Sunday, May 26, 2013

Betsy Ross

Betsy Ross

Betsy Ross with Major Ross, Robert Morris and  George Washington explaining how she cut the stars for the American flag 

1752 - 1836

Betsy Ross was born Elizabeth Griscom and is widely credited with making the first American flag but there is no evidence that the tale is true.

Students and Teachers of US History this is a video of Stanley and Christopher Klos presenting America's Four United Republics Curriculum at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. The December 2015 video was an impromptu capture by a member of the audience of Penn students, professors and guests that numbered about 200. - Click Here for more information

Addie Guthrie Weaver, Circa 1898

Elizabeth Griscom, a daughter of Samuel and Rebecka (James) Griscom of Philadelphia, was born January 1, 1752, the eighth of seventeen children. The family were members of the Society Friends and the young Elizabeth grew into a most charming, bright and beautiful girl of prepossessing manners and plain and quiet tastes.  Her great-aunt Sarah Elizabeth Ann Griscom taught Elizabeth how to sew.

Her father was a noted builder and assisted in the erection of the state house, now Independence Hall. His house, shop and a very large garden were on Arch street, between 3rd and 4th streets.

Elizabeth, or Betsy, as she was fondly called, was the seventh daughter. Her birthday was the first day under the new Gregorian calendar.

It was frequently said by the family that "she was born the first day of the month, the first day of the year, the first day of the new style." She was well trained by her mother, became very expert with her needle and was very fond of embroidery.

In December, 1773, at the age of twenty-one years, Elizabeth married John Ross, an estimable young man. He was an Episcopalian, and in consequence of her marrying out of meeting, she was disowned by the Friends. He was a son of Eneas Ross, assistant rector of Christ Episcopal Church. The young man was a nephew of the Honorable George Ross, delegate to Congress, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

The Rev. George Ross, of New Castle, Delaware, had by his first wife, two sons: John, who died May 5th, 1776: and Rev. Eneas, born Sept. 9th, 1716, who was father of John Ross (husband of Betsy Ross).

By his second wife he had Hon. George Ross, signer of Declaration of Independence, born 1730, died 1780; also one daughter, Gertrude, who married George Read, also a signer of the Declaration of Independence; also a son, Jacob, a physician.

The Honorable George Ross was a noted lawyer, and a resident of Lancaster. He was a brave soldier and a man of ability.

John Ross was an apprentice with a man named Webster, an upholsterer on Chestnut street. It was with him that John and afterwards Betsy, learned the trade before they "ran off" to be married.   

John and Betsy Ross  set up an upholstery business for themselves, first on Chestnut Street and afterwards moved to the little house on Arch street, which was a simple building when first occupied by them. It was built some time after 1752, notwithstanding romantic stories to the contrary. The first room was utilized as a shop; the store front not having been added until about 1858.

Watercolor of Ross House 239 Arch Street, Philadelphia  -

It was in this house that the flag was made later on.

In 1775 John Ross was injured while guarding military stores on the wharf, from the effects of which he died at this house in January, 1776. He was buried in Christ Churchyard, 5th and Arch streets. He left no children. Mrs. Ross continue her work in the upholstery business making tents and blankets for the war effort.  

On June 15th, 1777, Betsy Ross married Captain Joseph Ashburn, at Old Swedes Church, Philadelphia. and to them were born two daughters:
  • Zillah, born September 15th, 1779.
  • Eliza, born February 25th, 1781, who married Capt. Isaack Silliman, May 29th, 1799. After Capt. Silliman's death in the army, his wife Eliza lived with her mother, Betsy Ross, until her death in 1836.

It was during this period that she was credited with making the first Flag of 13 circular stars in 1777. Although, this claim remains quite controversial, it is known that in 1779 she actively stuffed paper tube cartridges with musket balls and repaired Continental Army uniforms.  

