Betsy Ross

Who was Betsy Ross?

Betsy Ross was a resident of the colony of Pennsylvania at the time of the American Revolution.

She is historically credited with creating the first ever American flag. According to legend, Betsy was personally visited by George Washington and other members of the Continental Congress in 1776 who discussed the design with her before assigning her the job.

Early Life

Betsy Ross was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1752. She was born to a Quaker family which strictly followed the Quaker religious principles. After Betsy had attained her early education, she was apprenticed with a local upholsterer. It was here that she learned the art and methods of upholstery. Betsy fell in love with a fellow apprentice, John Ross, around this period.

As her family didn’t approve of such a relationship, she eloped and married Ross, due to which she was separated from her Quaker family. Interestingly, General George Washington used to visit the local church where Betsy and her husband would attend.

It is quite possible that Washington knew Betsy from here and would later use this social connection to assign her the task of sewing the first flag of the United States.

Life during the American Revolutionary War

During the American Revolutionary War, Betsy’s husband was called to serve in the local militia. He died of some incident during this service. In the meanwhile, Betsy continued her work as an upholsterer – she would sew military supplies for the militiamen as they gradually formed up into the Continental Army.

In 1777, Betsy married a second time but her second marriage was also short-lived as her husband was captured by the British forces and jailed in 1780. He died in jail. Betsy married a third time in 1783.

The Legend of Betsy Ross

Betsy Ross was a relatively unknown figure for a full century after the independence of the United States. It was only in 1886 that her nephew claimed that she had made the first flag of the United States with her hand.

It was the time of the Centennial celebrations of the country – so the legend appealed to the popular imagination and gained a lot of traction, making the figure of Betsy Ross immensely popular.

According to this legend, General George Washington visited Betsy Ross in 1776 and commissioned her to make a flag of the United States with six-pointed stars. Betsy then told the General that it was easier to cut five-pointed stars, so the five-pointed star design was adopted instead.

There is no historical evidence to corroborate this. However, Betsy was historically known to have created the flags for the Pennsylvania navy during the American Revolution.

Life after the American Revolutionary War

After the American Revolutionary War, Betsy Ross continued her upholstery business. She had five daughters from her third marriage. Betsy’s third husband, John Claypoole, died in 1817. She would continue to run the upholstery business on her own for another 10 years before retiring. She died in 1836 at the age of 84.

Learn more about Betsy Ross and the First American Flag