Betsy Ross House | Plan Your Visit
Although she is the most well known seamstress in American history, it is not an agreed upon fact that Betsy Ross designed the American flag. That part of history up for debate. A visit the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia is the only place in America to view a historic interpretation of an 18th century upholstery shop. For more on Besty herself, read on after the practical information.
The self guided tour visits her workroom, two bedrooms, and kitchen. There is also an exhibition of family treasures including her family bible, snuff box, and other artifacts. Costumed actors bring the 18th century home to life.
Betsy Ross is buried in the courtyard of the house.
Where is the Betsy Ross House Located?
The Betsy Ross House is located at 239 Arch Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, just a few blocks away from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Please use our Google map for directions to the house.
- March 1 – November 30 Open Daily: 10 am – 5 pm (During winter months, there is no admission on Mondays)
Admission to the Betsy Ross House
- Adults: $5.00 – free with the Philadelphia Pass
- Children/Students/Seniors/Military: $4.00
- Adults: $7.00 – free with the Philadelphia Pass
- Children/Students/Seniors/Military: $6.00
The Betsy Ross House is rooted in many American School kids minds. With tales of her sewing the first flag to school projects of cutting a 5-point star. Betsy is part of the very fiber of American history and Philadelphia.
For those that were not raised on her tale or need a refresher course, here we go. “Betsy” was born Elizabeth Griscom on January 1, 1752, as the 8th of 17 children in New Jersey. At the age of 3 the family moved to a fast growing city called Philadelphia. The family moved to a home at 4th and Arch Street.
After finishing her formal education at the Quaker School for Children she was then apprenticed to John Webster in his upholstery shop. Betsy is noted as the “seamstress” of the American flag but she was actually trained as an upholsterer that could create and repair curtains, bed covers, tablecloths and almost any other textile of the home. While working for John Webster, she developed a crush on a fellow apprentice, John Ross. Unfortunately he was not a Quaker so her family frowned on the relationship. Following their hearts, John and Betsy eloped to Hugg’s Tavern in Gloucester, New Jersey and were married November 1773. Betsy ended up being shunned by her faith for marrying a non-Quaker.
John and Betsy started their own upholstery shop in a rented space on Chestnut Street. Sadly John died after only 2 years of marriage after joining the Pennsylvania Militia to fight in the Revolutionary War. Betsy was widowed at 24 and without children, John’s death did not get her down and she continued running the upholstery shop by herself. She lent her sewing skills to the Revolutionary cause by mending tents, uniforms, and etc. After John’s passing that Betsy begins renting the home on Arch Street between 2nd and 3rd streets in 1776.
In 1777, Betsy married again to Joseph Ashburn a sailor. While married to Joseph, Betsy had her first child, Zilla. Betsy was left alone for long stretches while Joseph was at sea, a very dangers job during the Revolutionary War. In 1780, Joseph’s ship was captured by British forces and charged with piracy and treason. While Joseph was away, Zilla dies after only 9 months of life. Joseph also dies while in British prisons, tragically leaving Betsy again widowed and childless. But she does not get word of Joseph’s death until 1782 when John Claypoole, that was also imprisoned with Joseph, brought word of his death. Betsy later marries John Claypoole in 1783 and has 34 years of marriage. She gave birth to 5 daughters with John, only 4 lived to full adulthood and one dying in childhood. The misfortunes of Betsy in many way represents the lives of many women of this period of early America and helps grounds her as a symbol of the struggles for Independence.
What about the Betsy Ross House?
Records show that Betsy rented the home located on the North side of Arch Street between 2nd and 3rd street from 1776 to 1779. In the 1800s a German immigrant family, Munds, moved to the house and ran various businesses, including a tavern, out of the home that is currently restored. In 1876 the home was marked as a historic landmark. This was key to celebrating the 100th birthday of the United States and highlighting a non-military figure from the Revolution. After the Civil War the nation was trying to mend and a celebration to celebrate the Centennial was key. Betsy’s tale was perfect for this goal since she was a Quaker, mother, crafts person, and the tragedy of her losses resonated with the nation after the Civil War.
The Munds used this history to promote business and posted signs on the building advertising it as the location of the first American Flag and advertising their tavern.
In 1898 a group called the Betsy Ross Memorial Association raised funds, school kids would donate dimes, and purchased the home from the Munds. The founder of the Association, Charles Weisgerber, painted the work “Birth of Our Nation’s Flag” depicting the tale of Betsy being asked to sew the first American flag. He placed individuals in the painting based of accounts from Betsy’s Grandson William Canby. This painting is now seen in almost every American History textbook and further rooting Betsy Ross into the minds and hearts of Americans.
There is debate on whether the Mund home was the actual home of Betsy Ross and if the flag was sewn at that location but in the hearts of many students and Americans the debate is moot since the tale of Betsy Ross has grown beyond that of a single woman but of all women and families of Revolutionary America.
Did she make the flag or not?
The first mention of the Betsy sewing the first American flag was not until 1870. Yes, 1870, her grandson William Canby spoke at a lecture at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and was the first to discuss Betsy and the flag. Betsy was not famous or historically recognized during her lifetime. The tale of Betsy does not have much documented evidence, her tale was oral history passed down through her family. Famously Betsy’s family all account a similar quote about when she was asked if she could sew the American Flag designed by Francis Hopkinson, “I do not know, but I will try.” Betsy is given full credit for the 5-pointed star of our flag. The original design by Francis had a 6-pointed star. This type of star is very tedious to make out of fabric, involves cutting two triangles and stitching them together. Betsy has to sew 26 stars, 13 for each side of the flag. As a well trained and experience upholsterer she would have known of a folding technique requiring 3 folds and one cut to create a 5-pointed star, far more efficient and hence the stars of the our flag to this day. There is little evidence supporting the flag was sewn at the house and if George Washington was even there to ask Betsy in person. But the tale of Betsy has become more then just a historical event but a myth to be passed down to generations of Americans highlighting the lesser know founders and their contribution to creating our nation.