In 1780, Captain Ashburn's  ship was captured by a British frigate.  In England, he was tried for treason, imprisoned, and died in jail. 

Betsy Ross attended Christ Church, Philadelphia, with her first and second husbands because All Friends who took part in the Revolution were disowned by "The Society of Friends." After the war, they organized a society of "Free Quakers" often called "Fighting Quakers." The pew in which she sat at Christ Church, however, remains marked by a brass plate bearing these words:

"In this pew worshipped Betsy Ross, who made the first Flag"
Six months after the passage of the Preliminary Treaty of Peace, Betsy married John Claypoole an old friend of the family. Together, the couple had five daughters. The growing family moved to a larger house on Second Street where they continued the upholstery business. During this period, Betsy Ross left Christ Church and became a member of the Free Quaker Society after it was organized in 1793.  

John Claypoole died in 1817 and Ross continued the  family business until 1827 when she sold the house and  moved in with her daughter, Susanna, in Abington. Here she lived to be 84 years old and died in 1836.  Betsy is buried in Mt. Moriah Cemetery in Philadelphia. A flagstaff over her grave, from which a flag floats, was erected by the Sons of Veterans, U. S. Grant Post, No. 5, of Philadelphia. 

May 9, 1782,  William Barton  Great Seal  design. A US  flag was  part of the sketch  but unlike Hopkinson's design the the 13 stars were all in ring rather than 12 stars and one in the middle.   - From the National Archives

The Dramatic Story of Old Glory

 By Samuel Abbott

BEFORE we emerge from the field of speculation as to the origin of the Stars and Stripes, we must get through the thicket of the Betsy Ross problem. This last difficulty is not an easy one to face, for the tradition of the making of our first complete national Flag in old Arch Street, Philadelphia, has become almost a fetish with good Americans. There are countless thousands of men and women in the United States who accept an historical narrative, especially if colored with a hue of romance, without a moment's investigation into its merits as truth. The Betsy Ross story, first given to the public in 1870, almost a century after the event it is supposed to prove, has gone into book after book as solid truth. Like the legend of the boy George Washington and his hatchet, it is neat but suspicious.

Recently a perfectly sane man came into our office and, with the air of one who had a real message to unfold, told us that near his home in a city in Western Massachusetts lived a niece of Betsy Ross. The estimable woman, gifted with a keen memory, had a fund of anecdotes of the life of the real Betsy, and was accepted by her neighbors as a bona fide link with a wonderful Past. Betsy Ross was born in 1752, one hundred and sixty-seven years ago. We handed our visitor a scrap of paper, on which was the result of a little example in subtraction in terms of years. "How old would your niece of Betsy Ross have to be, to have memories of the living Betsy Ross?" we inquired. He never had thought of that. Like many others, he had accepted as fact what a few minutes of analytical thought would have shown to be an impossibility.

We are not on the verge of an effort to demolish the story of Betsy Ross and the making of the first Stars and Stripes. The weight of the evidence appears to be in favor of this tradition of the making of the original Old Glory. Were it not for the injudicious claims of certain members of the Ross family, claims utterly unnecessary and even dangerous to the life of an episode accepted as fact, though fragile, we should be inclined to set the whole matter down in this book verbatim, in accord with the evidence as presented by counsel for the defense.

The story, in brief, is as follows: According to at least one historian, Betsy Ross made State colors for ships before the Flag-Resolution of Congress, of June 14, 1777, determined the Stars and Stripes as the national standard. She was engaged in flag-making for the Government after that date, and her daughter, Mrs. Clarissa Wilson, to whom we owe much of the accepted tradition, succeeded her in business and supplied arsenals, navy yards and the mercantile marine with flags for years.

