|Fig.1: I bet that's not even your real hair, |
you lying scoundrel!
As for her personal life, Elizabeth Griscom might as well be called Elizabeth Taylor when it comes to how many marriages she had. First she eloped with an Episcopalian named John Ross in 1773, which caused quite a stir and convinced her Quaker family to disown her. John died as a militiaman in the war, but she quickly moved on from land to sea and wed a mariner, Joseph Ashburn, in 1777. Of course he was captured by the British, charged with treason, and died in jail. Not to be deterred, she married one of her old BFFs, John Claypoole, in 1783, and he had the decency to stay alive for another thirty-some years. Betsy kept up an upholstery business all this time (which given her shadiness, may have been a front for an illegal opium ring or something) until she retired in 1827, and passed away in 1836 at the age of 84.
Or did she?!
No, she did. It was quite sad.
|Fig.2: Don't let the flag touch the ground, Betsy! |
Flag etiquette 101!
So where did William Canby get this information that his grandmother put together the first American flag? One: from his probably-senile aunt who had passed before the publishing of his paper and just loved to tell stories of the good ol' days; and two: from a Miss Clarrissa Wilson, who took over the upholstery business after Betsy's retirement and sure didn't mind the publicity about how her shop created the original Stars and Stripes. Two primary sources that certainly would not be suitable for any respected academic institution or historical society in this day, hear you me! But with the centennial around the corner, people fell in love with the story that an ordinary, hard-working, and hopefully good-looking young lady was called upon to create the symbol of the young nation. And so the Betsy Ross story has become canon in American history ever since, just like other "completely factual" tales such as Columbus discovering America (others got there first), Pocahontas saving John Smith's life (didn't happen like that), Washington and the cherry tree (completely made up), and the state of Delaware (not actually a real place). Truth be told, we have no idea who made the first flag, but it's completely irresponsible for us historians (Canned or not) to give credit where no credit can be proven!
|Fig.3: House of lies!!!|
The story of Betsy Ross demonstrates one of the major pitfalls of history. Just like Emperor Nero fiddling during Great Fire of Rome, if a story sounds good, it has the potential to overwrite what actually happened. Which is unfortunate, because if Betsy wasn't the real creator of the flag, then she's receiving the credit for someone else's hard work! What if a old woman named Lucille Fannybottom was the actual seamstress who sewed the first Old Glory? What if she had the rheumatism, and had a hard time sewing anything anymore, but somehow gathered up the strength in order to piece together the very first symbol of her young nation? What a uplifting story! But poor Mrs. Fannybottom never had her moment in the sun! Well, even if this Fannybottom lady never made a flag in her life, I'm going to perpetuate this story until it can overtake the Betsy Ross tale someday. Two can play at this game, William Canby! But I need some help; please spread the Fannybottom story everywhere you can! Even add to the tale to make it even more heartwarming and legendary (maybe in the comments below). With your help, we can erase the conniving Betsy Ross from history, and replace her with an even better flagmaker!
|Fig.4: The Fannybottom Flag! Let it wave!|