and thus maintain her independence and her patriotic views and work. It was to her husband’s uncle, Colonel George Ross, who greatly admired his nephew’s plucky little widow, that Betsy owed the privilege of making the flag which on the 14th of June, 1777, was adopted as the flag of the army and navy of the thirteen Colonies.

“Colonel Ross was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and at that time was on General Washington’s staff and a personal friend of the Commander-in-Chief. When Washington laid a design he had drawn of the wished-for flag, before his staff, he expressed a wish that he could get some woman with ability enough as a seamstress to put it together for him. Colonel Ross immediately suggested his nephew’s widow. So to her he went, accompanied by Colonel Ross and Robert Morris. After talking with Betsy upon the matter, she consented to attempt the work after suggesting some slight changes; one being a star five-point instead of six. None of Betsy’s family ever thought of saying that she designed the flag. Washington did that himself. Mrs. Ross made it and it was accepted by the Committee and by the Continental Congress.

“Before leaving with the flag one of the members remarked: ‘Should we get more Colonies or States we shall have to add more stripes.’

“‘Pardon me,’ said Betsy, ‘more stripes will spoil the symmetry of your flag. Let the symbolic thirteen stripes remain, but for each additional State let a new star shine upon the blue—there is room.’ At first they held their own idea the better one and added stripes until nineteen, I believe, were added; then they began to realise [sic] that they were spoiling the flag and so went back to the original thirteen.

“Betsy also advised placing the stars in a circle, saying that it would give no Colony precedence over another. Of course this had to be changed as the number grew. Betsy Ross made many more flags for her country’s use; my own grandmother, Betsy’s oldest daughter by John Claypoole, continued the business for many years. She, like Betsy Ross, made flags for the navy yard at Philadelphia, but gave it up when war with Mexico was declared, for having become a member of the Quaker society she could not make flags for war vessels. However she continued flag-making for merchantmen and other vessels. When a schoolgirl in Philadelphia, many a set of colours [sic] I have seen her put up, and very beautiful they were.”

“There is no doubt,” says Mrs. Henry Chapman, author of the brochure, Our Flag, “but that Betsy Ross made the first flag for the government for several years. There is an entry of a draft on the United States Treasury May, 1777; ‘Pay Betsy Ross £14, 12S. 2d. for flags for fleet in Delaware River.’

“It is claimed that the first using of the stars and stripes in actual military service was at Fort Stanwix, renamed Fort Schuyler, now Rome, N.Y., in 1777. August 2, of that year, the fort was besieged by the English and Indians; the brave garrison was without a flag, but one was made within the fort. The red was stripes of a petticoat furnished by a woman, the white from shirts torn up for the purpose, and the blue was a piece of Colonel Peter Gansevort’s military cloak. The siege was raised August 22, 1777.”

The quaint little old house on Arch Street, Philadelphia, in which Betsy Ross lived and made the flag is still standing, well preserved notwithstanding that it is over two hundred years old and said to have been the second house built after William Penn came to Philadelphia. It is maintained by the Betsy Ross Memorial Association and is visited by tourists and travellers [sic] from every State in the Union. Two chapters of the D.A.R. have made Betsy Ross their “patron saint,” the Elizabeth Ross Chapter of Lawrence, Mass., and the Betsy Ross Chapter of Ottawuma, Kan.


Reference: The Pioneer Mothers of America: A Record of the More Notable Women of the Early Days of the Country, and Particularly of the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods by Harry Clinton Green and Mary Wolcott Green, A.B. Third Volume, Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

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