The main elements of the story are in the fragments we now present. Betsy Ross was the widow of John Ross who died from the effects of injuries received while guarding cannon balls and military stores which had been made by his uncle, George Ross, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. She had embroidered shirt ruffles for Washington in the days before his appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the Army, for she was famous for her work with the needle. It was natural that Washington, with her uncle, George Ross, and Robert Morris should go to her for the making of a sample flag. These three men are supposed to have formed the committee, authorized by Congress or self-appointed, to "design a suitable flag for the nation."

It is a pretty picture. We can imagine the three men bowing graciously to the young widow, then in her twenty-sixth year, and, after being seated, presenting, in the hands of Washington, a rough drawing of the proposed flag. The design shows stars with six points, to which Mistress Betsy objects. She folds a piece of paper and produces, with clips of her scissors, a perfect five-pointed star. Washington redraws the sketch, and the committee unanimously votes to give her the commission to make the first true American Flag.

As George Washington was not in Philadelphia at any time during the first six months of 1777, it is a real problem to fit him into this picture. We are to find out, at once, how one man solves this problem by getting a Stars and Stripes made by Betsy Ross at some time in 1776, and thus making the great George a possible actor in the little scene.

The claims of Mr. William J. Canby, a grandson of Betsy Ross, assert that she made flags of the Stars and Stripes pattern as early as June, 1776, when Washington chanced to be in Philadelphia, and that they were in common use soon after the Declaration of Independence was signed. Mr. Canby was eleven years old when Betsy Ross died in 1836, yet he waited until 1857 before crystallizing in writing her relations of reminiscences of events associated with the Flag. That gap of twenty-one years before the committal of historical data to the stern rigidity of printed words, injures the value of Mr. Canby's interesting contribution to the literature of the Flag.

Another argument against the possibility of the Stars and Stripes being in use as early as June, 1776, is found in the words of John Paul Jones, "The flag and I are twins," uttered when he was told that his appointment to the command of the Ranger was of the same date as the Resolution in Congress, of June 14, 1777, that adopted the Stars and Stripes as the national emblem. Paul Jones loathed the Rattlesnake Flag, frequently displayed on ships of our little navy of 1776-77, and was precisely the man to seize upon and run to a masthead such a glorious emblem as Old Glory, were it in existence prior to June, 1777. You may scrutinize all the records of the Revolution, Congressional files, daily papers, prints, documents in European museums and libraries; you will not find a scrap of evidence the size of a ten-cent piece in support of the Canby theory. This claim is a distinct drag on the progress of the Betsy Ross legend, for it stresses an argument based on hearsay, oral transmission, when the truth we seek is that lodged in the written or printed memorials of the period.

On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress passed the following Resolution:

Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States of America be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a New Constellation.

June 14th, 1777 United States Flag Resolution  from first edition, first printing of ''Journals of Congress Containing The Proceedings In The Year, 1777 Published by Order of Congress by John Dunlap: Philadelphia: 1778.”  - image courtesy of the Klos Yavneh Academy Collection 

With that date and that Resolution, began the history of the Stars and Stripes as a living symbol of Nationality. There will be a few events associated with the early records of the Flag, as we are to give them, that will require careful attention, as they are not presented clearly in other histories of the Flag, or have been neglected. But we are out of the period of extreme uncertainty that prevailed during the years of the Continental standards of 1775 and 1776.

The 1777 Flag Resolution, as evidenced in the Journals of Congress, was meant to define a naval ensign (or naval national flag) and did not specify any particular arrangement, number of star points, nor orientation for the stars. Consequently,  the archaeological and written evidence on the numerous flag designs is sketchy and it is unknown which design was the most popular during the the 1777-1789 US Founding period.  The three most notable early 13-star arrangements are the Francis Hopkinson Flag, the Brandywine Flag, and the Betsy Ross Flag. 

Painter John Trumbull (1756–1843) used Declaration of Independence Signer Francis Hopkinson's US Flag Design in his paintings of scenes of The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton,  The Surrender of the British General John Burgoyne at Saratoga,  and Major General Charles Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown - Circa 1785-1822.

