Friday, January 16, 2015

Sewing The Pieces Together: The Legacy of John and Betsy Ross

Understanding the time period and the historical accounts of where our ancestors lived is very important.  

When I first started genealogy, I had an uncle who claimed that we were directly related to Betsy Ross.  As I progressed through and learned how to document the family history I got to the Rosses on my mother's side.  

Let's stroll back through time a bit.

My fourth Great Grand-Parents are Enoc/Enos Wellington Presley and he married Charlotte Ruth Ross,  Her father was William Ross and her mother was Sara English Belknop. Williams father is also William.  His father was Aeneas Ross.  His father was Aeneas Ross and his mother was Sarah Leech, the additional children (what I could find documented) was: Maria, Sarah, John, Mary, and Joanna. 

Here is where the folklore begins.  John Ross was born 1 Jan 1752 in Philadelphia. 

Betsy was a member of the Friends public school and she is Quaker and is the daughter of Samuel Griscom and Rebecca James and was born in Philadelphia, PA While attending this school for eight hours a day she learned reading, writings, and possibly sewing.  After she completing her schooling, her father apprenticed her to the local upholsterer.  During colonial times upholsterers did all manners of sewing jobs.   While working Betsy fell in love with another apprentice, John Ross.  John Ross was the son of an Episcopal assistant rector at Christ Church.

Quakers frowned on inter-denominational marriages and the penalty was severe, the guilty party would be "read out" of the Quaker House.  This is known as shunning.  This meant they would be cut off emotionally and economically from both family and meeting house. 

On 4 Nov 1773 during the night 21 year old Betsy eloped with John Ross.  They had ferried across the Delaware River to Hugg's Tavern and married in New Jersey.  This marriage caused an irrevocable split with her family.  On their wedding certificate is the name of the New Jersey's Governor, William Franklin who is the son of Benjamin Franklin.  Three years later William did irrevocable split with his father because he was a Loyalist and was against the cause of the Revolution.  Two years later, John and Besty opened their own upholstery business.  Since Betsy was "Read Out" she attended Christ Church and would be found sitting in pew 12 with John.  Some Sundays sitting in an adjacent pew would be George Washington.

Canyon at the Gettysburg Cemetery

According to what I found, John was a Lieutenant in the Pennsylvania militia, and while guarding an ammunition cache in mid-January he was mortally wounded by a cannon misfire.  

He  died 21 Jan 1776 and was buried in Christ Church Cemetery.  John and Betsy had no children and Betsy would marry two more times.

In late May or early June of 1776, after the death of John Ross, Betsy had the fateful meeting committee of three: George Washington, George Ross, and Robert Morris.  This meeting lead to the sewing of the first flag.

Betsy is the famous Philadelphia seamstress who, according to history and by her stories, fashioned the first flag of  the United States.  When she was 84 year old she use to tell her Grandson William Canby (Who later wrote it in a newspaper in 1870) of when George Washington, Robert Morris and George Ross her late Husband's uncle came to visit her at her home.  George Washington was then the head of the Continental Army. Robert Morris, an owner of vast amounts of land, was perhaps the wealthiest citizen in the Colonies. Colonel George Ross was a respected Philadelphian and also the uncle of her late husband, John Ross. 

Betsy Ross already knew George Ross, she was married his nephew John Ross.  Betsy was also acquainted with General Washington. They both worship at Christ Church in Philadelphia and her pew was next to George and Martha Washington's pew. Betsy's daughter recalled, "That she was previously well acquainted with Washington, and that he had often been in her house in friendly visits, as well as on business. That she had embroidered ruffles for his shirt bosoms and cuffs, and that it was partly owing to his friendship for her that she was chosen to make the flag."

In June 1776, brave Betsy was a widow struggling to run her own upholstery business. According to Betsy, General Washington showed her a rough design of the flag that included a six-pointed star. Betsy, a standout with the scissors, demonstrated how to cut a five-pointed star in a single snip. Impressed, the committee entrusted Betsy with making our first flag.  They had asked her to make a flag for the new nation that would declare its independence the following month.  A rough sketch was presented to her and was redrawn by Washington incorporating her suggestions.  She then fashioned the flag in her back parlor.  There is evidence that she did make flags to prove her claim. 

On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress adopted the stars-and stripes as the national flag of the United States.  In her later years she lived at the home of one of her seven daughters.  Her home is located on the East Side of Philadelphia, Pa and is a historical place and is open to the public. She was also very active in the American Red Cross.  Documented from the Britannica Encyclopedia Micropaedia Twelfth Edition 1992.  Printed in the USA page 188-189. 

By researching the historical accounts the claim that we were directly related to Betsy Ross is disproved although there is a relationship by marriage only.

Finding interesting facts about your ancestor can be really fun.

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The image from c 1917 depicts what is presume to be Betsy and two children presenting the "Betsy Ross flag" to George Washington and three other men.  The image is a version of the painting entitled "The Birth of Old Glory" by Percy Moran, from the Library of Congress: Title: The Birth of Old Glory / from paint by Moran.  Call Number: Lot 4703; Reproduction Number:  LC-USZCA-2791 (color film copy transparency) LC-USZ62-1767 (b&w film copy neg.).  Summary: Betsy Ross(?) and two girls showing United States flag to Georg Washington and three other men.  Medium: 1 photomechanical print: color.  Created/Published: c1917.  Related Names: Moran, Percy, 1862-1935, artist.  Notes: Copyright by the T.D.M. Co., Red Oak Iowa, U.S.A. no. 393.  It is in public domain.