homepage logo

Through the Lens: One Snip Star

By Chuck Clegg - | Jun 16, 2021

I have always had a fascination with our nation’s history. Especially when it involves the stories of individuals that helped to build our great country. The American history books are filled with story’s of our early leader’s struggles to build a new country with rights for it citizens.

Recently my curiosity was sparked to research and learn more about one of our nation’s greatest symbols, the American Flag. A friend of mine had recently sent me a link to an audio clip on the internet. I had heard the story in school many years ago but somehow I had forgotten the details. It was how our National Anthem was written by Frances Scott Key. For the eleven minutes it played I was totally engrossed with the telling of that night in our country’s history nearly two hundred years ago. I do not remember that chapter in my history book being as compelling as the words I had just heard.

After hearing the internet account of the event I decided to find out as much as I could about the flag that flew over Fort McHenry that night. I wanted to find out the origin of the flag and write a story of the events that inspired a man to take pen in hand and record words Americans can repeat still today.

But as I started to study the history of the flag I noticed June 14, last Monday, was National Flag Day. I decided to tell you of our flag’s history and leave the National Anthem for another day.

The story of our country is often told about strong men who stood and fought for our new nation’s rights early in our country’s history.

But if you take the time and look deeper you can often find that our history is also built on the shoulders of strong women.

Our country’s history of revolution and the birth of a flag are in part because of one woman, Betsy Ross. Now, I know ever school kid has heard the story of Betsy Ross and the making of the first American Flag.

The story goes that General George Washington, Robert Morris and George Ross, asked Betsy to make the flag after she demonstrated the technique to cut a five pointed star with only one snip of the scissors. That visit lead to her making of the flag.

That is what I remember from my study of American history. But we now know that account of the flag’s creation did not come to light until 36 years after her death in 1836.

Her grandson, who told the story of the flag’s creation in 1870 also noted that the story needed to be validated before taken as fact. We may never really know if Betsy Ross indeed created the first flag. But history does tell us she was a flag maker. And in 1777 official record shows she was paid to create for the Navy a flag with “ships colors”.

Betsy will live on in history as the flag’s creator but perhaps she should also be remembered as a woman who helped to change women’s lives in early America.

Her given name was Elizabeth Griscom, born 1752 in Philadelphia. She was the eighth child in a family of 17 children. Elizabeth attended a Quaker school and learned to work with cloth and the skills of needle work.

After school she went into an apprenticeship to learn the job of upholstery. While in her training she met a young man named John Ross. John was not of the Quaker faith which meant after their marriage Betsy faced expulsion from her church. Her family also turned away from her and John. The couple had two children together and started a successful upholstery business.

With the start of the Revolutionary War, John joined the Pennsylvania militia. Later an ammunitions explosion killed John in 1776. With her husband’s death Betsy Ross became a “Fighting Quaker” which supported the war against England.

Betsy remarried a year and a half later in 1777 to a sea captain named Joseph Ashburn. The captain was captured by the English in 1781 and later died in prison.

John Claypool who had been in prison with Joseph returned after his imprisonment and told Betsy of his death.

A year later she and John were married and had five daughters together. John died in 1817 after being in poor health for nearly twenty years.

Throughout her life she lost three husbands, two of them to the American Revolution and one to long term health problems. Survived as a widow in revolutionary America and raised her children with just her upholstery business.

She purchased land with businesses profits and managed its use; something rare for a women in those days.

Betsy Ross will always be remembered as an American patriot. And perhaps it will not ever truly be known if she did create the first stars and stripes.

But it is known she and her family helped to build a country where not only men stand tall in the pursuit of freedom, but so did the American women.

Take a moment and look up at the flag and remember the men and women who made it possible for the stars and stripes to fly with freedom as we look Through the Lens.