During the Battle of Brandywine, this banner was carried by Captain Robert Wilson's company of the 7th Pennsylvania Regiment. The company flag is red, with a red and white American flag image in the canton.

There is no evidence to support the Betsy Ross legend of sewing the first flag from a pencil sketch given to her by Commander-in-Chief George Washington, or teaching him how a five-point star is more simply cut than a six.  Betsy was one of a number of women who made flags, in a variety of styles, in Pennsylvania during the late 1770's; Benjamin Franklin and John Adams described the flag to the Neapolitan ambassador in 1778 as bearing stripes in red, white and blue!  

On January 18, 1779, the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania passed a resolution commissioning a portrait of George Washington for the Council Chamber and selected Charles Willson Peale as the artist. In preparation, Peale traveled to the Princeton and Trenton battlefields in February of 1779 to make sketches for the background. The original portrait, the full-length version now in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, was a tremendous success and Peale completed numerous copies for royal palaces abroad, each time updating the general's military dress.  Peale's depiction of the round thirteen star field in the U.S. Flag remained constant.  

A 1779 oil on canvas painting of George Washington at Princeton by Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), which depicts a 13 star oval field on the United States Flag. -- The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Collection

Also of note, the third United States in Congress Assembled committee convened to create a US Great Seal met on May 4, 1782.  They consulted William Barton, a student of heraldry  whose sketch incorporated the eagle for the first time on the Great Seal.  The 13 star round flag was also part of the design but unlike Hopkinson's design the the 13 stars were all in ring rather than 12 stars and one in the middle. 

Major Pierre Charles L'Enfant adopted the thirteen star circle flag  in his June 10, 1783, Society of Cincinnati Diploma design.  

Major Pierre Charles L'Enfant Society of Cincinnati Diploma design, June 10, 1783 - Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress.  

In 1785 The Society of Cincinnati replace its 13 star field with the United States Great Seal as evidenced by this Diploma Signed by Society Secretary Henry Knox and President George Washington. 

The New York Historical Society reportedly owns, which they claim is the oldest known variation of the round 13-star flag. The flag, pictured below, was incorporated into the Pewterers' Banner that was flown by their delegation while they marched in NY's "Constitution of 1787" ratification parade in 1788.

New York Historical Society's Pewterers' Banner  - image courtesy of the New York Historical Society 

Finally, regarding the US Founding Flags, we do know that the story of Betsy Ross sewing the flag emerged during the Centennial Celebration festivities in 1876, and that the most popular thirteen-star flag of the ceremonies was an amalgamation of  the Hopkinson and  "Betsy Ross" designs. A copy of this centennial flag is included in the exhibit.

This United States 13 Star Flag was utilized at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Celebrations - image courtesy of the Klos Yavneh Academy Collection 

In 1795, the number of stars and stripes was increased from 13 to 15,  reflecting the entry of Vermont and Kentucky as 14th and 15th states in the union.  The Flag was not changed when subsequent states were admitted and with 18 states waging a second war with Great Britain, the 15-star, 15-stripe flag inspired Francis Scott Key to write his "Defense of Fort McHenry," now known as the U.S. national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner." 

Dr. Naomi Yavneh Klos, July 3rd, 2013, on the set of CBS Morning News explaining the origin of the United States Flag.

It was not until April 4, 1818, that a plan was passed by Congress changing the flag to 20 stars, with a new star to be added when each new state was admitted, while the number of stripes was reduced to 13  to honor the original states.   The April 4th Act is also found in this exhibit:

