Do you know her?
Recently Betsy Ross, who is famous for sewing the first flag of the United States, has been swept up in criticism. In fact, now there’s been even more scrutiny of our first flag, saying that it represented slavery. Also the flag made with 13 stars has been called a racist symbol of a world full of slavery. What? I’ll present my case about that a little later. But for now, let’s see who Betsy Ross really was.
There is no preserved, documented evidence that says Betsy Ross was the sole designer and creator of our first flag, but many years after her death, her grandson publicly told the story of family lore having heard extensive details of the creation.
Betsy Ross, who was born in 1752 and died in 1836, was from a Quaker family who did not own slaves. In 1773 at the age of 21, she announced she was marrying John Ross, whom her family considered unacceptable. He was also the son of an Episcopal rector, a double act of defiance. Her family disowned her and she never saw them again. She was expelled from the Quaker church.
This was quite a big step to take in a young life. It may not have been common for a woman to work outside the house in those days, but she learned the upholstery trade. She and her husband opened an upholstery shop. He soon joined the militia to fight for independence and just two years after they married, he died in military service.
After that, as the story goes, as a newly widowed woman, Betsy was visited by General George Washington. A discussion of the design of the flag began and she had a big part in it. This information actually wasn’t circulated until about 1870 when her grandson told the family story. Since then it has been widely accepted that she was at least involved in sewing the flag.
In 1777 Betsy, known for her beauty, married again. His name was Joseph Ashburn, a sailor, with whom she had two daughters. She kept the upholstery store running by making flags for the war effort. Joseph fought the British by sea, and was captured and placed in a British prison, where he died in 1782. Now, Betsy has lost two husbands to the war. How much more can she give to her country?
One year later she married John Claypoole, a man she had known in her youth in Philadelphia. I found it interesting to learn he had been in prison in England with her husband, Joseph Ashburn. The Claypooles went on to have five daughters.
Betsy Ross Ashburn Claypoole and her daughters made flags and did upholstery for the rest of her life. During her last 10 years, her eyesight failed and she died at the age of 84.
In addition to losing two husbands to the war, at that time in history she learned a trade and was able to take care of herself and her children. In that light, I believe the early flag represents the birth of our country and in the case of Betsy Ross, early feminism. I’ll remind you that she and her family never owned slaves. Our first flag has nothing to do with slavery, but more of a country celebrating its independence with 13 colonies and a new beginning.
(Melanie Behrens – firstname.lastname@example.org)
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