Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Sewing Together A Nation by Cindy Regnier


In our elementary school history lessons, we all heard the account of a patriot by the name of Betsy Ross making the first American flag in 1776. True story. Maybe. No one is entirely sure. Let’s explore it a bit.

No one outside her circle of family, friends and acquaintances ever heard the name of Elizabeth Griscom Ross during her lifetime. The story of her flag creation was first told to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania almost a century later in 1870 by William Canby, Betsy’s grandson

 Canby declared that his grandmother had frequently told him the story of receiving a visit from General George Washington in the spring of 1776.Washington’s purpose in calling on the widow of John Ross was to present her with a drawing of a flag with 13 red and white stripes and 13 six pointed stars, asking is she would be willing to craft a flag matching the design. After studying Washington’s sketch, Betsy recommended arranging the stars in a circle and reducing the points to five instead of 6 because the cloth could be folded and cut out with a single snip. (Charles Wilson Peale’s 1779 painting of George Washington following the 1777 Battle of Princeton features a flag with six-pointed stars.)  When Washington agreed, Ross consented to sew the banner. A year later in June of 1777, Congress officially adopted the design as the country’s emblem.

No official documentation has been discovered that confirms Betsy’s creation, however it is widely believed that her deceased husband’s uncle George Ross, a signer of The Declaration of Independence, recommended her to Washington for the task. Mrs. Ross was likely acquainted with Washington who is said to have attended the same church as Betsy’s family. Further, it is documented by receipts from the Pennsylvania Navy Board that Ross did make flags in ship colors. It may even be that Ross had a part in coming up with the name “United States of America,” though there is no evidence to support that claim. Ross’s daughter, niece and granddaughter all collaborated Canby’s story with signed affidavits published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in 1873. From there, the story’s journey to the American history books was quickly completed.

Betsy would have been quite young at the creation of the flag. Records show that she married in 1773 at the age of 21, eloping with John Ross, the son of an Episcopal rector. Her marriage resulted in her expulsion from the Quaker church. Undaunted, the Rosses started their own upholstery shop, and John joined the military. He died after only two years of marriage. In June 1777, Betsy married Joseph Ashburn, a sailor, and gave birth to two daughters. He died In 1782 in a British prison. A year later, Betsy married John Claypoole, a man she had known in Philadelphia’s Quaker community who had been imprisoned in England with Ashburn. They went on to have five daughters. Over the next decades, Betsy Claypoole and her daughters sewed upholstery and made flags, banners and standards for the new nation. She died in 1836, at age 84.

 So, what do you think? Is the evidence enough to establish that Betsy Ross did indeed make the first flag? Perhaps it doesn’t really matter if her story is legend or fact. American children still grow up learning about her contribution to American independence. On January 2, 1952, the Betsy Ross stamp was issued to celebrate the 200-year anniversary of her birth. It featured an image of Ross and the flag on her lap. Good enough for me. Way to sew, Betsy!

Scribbling in notebooks has been a habit of Cindy Regnier since she was old enough to hold a pencil. Born and raised in Kansas, she writes stories of historical Kansas, especially the Flint Hills area where she spent much of her childhood. Her experiences with the Flint Hills setting, her natural love for history, farming and animals, along with her interest in genealogical research give her the background and passion to write heart-fluttering historical romance.


  1. Thank you for posting today. I suppose we can question anything these days, but back then the word of an affidavit would have meant something. I choose to believe the Rosses.

  2. Me too, Connie! And what a great story. It wasnt all men and soldiers who won freedom for America!

  3. Betsy Ross is a beloved figure in American history. I choose to believe that SHE was the creator of our American flag and i will unless absolute proof can be offered that she didn't!!