This image of An Act to establish the Flag of the United States, approved April 4, 1818 is taken directly from the Acts Passed at the First and Second Sessions of the Fifteenth Congress. This first edition, printed in Washington, by the Department of State in 1819 also includes: A resolution for the admission of Mississippi into the Union; An Act to establish the flag of the United States; An Act authorizing the President to occupy West Florida, west of the Perfido River; Act to provide for Illinois statehood; An addition to the 1808 Slave Act regarding importation of slaves "It shall not be lawful to bring Negroes, mulattos, etc... into the United States, from foreign place, in any manner whatever, with intent to hold them slaves;" Admission of Alabama and Illinois as states; An Act to allow use of the United States Navy to enforce anti-slave importation laws; A treaty with Sweden, Treaties with the following Indian nations - Wyandot, Senecas, Shawanees, Ottawas, Delawares, Pattawatamies, Chippewas, Menomenee, Ottoes, Poncarar, Cherokee, and Creek - image courtesy of the Klos Yavneh Academy Collection

The History of the First United States  Flag And The Patriotism Of Betsy Ross, The Immortal Heroine That Originated The First Flag Of The Union.  

By: Colonel J. Franklin Reigart

Some years since William J. Canby, the grandson of Mrs. John (Betsy) Ross of Philadelphia, read before the Historical Society of Pennsylvania a paper on the Centennial Anniversary of the American Flag, in which he claimed that his grandmother was the first maker of the Stars and Stripes. She lived in Arch street, and was for many years engaged in the business of flag making. 

In this monograph Col. Reigart asserts that her bright colored tapestry, ornamental handiwork and curtains in primary colors attracted the notice of the members of Congress, and that at the request of Dr. Franklin, Mr. Robert Morris and Col. George Ross, her brother-in-law, she designed and made the first flag of the United States, which was approved and adopted by the committee and Congress. In addition to this, Betsy Ross first gave a name to our youthful country by marking on her flags the " United States of America." 

In the paper we find no authority for these statements, nor yet any confirmation in the histories of the Flag by Preble and Hamilton. Nevertheless Col. Reigart insists that the "statue" of Betsy, "surrounded by a group of her daughters and nieces, cutting, sewing and making the Star- Spangled Banners, must soon grace the Capitol of our nation, and the patriotic ladies of America will design, erect and pay for it. To the account are appended sundry patriotic songs and appeals said to have been written and circulated by Mrs. Ross during the revolution from her shop in Philadelphia. On the cover of the pamphlet is a colored facsimile of the first flag, and within a portrait of "Mrs. Betsy Ross the Author," with scissors and bunting, busy at her work. - The Magazine of American History with Notes and Queries By Martha Joanna Lamb  Compiled by William Abbatt Published by A. S. Barnes, 1879 

Chart Comparing Presidential Powers 
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United Colonies and States First Ladies


United Colonies Continental Congress
18th Century Term
09/05/74 – 10/22/74
Mary Williams Middleton (1741- 1761) Deceased
Henry Middleton
05/20/ 75 - 05/24/75
05/25/75 – 07/01/76
United States Continental Congress
07/02/76 – 10/29/77
Eleanor Ball Laurens (1731- 1770) Deceased
Henry Laurens
11/01/77 – 12/09/78
Sarah Livingston Jay (1756-1802)
12/ 10/78 – 09/28/78
Martha Huntington (1738/39–1794)
09/29/79 – 02/28/81
United States in Congress Assembled
Martha Huntington (1738/39–1794)
03/01/81 – 07/06/81
07/10/81 – 11/04/81
Jane Contee Hanson (1726-1812)
11/05/81 - 11/03/82
11/03/82 - 11/02/83
Sarah Morris Mifflin (1747-1790)
11/03/83 - 11/02/84
11/20/84 - 11/19/85
11/23/85 – 06/06/86
Rebecca Call Gorham (1744-1812)
06/06/86 - 02/01/87
02/02/87 - 01/21/88
01/22/88 - 01/29/89

