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Betsy Ross
Betsy Ross 1893.png
Posthumous depiction of Ross in 1893
Born
Elizabeth Griscom

(1752-01-01)January 1, 1752
Died January 30, 1836(1836-01-30) (aged 84)
Occupation Seamstress
Years active 1768–1833
Spouse(s)
  • John Ross
    (m. 1773; his death 1775)
  • Joseph Ashburn
    (m. 1777; his death 1780)
  • John Claypoole
    (m. 1783; his death 1817)
Children 7
Parents
  • Samuel Griscom (father)
  • Rebecca James Griscom (mother)
Family
  • Andrew Griscom (great-grandfather)
  • Sarah Elizabeth Ann Griscom (great-aunt)
Signature
Signature of Elizabeth Claypoole.png

Elizabeth Griscom Ross (née Griscom; January 1, 1752 – January 30, 1836), also known by her second and third married names, Ashburn and Claypoole, was an American upholsterer who was credited by her relatives in 1870 with making the first American flag, accordingly known as the Betsy Ross flag. Though most historians dismiss the story, Ross family tradition holds that General George Washington, commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and two members of a congressional committee—Robert Morris and George Ross—visited Mrs. Ross in 1776. Mrs. Ross convinced George Washington to change the shape of the stars in a sketch of a flag he showed her from six-pointed to five-pointed by demonstrating that it was easier and speedier to cut the latter. However, there is no archival evidence or other recorded verbal tradition to substantiate this story of the first American flag. It appears that the story first surfaced in the writings of her grandson in the 1870s (a century after the fact), with no mention or documentation in earlier decades.

Ross made flags for the Pennsylvania navy during the American Revolution. After the Revolution, she made U.S. flags for over 50 years, including 50 garrison flags for the U.S. Arsenal on the Schuylkill River during 1811. The flags of the Pennsylvania navy were overseen by the Pennsylvania Navy Board. The board reported to the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly's Committee of Safety. In July 1775, the President of the Committee of Safety was Benjamin Franklin. Its members included Robert Morris and George Ross. At that time, the committee ordered the construction of gunboats that would eventually need flags as part of their equipment. As late as October 1776, Captain William Richards was still writing to the Committee or Council of Safety to request the design that he could use to order flags for their fleet.

Ross was one of those hired to make flags for the Pennsylvania fleet. An entry dated May 29, 1777, in the records of the Pennsylvania Navy Board includes an order to pay her for her work. It is worded as follows:

An order on William Webb to Elizabeth
Ross for fourteen pounds twelve shillings and two
pence for Making Ships Colours [etc.] put into William
Richards store……………………………………….£14.12.2

The Pennsylvania navy's ship color included (1) an ensign; (2) a long, narrow pennant; and (3) a short, narrow pennant. The ensign was a blue flag with 13 stripes—seven red stripes and six white stripes in the flag's canton (upper-left-hand corner). It was flown from a pole at the rear of the ship. The long pennant had 13 vertical, red-and-white stripes near the mast; the rest was solid red. It flew from the top of the ship's mainmast, the center pole holding the sails. The short pennant was solid red, and flew from the top of the ship's mizzenmast—the pole holding the ship's sails nearest the stern (rear of the ship).

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