See R. Thompson, The Last of Philadelphia's Free Quakers (1972).
(born Jan. 1, 1752, Philadelphia, Pa.—died Jan. 30, 1836, Philadelphia, Pa., U.S.) American patriot. She worked as a seamstress and upholsterer, carrying on her husband's upholstery business after he was killed in the American Revolution. According to legend, in 1776 she was visited by George Washington, Robert Morris, and her husband's uncle George Ross, who asked her to make a flag for the new nation based on a sketch by Washington. She is supposed also to have suggested the use of the five-pointed star rather than the six-pointed one chosen by Washington. Though Ross did make flags for the navy, no firm evidence supports the legend of the national flag. In 1777 the Continental Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes as the U.S. flag.
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Ross was born Elizabeth Griscom to parents Sam and Rebecca in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on January 1, 1752, the eighth of 17 children. She "grew up in a household where the plain dress and strict discipline of the Society of Friends dominated her life." She learned to sew from her great-aunt Sarah Griscom.
After she finished her schooling at a Quaker public school, her father apprenticed her to an upholsterer named William Webster. At this job, she fell in love with fellow apprentice John Ross (born about 1752), son of an assistant rector Aeneas Ross (Sarah Leach) at (Episcopal) Christ Church.
As interdenominational marriages typically led to being read out of their Quaker meeting, the couple eloped in 1773 when she was 21, and married at Hugg's Tavern in Gloucester, New Jersey. The marriage caused a split from her family and meant her "expulsion from the Quaker congregation." The young couple soon started their own upholstery business and joined Christ Church.
After her first husband's death, Ross joined the "Fighting Quakers" which, unlike traditional Quakers, supported the war effort. In June 1777, she married sea captain Joseph Ashburn at Old Swedes' Church in Philadelphia. British soldiers forcibly occupied their house when they controlled the city in 1777. Following the Battle of Germantown, she nursed both American and British soldiers.
Betsy Ross is best remembered, however, as a flag maker during the Revolution. Family oral history, supported only by 19th century affidavits, recounts the widowed Ross meeting with George Washington, George Ross, and Robert Morris at her upholstery business in Philadelphia, a meeting said to have resulted in the sewing of the first U.S. "stars and stripes" flag. According to the story, it was at this meeting, to "silence the men's protests that these new five-pointed stars would be unfamiliar and difficult for seamstresses to make, she folded a piece of paper, made a single scissor snip, and revealed a perfect five-pointed star.
Evidence that Ross did in fact make flags for the government includes a receipt for her making "ship's colours" for the Pennsylvania Navy in May 1777, as well as a folded star pattern with her name found in a Philadelphia Quaker Society safe. Whether or not Ross made the very "first" stars and stripes has never been proven, however. According to the family legend, many women were making flags when Betsy received her first order. Francis Hopkinson also took credit for the design of the stars and stripes, which was partially acknowledged by Congress.
Although it is one of the most visited tourist sites in Philadelphia, the claim that Ross once lived at the Betsy Ross House is a matter of dispute.
BETSY ROSS TALE GETS NEW STRIPE FRANCIS HOPKINSON THE REAL STAR IN FLAG'S DESIGN, HISTORIANS SAY.(News/ National/ International)
Jul 14, 1996; Byline: Associated Press WASHINGTON -- There's a new twist to the old tale of Betsy Ross and the origins of the first American...