Constitution of 1787
First Ladies
April 30, 1789 – March 4, 1797
March 4, 1797 – March 4, 1801
Martha Wayles Jefferson Deceased
September 6, 1782  (Aged 33)
March 4, 1809 – March 4, 1817
March 4, 1817 – March 4, 1825
March 4, 1825 – March 4, 1829
December 22, 1828 (aged 61)
February 5, 1819 (aged 35)
March 4, 1841 – April 4, 1841
April 4, 1841 – September 10, 1842
June 26, 1844 – March 4, 1845
March 4, 1845 – March 4, 1849
March 4, 1849 – July 9, 1850
July 9, 1850 – March 4, 1853
March 4, 1853 – March 4, 1857
March 4, 1861 – April 15, 1865
February 22, 1862 – May 10, 1865
April 15, 1865 – March 4, 1869
March 4, 1869 – March 4, 1877
March 4, 1877 – March 4, 1881
March 4, 1881 – September 19, 1881
January 12, 1880 (Aged 43)
June 2, 1886 – March 4, 1889
March 4, 1889 – October 25, 1892
June 2, 1886 – March 4, 1889
March 4, 1897 – September 14, 1901
September 14, 1901 – March 4, 1909
March 4, 1909 – March 4, 1913
March 4, 1913 – August 6, 1914
December 18, 1915 – March 4, 1921
March 4, 1921 – August 2, 1923
August 2, 1923 – March 4, 1929
March 4, 1929 – March 4, 1933
March 4, 1933 – April 12, 1945
April 12, 1945 – January 20, 1953
January 20, 1953 – January 20, 1961
January 20, 1961 – November 22, 1963
November 22, 1963 – January 20, 1969
January 20, 1969 – August 9, 1974
August 9, 1974 – January 20, 1977
January 20, 1977 – January 20, 1981
January 20, 1981 – January 20, 1989
January 20, 1989 – January 20, 1993
January 20, 1993 – January 20, 2001
January 20, 2001 – January 20, 2009
January 20, 2009 to date

Capitals of the United States and Colonies of America

Sept. 5, 1774 to Oct. 24, 1774
May 10, 1775 to Dec. 12, 1776
Dec. 20, 1776 to Feb. 27, 1777
March 4, 1777 to Sept. 18, 1777
September 27, 1777
Sept. 30, 1777 to June 27, 1778
July 2, 1778 to June 21, 1783
June 30, 1783 to Nov. 4, 1783
Nov. 26, 1783 to Aug. 19, 1784
Nov. 1, 1784 to Dec. 24, 1784
New York City
Jan. 11, 1785 to Nov. 13, 1788
New York City
Nov. 1788 to March 3,1789
New York City
March 3,1789 to August 12, 1790
December 6,1790 to May 14, 1800
Washington DC
November 17,1800 to Present

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  • First United American Republic: United Colonies of North America: 13 British Colonies United in Congress was founded by 12 colonies on September 5th, 1774 (Georgia joined in 1775)  and governed through a British Colonial Continental Congress.  Peyton Randolph and George Washington served, respectively, as the Republic's first President and Commander-in-Chief;
  • Second United American Republic: The United States of America: 13 Independent States United in Congress was founded by 12 states on July 2nd, 1776 (New York abstained until July 8th), and governed through the United States Continental CongressJohn Hancock and George Washington served, respectively, as the Republic's first President and Commander-in-Chief; 
  • Third United American Republic: The United States of America: A Perpetual Union was founded by 13 States on March 1st, 1781, with the enactment of the first U.S. Constitution, the Articles of Confederation, and governed through the United States in Congress Assembled.  Samuel Huntington and George Washington served, respectively, as the Republic's first President and Commander-in-Chief; 
  • Fourth United American Republic: The United States of America: We the People  was formed by 11 states on March 4th, 1789 (North Carolina and Rhode Island joined in November 1789 and May 1790, respectively), with the enactment of the U.S. Constitution of 1787. The fourth and current United States Republic governs through  the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate in Congress Assembled, the U.S. President and Commander-in-Chief, and the U.S. Supreme Court.  George Washington served as the Republic's first President and Commander-in-Chief.

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