Betsy Ross and the Truth About the First American Flag

Betsy Ross and the Truth About the First American Flag

Finally, Founder of the Day is posting about a woman!  And I blow it by questioning her crowning achievement to her nation.

Betsy Ross was an American Patriot who dedicated her life to clothing the Continental Army and sacrificed her family for Independence.  But about that first flag...

Young Love

Elizabeth Griscom was a young upholstery apprentice when she met John Ross.  Griscom and Ross fell in love and ran off to New Jersey to elope.

When they returned to Philadelphia, Betsy Ross (as Elizabeth would henceforth be known) was disowned by her family.  She was a Quaker, and she had married an Episcopalian.  To her community this was an unforgiveable decision.

The young couple started their own upholstery business.  Through John’s uncle, George Ross (who would later sign the Declaration of Independence), Betsy met many important men as they came through Philadelphia in the build up to the Revolution.

Pennsylvania Naval Flag

When war broke out, John left home to fight in the Pennsylvania Militia.  He was soon thereafter killed, most likely by an explosion of gunpowder in a storehouse he was guarding.

Betsy continued working as a seamstress.  She dedicated herself to the American cause by making supplies needed by the Continental Army.

Betsy was hired by the state Committee of Safety in 1777 to make flags for the Pennsylvania Navy.  At this time, each state was responsible for their own marines separate from the Continental Navy.  At 26 years old, this is the first official flag made by Ross.

Twice Widowed

Shortly after receiving payment for her flags, Betsy remarried to Joseph Ashburn.  He too would fight for the Americans and was captured by the British.  Ashburn was imprisoned in England.  He was charged with treason and died in jail.

Betsy was informed of Ashburn’s death by John Claypoole, who had spent time in the same prison.  These two would later marry.

Betsy Ross had not only dedicated her business to clothing the Continental Army but lost two husbands in the name of American Independence.

The Flag

Today, Betsy Ross is famous for sewing the first American Flag.  Unfortunately, this may not be true.

This idea was spread when her grandson wrote a paper recounting a family legend that Ross was the original flag maker.  His paper, however, was around the first centennial of Independence, when Americans were hungry for this type of story.  The rumor spread quickly and is still taken as fact in the minds of many people today.

The truth is, we do not know who made the first flag.  Betsy’s grandson’s story has some serious holes in it (like saying George Washington asked her to make the flag during a time he was most certainly not in Philadelphia).

Probably, when the Continental Congress decided on what the flag should look like, most upholsterers in the city made them at approximately the same time.  There were over a dozen people who are in Congress’ books for being paid to make flags.

We should remember, however, that whether or not Betsy made the first flag, she definitely made some flags.  This relatively small detail should not diminish the sacrifice this woman made for the American Cause.


Although Betsy Ross's flag story, much like Washington's cherry tree, is a fun legend to tell children, the truth is not so easy to determine.  To learn more about Betsy Ross or other women of the American Revolution, check out these affiliated books on Amazon:

Nathanael Greene and the Revolution's Southern Front

Nathanael Greene and the Revolution's Southern Front

Henry Tucker and the Bermuda Gunpowder Plot

Henry Tucker and the Bermuda Gunpowder Plot