The year is 1776. Philadelphia seamstress Elizabeth Ross is struggling to eke out a livelihood. Shortages induced by the American Revolution have crippled her family-owned upholstery business, and her husband, a militiaman, was recently killed while guarding ammunition from the clutches of invading British troops. Shunned by her Quaker family for her decision to marry outside of their denomination, the newly widowed Ross, though seemingly abandoned, quickly takes the reins of her floundering enterprise, relying on her plucky personality and professional prowess to navigate the often-unpredictable challenges of wartime.
Only months after burying her husband, Elizabeth “Betsy” Ross encounters a customer who will change the course of the young widow’s life: George Washington. The patriot general, along with his colleges George Ross and Robert Morris, commission the creation of a banner that will unite the thirteen rogue colonies under the common cause of freedom. According to legend, the three men present Ross with a sketch of the proposed emblem, a flag with thirteen alternating red and white stripes and thirteen white, six-pointed stars arranged in a circle on a blue field. Ever practical, Betsy suggests five-pointed stars as they are much easier to cut and sew. Washington agrees to this alteration, and the five-pointed star has appeared on every American flag since the creation of Ross’s radical design.
Over the course of her life, Betsy Ross continued to sew emblems of unity for the American people in spite of overwhelming adversity. Ross married sea captain Joseph Ashburn in 1777. Later that year, the Ashburn house was taken over by British troops in need of housing. With the war still raging in 1782, Joseph Ashburn embarked on a quest to the West Indies for vital materials desperately needed by the rebelling colonies. Betsy became a widow once again when her husband did not return from his voyage; captured and imprisoned by the British, Captain Ashburn died in the infamously brutal Old Mill Prison in England months after the last major battle of the Revolution had been fought. Betsy married for the third time in 1783, a union that lasted until 1817 when her husband, John Claypoole, passed away from natural causes. Over the course of her harrowing life, Betsy had seven children with five surviving to adulthood.
Even the face of tragedy, Betsy Ross never allowed her resolve to waver. A tried and true patriot, this American icon sewed her way into the pages of history. In addition to creating the original American flag, Betsy also fabricated flags for multiple American garrisons and the new government’s Indian Department. While some historians dispute her role in the development of America’s first national flag, the legend of Betsy Ross continues to inspire Americans to overcome adversity, bridge divides, and bind together under our shared love of freedom.