As we mark the defining moment in history celebrated on July 4, 1776, when 55 men burdened with the responsibility to decide the course of America—tyranny or liberty; monarchy or independence—it is important to remember their decisions were not made lightly or in their own power.
They each acknowledged the providence of God in their crucial time. They sought to follow His Will to whatever end it might be, out of obedience to what they understood as biblical principles of liberty and justice.
Their choices produced a Constitutional Republic governmental system that had never been seen in the world. A Judeo-Christian, entrepreneurial capitalist society of self-governed people who grew to become the greatest nation in world history, impacting all nations with the proliferation of God’s Word and the principles of freedom.
And many of those patriots wore petticoats.
Meet Betsy Ross, a young woman providently placed and prepared by God to serve her nation in a critical time.
Her story reminds us to be ever ready to answer God’s call to play our part in His providential plan for our lives, and the lives He has called us to impact with our choices and actions.
Not since the inception of our Republic has this call been so vital, as our Republic is under full assault by its enemies to destroy it from within and supplant it with the very opposite of freedom—a socialist regime.
Welcome to Betsy’s world:
The bell in the Christ Church tower called the colonists to worship through the crisp winter air in early January. John and Betsy Ross slid into their pew across the aisle from General Washington’s empty box with a reverent nod in its direction. News of his battle in Boston on New Year’s Day had reached Philadelphia.
The year 1776, ushered in with canon and musket fire, promised more of the same to come. Escalating tensions with England produced challenges on all fronts for American colonists and the Ross’ were no exception.
The couple, married barely four years, enjoyed precious little time together as husband and wife with the rumblings of war and independence troubling their bliss.
In fact, to make ends meet, John was forced to join the Pennsylvania militia once their upholstery shop felt the financial impact of scarce materials and job competition because of the war.
But, on the Lord’s Day hope supplants fear. Civilians, officers, and enlisted gather as one family to worship He who commands Heaven’s armies. Class distinctions dissipate when saints gather to pray. In the throes of revolutionary unrest, petitions of both the high-born and the low-born rage fervent. Every word from every lip avails much.
Christ Church, centered on the street a block from the Ross’ home in one direction and the government meeting house in the other, filled to overflow when members of the Continental Congress gathered to govern in Philadelphia.
On Sunday morning, statesmen sought the Lord’s wisdom for the historic decisions they had the responsibility to make. Betsy glanced about the congregation recognizing many distinguished men destined for immortalization in history books.
She breathed a silent prayer on their behalf. They carried a great burden. With a loving squeeze of John’s hand, she met his eyes, betraying in her weak smile a sense of pride mingled with fear, then turned her attention to the hymn book.
Patriots, citizens, soldiers, and seamstresses raised their voices as one in praise and petition to the strains of Amazing Grace.
John and Betsy never shared a pew or sang in worship together again.
Within a fortnight that January, while Congress argued secession from the tyrannical government over-reach, exorbitant taxes, and crushing regulations of the English king, John Ross became an early casualty of a war yet to be formally declared.
Suffering mortal wounds in an ammunitions storehouse explosion, Betsy’s hopes for a happily-ever-after life with him, shattered to pieces. A widow at age 24, she remained to navigate a tenuous future alone, taking any work related to needle and thread.
Battle losses prior to an actual declaration of war increased throughout the colonies—especially in the New England states. Representative John Adams of the Massachusetts colony, a fire-brand advocate for independence, made quite a name for himself in the congressional debates.
New England saw more than its share of confrontations, becoming a hot-bed of dissention due to the influx of taxes required, and freedoms stripped, from the colonists there. Redcoat armies took violent stands to quell the masses. The scene played out with more regularity, spreading like a plague throughout the colonies.
The colonists, seeking to live peaceable lives under an oppressive rule, spiraled toward a historic moment from which there would be no turning back. The crisis of birth to bring forth new life is not simply the domain of women. Nations are birthed through crisis, too.
And in just such a critical moment of history, a widowed young woman would soon make a lasting mark in the birth of a nation through divine providential circumstances.
