Who is Betsy Ross?

Legend has it that George Washington personally asked Betsy Ross to sew the first American Flag in 1776. However, it is just that: a legend. There was little, if any, record keeping during that time in history, so much of the Betsy Ross tale has passed on from each generation.

Betsy Ross was born a fourth-generation American in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1752, as one of 14 children. After her schooling, her father placed her in an apprenticeship at a local upholsterer, where she met John Ross, a fellow apprentice at the same shop, who would later marry Betsy. While she and John Ross were of different religious backgrounds, that did not prevent them from eloping in 1773; with strict rules for inter-denominational marriages, Betsy’s marriage to John Ross forced her to split from her family. Not long after their marriage, John and Betsy started their own upholstery business – this provided challenges with the already strict competition and the loss of the Quaker religious circle that Betsy was once a part of.

During the revolutionary times in 1776, John Ross was mortally wounded in an explosion and passed away from the resulting injury. Later that year, the Committee of Three approached Betsy: George Washington, Robert Morris, and George Ross with the sketch of a flag that Washington had compiled. Betsy had but one suggestion for the flag – to change the original design of a six-point star to a five-point star – and was entrusted with sewing the first American flag.

Betsy Ross’ story was made public by her grandson, William Canby, in the 1870’s, nearly 50 years after she had passed away; his recollection of her story was published in Harper’s Monthly, though many still contest about the factuality of the Betsy Ross story.

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