The House and Its Association with Betsy Ross
Located at 239 Arch Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Betsy Ross House is a landmark steeped in history and debate. This Pennsylvania colonial-style house is purportedly where Betsy Ross, the renowned seamstress, and flag-maker, sewed the first American flag. However, this association is not without its controversies.
The link between Ross and the house can be traced back to the Centennial celebrations of 1876, where her grandsons, William, and George Canby, first suggested it. The house was then identified based on information from surviving family members.
Despite this, archival evidence suggests Ross’s residence might have been next to the one known today as the Betsy Ross House, which was demolished due to fire hazards.
Life of Betsy Ross
Betsy Ross, born Elizabeth Griscom, was a woman of remarkable strength and determination. Born on January 1, 1752, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, she was the eighth of 17 children. Raised in a household of devout Quakers, Ross learned the upholsterer’s trade, a skill that would later play a significant part in her life and legend.
In 1773, Ross married John Ross, an Anglican, and was subsequently expelled from the Quaker congregation. The couple started an upholstery business together, setting up shop in Philadelphia. Between 1773 and 1786, Ross is believed to have rented and resided in the house now known as the Betsy Ross House.
A series of personal tragedies marked Ross’s life. Her first husband, John Ross, died in 1776, likely due to injuries sustained while on militia duty. She later married sea captain Joseph Ashburn in 1777, who was captured by the British and died in prison in 1782. Finally, she married John Claypoole in 1783, with whom she had five daughters.
The most enduring part of Ross’s legacy is the belief that she sewed the first American flag in 1776, a task supposedly commissioned by General George Washington himself.
The story goes that Ross suggested the stars in the flag be five-pointed rather than six-pointed, showing Washington how to fold the cloth to achieve this design with a single cut. However, no archival evidence supports this claim, and most historians consider it more folklore than fact.
Haunted Activity at the Betsy Ross House
With its rich history and centuries-old structure, the Betsy Ross House has long fascinated those interested in paranormal activity.
Over the years, many visitors and staff members have reported strange occurrences that they attribute to the house’s ghostly inhabitants. However, the most frequently sighted specter is believed to be Betsy Ross herself.
One of the most common tales is of the apparition of a woman in 18th-century attire, believed to be Betsy, who was seen crying at the foot of a bed in the basement.
This basement, now known as the “cellar kitchen,” is set up as an exhibit depicting how Betsy might have lived and worked. It’s speculated that the apparition is mourning the loss of her first husband, John Ross, who died in 1776.
In addition to sightings of Betsy, there have been reports of other unexplained phenomena. Visitors and staff have experienced sudden temperature drops, odd sounds, and a general sense of unease in certain parts of the house. In addition, objects have been said to move independently, and disembodied footsteps have been heard in empty rooms.
One particular area that seems to have heightened paranormal activity is the narrow, winding staircase. People ascending these stairs have reported feeling a cold, unseen presence passing them on its way down.
The attic, where Betsy is believed to have sewed the first American flag, is another hot spot for ghostly encounters. It’s said that, late at night, the faint sound of a woman humming can sometimes be heard, accompanied by the rustle of fabric and the soft murmurs of conversation.
These alleged hauntings have made the Betsy Ross House a popular destination for paranormal investigators and ghost tours.
Despite the potentially eerie experiences, these ghost stories have added another layer to the intrigue of the Betsy Ross House. They continue to draw curious visitors looking to experience a brush with the past—historical or spectral.
A Tourist Attraction Amidst Controversy
Despite the debates surrounding its historical authenticity, the Betsy Ross House remains one of Philadelphia’s most visited tourist sites. Each year, it attracts over a quarter of a million guests, trailing only the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall regarding visitor numbers.
Visitors to the house can embark on self-guided tours through its tiny rooms and tight staircases, immersing themselves in the history of the American Revolution and the life of Betsy Ross.
Interactive elements like a conversation with a reenactor portraying Betsy Ross add to the educational and engaging experience.
Flag Day Celebrations
The Betsy Ross House plays a significant role in Philadelphia’s annual Flag Day celebrations. Flag Day, observed on June 14, commemorates the adoption of the flag of the United States on June 14, 1777, by the resolution of the Second Continental Congress.
Flag Day is a vibrant display of national pride and historical remembrance at the Betsy Ross House. The event often features ceremonial activities like flag-raising ceremonies, the Pledge of Allegiance recitation, and the national anthem singing.
Additionally, historical reenactments and storytelling sessions help bring to life the era of the American Revolution.
Given the house’s association with Betsy Ross and the creation of the first American flag, these celebrations hold a particular resonance here. They serve not just as an observance of Flag Day itself but also as a tribute to Ross’s alleged contribution to American history.
It’s worth noting that Flag Day at the Betsy Ross House is not just a single-day event. Instead, it has recently expanded to a week-long celebration known as “Flag Fest.” This event includes a series of activities designed to entertain and educate visitors about the history of the American flag and the life of Betsy Ross.
Debates and Future of the House
Questions persist regarding the authenticity of the house’s connection to Betsy Ross, with most historians considering the claims of Ross living there and sewing the first American flag as likely false. However, these debates have not diminished the site’s popularity or historical interest.
As for the future of the Betsy Ross House, it remains a cherished part of Philadelphia’s heritage. While no specific plans are currently outlined for the house, its management by Historic Philadelphia, Inc. ensures that it will continue to be well-preserved and open to the public, serving as an engaging window into the past.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you go to the Betsy Ross House?
The Betsy Ross House is open to the public for self-guided tours. In addition, visitors are welcome to explore the rooms and exhibits inside the house.
How long does it take to go through the Betsy Ross House?
On average, a self-guided tour of the Betsy Ross House takes about an hour, but the length of your visit may vary depending on your interest in the exhibits.
How much is admission to the Betsy Ross House?
Admission prices may vary, so it’s best to check the official website for the most current information. As of my last update, a general admission ticket for an adult is around $5.
Did Betsy Ross live in the Betsy Ross House?
The connection between Betsy Ross and the House is a matter of ongoing debate. While it’s widely believed that Betsy Ross lived and worked in this house, the claim is disputed by some historians.
Where is Betsy Ross buried now?
Betsy Ross is currently buried in the courtyard of the Betsy Ross House. Her remains were moved there in preparation for the United States Bicentennial in 1976.
What is the importance of the Betsy Ross House?
The Betsy Ross House is significant because it’s believed to be the site where Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag. Despite debates about its authenticity, the house serves as a symbol of American history and patriotism.
Who are the descendants of Betsy Ross?
Betsy Ross had seven daughters, five of whom survived to adulthood. Today, many people claim descent from Betsy Ross, but definitive genealogical evidence is often difficult to establish.