One year before William Penn
founded Philadelphia in 1681, Betsy Ross's
Andrew Griscom, a Quaker carpenter, had already emigrated
from England to New Jersey.
Andrew was successful at his trade. He was also of firm
Quaker belief, and he was inspired to move to
Philadelphia to become an early participant in Penn's "holy
experiment." He purchased 495 acres of land in the
Spring Garden section north of the city of Philadelphia (the
section would later be incorporated as part of the
city), and received a plot of land within the city
Griscom's son and grandson both became respected carpenters
as well. Both have their names inscribed on a
wall at Carpenters' Hall in Philadelphia, home of the oldest
trade organization in the country.
Griscom's grandson Samuel helped build the bell tower at the
Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall). He
married Rebecca James who was a member of a prominent Quaker
merchant family. It was not unusual for
people in those days to have many children, so it is only
somewhat surprising to learn that they had 17!
Elizabeth Griscom -- also called Betsy, their eighth child
and a fourth-generation American, was born on
January 1, 1752.
Betsy went to a Friends (Quaker) public school. For eight
hours a day she was taught reading, writing, and
received instruction in a trade -- probably sewing. After
completing her schooling, Betsy's father apprenticed
her to a local upholsterer. Today we think of upholsterers
primarily as sofa-makers and such, but in colonial
times they performed all manner of sewing jobs, including
flag-making. It was at her job that Betsy fell in
love with another apprentice, John Ross, who was the son of
an Episcopal assistant rector at Christ Church.
Quakers frowned on inter-denominational marriages. The
penalty for such unions was severe -- the guilty
party being "read out" of the Quaker meeting house. Getting
"read out" meant being cut off emotionally and
economically from both family and meeting house. One's
entire history and community would be instantly
dissolved. On a November night in 1773, 21-year-old Betsy
eloped with John Ross. They ferried across the
Delaware River to Hugg's Tavern and were married in New
Jersey. Her wedding caused an irrevocable split from
her family. [It is an interesting parallel to note that
on their wedding certificate is the name of New Jersey's
Governor, William Franklin, Benjamin Franklin's son. Three
years later William would have an irrevocable split
with his father because he was a Loyalist against the cause
of the Revolution.]
Less than two years after their nuptials, the couple started
their own upholstery business. Their decision was
a bold one as competition was tough and they could not count
on Betsy's Quaker circle for business. As she was
"read out" of the Quaker community, on Sundays one could now
find Betsy at Christ Church sitting in pew 12
with her husband. Some Sundays would find George Washington,
America's new commander in chief, sitting in
an adjacent pew.
War Comes to Philadelphia
In January 1776, a disaffected British agitator living in
Philadelphia for only a short while published a
pamphlet that would have a profound impact on the Colonials.
Tom Paine ("These are the times that try men's
souls") wrote Common Sense which would swell rebellious
hearts and sell 120,000 copies in three months;
500,000 copies before war's end.
However, the city was fractured in its loyalties. Many still
felt themselves citizens of Britain. Others were
ardent revolutionaries heeding a call to arms.
Betsy and John Ross keenly felt the impact of the war.
Fabrics needed for business were becoming hard to
come by. Business was slow. John joined the Pennsylvania
militia. While guarding an ammunition cache in
mid-January 1776, John Ross was mortally wounded in an
explosion. Though his young wife tried to nurse him
back to health he died on the 21st and was buried in Christ
In June of 1776, Betsy tells us about her fateful meeting
with the Committee of Three: George Washington,
George Ross, and Robert Morris which led to the sewing of
the first flag. See more about this on the Betsy Ross
and the American Flag page.
After becoming widowed, Betsy returned to the Quaker fold,
in a way. Quakers are pacifists and forbidden
from bearing arms. This led to a schism in their ranks. When
Free, or Fighting Quakers -- who supported the
war effort -- banded together, Betsy joined them. (The Free
Quaker Meeting House, which still stands a few
blocks from the Betsy Ross House, was built in 1783, after
the war was over.)
