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Elizabeth Griscom Ross (January 1, 1752 – January 30, 1836), née Griscom, 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: The Pennsylvania navy's ship colors 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).
Early life and education
Betsy Ross was born on January 1, 1752, to Samuel Griscom (1717–1793) and Rebecca James Griscom (1721–1793) on the Griscom family farm in Gloucester City, New Jersey. Ross was the eighth of seventeen children, of whom only nine survived childhood. A sister, Sarah (1745–1747), and brother, William (1748–1749), died before Elizabeth ("Betsy") was born (another sister, Sarah Griscom Donaldson (1749–1785), was named after the earlier deceased Sarah). Ross was just five years old when her sister Martha (1754–1757) died, and another sister, Ann (1757–1759), only lived to the age of two. Brothers Samuel I (1753–1756) and Samuel II (1758–1761) both died at age three. Two others, twins, brother Joseph (1759–1762) and sister Abigail (1759–1762), died in one of the frequent smallpox epidemics in the autumn of 1762. Ross grew up in a household where the plain dress and strict discipline of the Quakers dominated. She learned to sew from a great aunt, Sarah Elizabeth Ann Griscom. Ross's great-grandfather, Andrew Griscom, a member of the Quakers and a carpenter, had emigrated in 1680 from England.
After her schooling at a Quaker-run state school, Ross's father apprenticed her to an upholsterer named William Webster.