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Innovation & Growth Initiative: Montgomery County Benchmark
Learn about Abington's Next Century. To access a white paper that compares Abington to the rest of Montgomery County, click here >
Betsy Ross lived in Abington
The nation's greatest single icon and symbol of enduring freedom is the American Flag. The story of its creation by Betsy Ross is an inspiration that lives on. She enjoyed success as an upholsterer in Philadelphia, but as a wife and mother she overcame many hardships. After fifty years in business, loss of three husbands and two daughters, she moved to retire amidst the rolling hills and farmland of Montgomery County.
Historians do not have the definitive proof that they seek that she stitched together the first U.S. flag, other than proof of payment, an Act of Congress, oral tradition and family ties:
Proof of Payment. On May 29, 1777, Betsy Ross was paid a large sum of money from the Pennsylvania State Navy Board for making flags.
Act of Congress. On June 14, 1777, Congress adopted Old Glory as our official national flag. June 14 is now flag day – a national holiday. Betsy Ross and her business continued to make flags for the rest of her career.
Oral History. According to the oral tradition, George Washington, Robert Morris and George Ross visited Betsy Ross in her upholstery shop in 1777. Washington pulled a folded piece of paper from his inside coat pocket. On it, was a sketch of a flag with 13 red and white stripes and 13- six pointed stars. The number 13 represented the colonies, which were now declaring themselves to be states in a new union. Washington asked if Betsy could make a flag from the design. Betsy responded: "I do not know, but I will try." This line was used in the sworn statements of many of Betsy's family members, suggesting that it is a direct quote from Betsy. As the story goes, Betsy suggested changing the stars to five points rather than six. She showed them how to do it with just one snip of her scissors. They all agreed to change the design to have stars with five points.
Family Ties. George Ross, a member of the Flag committee, was the uncle of Betsy's late husband, who died at the beginning of the Revolution. He know that she was in need of work during wartime and trusted her skills.
She married John Ross in 1773, initially against the will of her family. She had met him when they both worked as apprentices under John Webster, a talented and popular Philadelphia upholsterer. After they married, they opened their own upholstery business in a rented house on Philadelphia’s Mulberry Street (now Arch Street) and found success until the moment of truth for the colonies came upon them.
In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed and the sound of the Liberty Bell was heard around the world. John joined the local militia along with patriots in the other 12 colonies. During his service, he was guarding munitions near the Delaware River when an explosion of gunpowder killed him, leaving Betsy a childless widow at the age of 24. Betsy continued to run her upholstery business, making extra income by mending uniforms and making tents, blankets, musketballs, and cartridges for the Continental army.
Shortly thereafter, Betsy married her second husband, Joseph Ashburn, who was a mariner and often at sea. He was captured with his American crew in 1780 by a British frigate. He died in prision of illness, shortly before the prisoner were released in 1782.
A fellow prisoner John Claypoole visited Betsy upon his return to Philadelphia. He was her old acquaintance and close friend of Joseph Ashburn. He brought Betsy the news of her second husband’s death.
John Claypoole and Betsy rekindled their old friendship and were married the next year. Their Quaker roots were based on a pacifist tradition. She and her husband joined a sect called the Society of Free Quakers, which supported America’s fight for freedom from British rule.
Betsy was finally able to enjoy a 34 year marriage to John Claypoole, and had five daughters together (Clarissa Sidney, Susannah, Rachel, Jane, and Harriet, who died at nine months). She had previously had two daughters during her first two marriages. The last 20 years of the marriage was difficult as Betsy cared for her husband John, who was disabled as a result of his earlier war injuries. He died from a lengthy illness in 1817.
Betsy ran her upholstery business with her widowed daughter Clarissa until 1827. In that year, she retired at the age of 76 and left the city to live on her daughter Susannah’s farm in the remote farmlands adjacent to Old York Road in Abington. She lived with her daughter Susannah on her husband's Satterthwaite Farm. According to her descendents, although her vision was failing rapidly, Betsy continued to take the long carriage ride to the Free Quaker Meetinghouse in the city every week for the five years she lived in Abington.
When she became blind in 1833, she moved back to Philadelphia to live with her daughter Jane’s family on Cherry Street in Philadelphia. With family present, Betsy Ross died peacefully in her sleep on January 30, 1836. She was 84 years old. She was buried in the Quaker burial ground, at South 5th Street, near Locust. In 1857, her remains were moved to Mount Moriah Cemetery, before her final resting place in 1975, on Arch Street, in the courtyard adjacent to the Betsy Ross House.
The Betsy Ross story was brought to public attention in 1870 by her grandson, William Canby, in a speech he made to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Canby and other members of Betsy's family signed sworn affidavits stating that they heard the story of the making of the first flag from Betsy's own mouth.
Abington was incorporated 48 years before Betsy Ross (nee Griscom) was born. It grew rapidly. By 1790, its population reached 881. Fifty years later, it was 1,704. When Abington was incorporated, it was part of Philadelphia. It was not until 1784 – during Betsy's lifetime – that 487 square miles north of the city, was established as Montgomery County.
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History in the News
New Books at Abington Free Library / MCLINC
- Stars and the dust from space by Prinja, Raman, 1961-
- What was the Missouri Compromise? : and other questions about the struggle over slavery by Lanier, Wendy, 1963-
- The Cydonian Pyramid by Hautman, Pete, 1952- author.
- Friends by Hout, Mies van, author, illustrator.
- Science and craft projects with insects, spiders, and other minibeasts by Owen, Ruth, 1967- author.