Elizabeth Griscom “Betsy” Ross (1752 - 1836) is the acknowledged creator of the first American flag. One of Philadelphia’s most visited sites is her home on Arch street where she “reportedly” lived from 1776 until 1789. “Reportedly” because her residence in this particular building was by oral tradition from her two grandsons, William and George Canby. The best archival evidence indicates that she “might” have actually lived next door. As the eighth of seventeen siblings (of which only nine survived childhood), Betsy grew up in a Quaker household in which plain dress and strict discipline ruled her life. She learned to sew from her great aunt, Sarah Elizabeth Ann Griscom. Soon afterwards, her father apprenticed Betsy to upholsterer William Webster, where she met her future husband, John Ross. They eloped and got married in 1773. Because John was Episcopal, this created a lot of conflict within the Griscom family, resulting in Betsy’s expulsion from the Quaker congregation. Betsy and John soon afterwards began their own upholstery business and joined Christ Church. Following the death of her husband, Betsy continued to run the shop, repairing uniforms, making tents and blankets, as well as stuffed paper cartridges for American muskets. In June of 1777, she married her second husband, seaman Joseph Ashburn. He was later captured by the British Navy and died in jail. Betsy married her third husband, John Claypoole in 1783 and continued to run the shop for another ten years. At the time of her death in 1836 (at the age of 84), Betsy was totally blind.
The front part of Betsy’s house was constructed in 1740, with the stair hall and rear section added about ten years (or more) later. The main story about Betsy Ross states that, in 1776, Commander-In-Chief of the Continental Army, General George Washington asked her to make the first American Flag. Betsy convinced him to change the shape of the stars he had sketched from six points to five points, as it would be faster to cut and easier to make. While she also made flags for the Pennsylvania Navy during the American Revolutionary War, Betsy’s main occupation remained upholstery. In 1937, local radio personality, A. Atwater Kent purchased the property and began restoration efforts. Kent donated the property to the city in 1941 and its is currently managed by Historic Philadelphia, Inc. During January of 1952, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp on the 200th anniversary of Betsy’s birth.