Betsy would be married again in June 1777, this time to sea
captain Joseph Ashburn in a ceremony performed
at Old Swedes Church in Philadelphia.
During the winter of 1777, Betsy's home was forcibly shared
with British soldiers whose army occupied
Philadelphia. Meanwhile the Continental Army was suffering
that most historic winter at Valley Forge.
Betsy and Joseph had two daughters (Zillah, who died in her
youth, and Elizabeth). On a trip to the West Indies
to procure war supplies for the Revolutionary cause, Captain
Ashburn was captured by the British and sent to
Old Mill Prison in England where he died in March 1782,
several months after the surrender of Cornwallis at
Yorktown, Virginia, the last major battle of the
After the War
Betsy learned of her husband's death from her old friend,
John Claypoole, another sailor imprisoned at the
brutal Old Mill. In May of 1783, Betsy was married for the
third time, the ceremony performed at Christ
Church. Her new husband was none other than old friend John
Claypoole. Betsy convinced her new husband to
abandon the life of the sea and find landlubbing employment.
Claypoole initially worked in her upholstery
business and then at the U.S. Customs House in Philadelphia.
The couple had five daughters (Clarissa Sidney,
Susannah, Rachel, Jane, and Harriet, who died at nine
After the birth of their second daughter, the family moved
to bigger quarters on Second Street in what was
then Philadelphia's Mercantile District. Claypoole passed on
in 1817 after years of ill health and Betsy never
remarried. She continued working until 1827 bringing many of
her immediate family into the business with
her. After retiring, she went to live with her married
daughter Susannah Satterthwaite in the then-remote
suburb of Abington, PA, to the north of Philadelphia.
In 1834, there were only two free Quakers still attending
the Meeting House. It was agreed by Betsy and
Samuel Wetherill that the usefulness of their beloved
Meeting House had come to an end. At that last meeting,
Betsy watched as the door was locked, symbolizing the end of
Betsy died on January 30, 1836, at the age of 84.
Have you ever thought about how the
American flag was made. Well, in this essay I will tell you
who and three
other important things that the maker of this peace symbol
did. Her name was Betsy Ross, she was the seamstress
and designer of the first American flag. How cool is that?
As for her early life, Betsy was born in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania as Elizabeth Griscom. She had a big family.
Betsy was the eighth child of seventeen, born to Samuel
and Rebecca. Her family was Quakers, a religious group that
believed in living in a simple, peaceful
Her first achievement was attending school. Most people did
not attend school. In school she learned reading,
writing, arithmetic, geography, and history. During her
school hours they would preform a four-hour task each
Betsy used this time to sew. She enjoyed creating quilts and
sampler with complicated designs. Her needlework was
the most beautiful in Philadelphia and she won many prizes
Her second achievement was setting up a small business with
her spouse John Ross. They were married in 1773.
They worked long hours to make their business succeed. In
1776 John died, Betsy took over his upholstery business.
In that same year according to tradition, General George
Washington, financier Robert Morris and colonel George
Ross, her husband's late uncle, calle on Ross and ask her to
design and make the flag. George Washington did this
because he wanted the colonies to have a symbol of thier
independence. This is the most important thin she ever
After her first spouse she married two more times. With
these spouses she had five children. Clarissa, Susannah,
Rachel, Jane, and Harriet, who died as a baby. Betsy died in
1836. Her children kept this story alive so people would
know how important their mother really was. So if anyone
ever asks you who made the American flag you can
proudly say Elizabeth Griscom Ross.
Wallner, Alexandra. Betsy Ross.
1st Ed. United States of America:
Wallner, Alexandra, 1994
Microsoft (R) Encarta (R) '96 Encyclopedia.
1993-1995 Microsoft Corporation.
(C) Funk & Wagnalls Corporation
Young, Joesph. The First Amercan flag.
1st Ed. Chicago, Ill.: John L. Elliot, 1995