By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2013 Heather Blanton
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“Sugar and spice and everything nice
That’s what little girls are made of.”
My curiosity about our Founding Mothers has certainly led me to one inarguable conclusion: the above statement just ain’t so. Our Founding Mothers each had an iron will, the patience of Job, and perseverance and stubbornness enough to shame a mule.
In researching Betsy Ross, I truly came to respect those last two traits.
One of seventeen children and born into a Quaker home, Elizabeth Griscom married her first husband, John Ross, in 1773. The young man she had fallen in love was NOT a Quaker and therefore, the union was not sanctioned. Wisely or not, the couple took the matter into their own hands and eloped. Upon her return, the 21-year-old Betsy was “read out” of her congregation. Clearly not one to curl up like a wilted flower, she instead rolled up her sleeves and helped her husband open an upholstery shop in Philadelphia.
She also supported John’s decision to join the Philadelphia militia in 1775, since their love of liberty was one of the things that had brought them together. Sadly, less than a year later, he was killed in a munitions explosion. The couple had no children. Once again, Betsy rose to the occasion. She squared her shoulders and took over the business. Surely, this fiery widow had to be the talk of Philadelphia. A pretty woman and a patriot running her own business amidst turbulent political times. It was unheard of.
Not long after the death of her husband in 1776, George Washington, Robert Morris and George Ross (her husband’s uncle), made their historic request of Betsy. This is not a legend. History confirms that Betsy and her husband knew George Washington as all three attended Christ Church, plus she had sewn some flags for the Navy, and her husband’s uncle knew George, as well. The couple was married by William Franklin, son of Benjamin, so it’s pretty obvious they moved in the right circles for Betsy to have received this request. Not to mention, she could sew like a fiend.
Whispers down through history have also suggested Betsy may have been the “beautiful young widow” who distracted Carl Von Donop. Donop was the Hessian commander who lost the opportunity to reinforce the troops at Trenton on Dec 26, 1776, allowing George Washington a resounding victory. Quite the morale booster for the Colonial Army. Was it due in part to Betsy?
Besty married again in 1777 to mariner Joseph Ashburn. He was in Betsy’s life long enough to father two children with her. In 1780, his ship was captured by the British and Ashburn was thrown into prison, charged with treason. Not only would Betsy never see him again, but she lost her nine-month old daughter Zilla during this time, while she was pregnant with their second child Eliza.
Betsy had to have been an incredibly strong woman to keep forging ahead the way she did. She never stopped running her business and even managed to sew uniforms for the Colonial Army for several years. In 1783, she married again (this time for the last time). John Claypoole, an old friend of her family, had actually been imprisoned with her husband and was the one who delivered the news of his death.
Prison took the starch out of Claypoole, though, and he suffered from poor health for years. Still, the couple did manage to bless the world with 5 daughters. I think there is some poetic justice in that, considering all that Betsy had been through and lost to the war. Claypoole passed away in 1817 and Betsy ran the family business for another 10 years, before turning it over to her daughters.
Betsy Griscom Ross Ashworth Claypoole lived to be 84 years of age, but, of course, her story is immortal. She was a true lady in defiance!