In February, General Washington arrived in Philadelphia to discuss the need for the colonies’ standard under which to muster the troops. A number of flags existed, raised by colonists as part of the campaign towards revolution.
For instance, the popular image of a rattlesnake captioned with the challenging tag line “Don’t Tread on Me” effectively stirred crowds to the purpose.
But, emotionally charged mantras and imagery seemed hardly appropriate for a united battlefield banner.
A new flag must be designed to distinctly represent all thirteen colonies banded together for independence. This would set the colonists apart from the British Union Jack in battle and become a new nation’s patriotic emblem.
To the purpose, the Continental Congress designated a Secret Flag Committee made up of General Washington; Robert Morris, the wealthiest man in the colonies; and George Ross, John and Betsy’s uncle. By spring, they drafted an idea for the colors and design—red, white, and blue, in stars and stripes.
“But, who can fashion such a thing?” Washington asked.
It had been a couple of months since George Ross lost his nephew in the explosion. He knew Betsy’s skill and her need for work. He also knew her to be a patriot.
“I think my niece, Betsy Ross, at the upholstery shop across from Christ Church may be of use there.” he suggested.
“You’ve had her mend and fashion some of your shirts, General.”
Washington nodded. He knew the quality of her work, and from Sunday worship was aware she had recently lost her husband to the cause. The committee agreed. Washington, Morris, and George Ross would pay a visit to Betsy Ross.
Their errand involved some risk should news of their plan fall into British hands. They chanced arrest for treason, putting Betsy in harm’s way, and had every reason to be concerned for secrecy and stealth in meeting.
“The good mistress has lost her husband of late,” said Morris.
“Perhaps we raise the subject of the flag on the pretext of a condolence visit from her uncle and his two friends. In daylight. To avoid suspicion.”
Loyalists to the crown were prevalent in Philadelphia. Spies might be the harmless neighbor next door. John Ross’ tragic death appeared as an advantage now, shielding a military meeting behind the veil of a social sympathy call.
On an early spring day in May, Betsy sat in her front room mending petticoats when she heard a gentle rap on the door. She slid her needle into the fabric to keep her place and set the sewing aside to see who may have come to call.
“Uncle George!” she smiled with delight and a reverent curtsy. “How kind of you to visit.” The last time Uncle George came to her door was shortly after the news of her husband’s death.
She weakened for a moment, remembering the few days she tried to nurse John through his wounds to no avail. Uncle George had always been charitable to her. She spoke with him last when they laid John to rest in the Christ Church cemetery.
Blinking the sun from her eyes, she strained to see the two men standing behind him. A cloud drifted into place to cover the mid-day glare, allowing her to focus on the familiar faces of General Washington and Mr. Morris, men of note and accomplishment.
Something told her this was not a mere social call with her uncle. A business call, perhaps? Swiftly, she ushered them into her home.
Light pleasantries exchanged between the lady and her visitors, with formal greetings and condolences paid as planned. Betsy shrank in the presence of the three dignitaries.
They brought no parcel of clothes for mending. What could their mission be? To simply offer condolences? Surely not. Was the General in the habit of such a thing with so many militia families having experienced similar losses in Philadelphia?
Furtive glances passed between the men before the General nodded. “We shall get straight to the business, Mrs. Ross.” He spoke with a soft, yet commanding voice, motioning her to sit. She did so.
“You see, Betsy, dear,” started Uncle George, “We have need of your services. Your needle and thread.”
Betsy relaxed. “Oh. I see. You have some uniforms, perhaps, that need mending? General Washington, more ruffles for your shirts?”
“Not quite uniforms. And, no—no ruffles this time.” General Washington drew a small sheet of paper from his inner overcoat pocket and unfolded it on the table next to Betsy. “A flag, Mrs. Ross. A battle flag.”
Scuffling sounds in the street, just outside the front door, hushed the group with a palatable tension. Betsy’s hand rose to her lips, stifling a gasp. General Washington motioned for silence. He crept along the wall towards the window, shielding himself, to investigate the source of the noise.
Might spies have followed General Washington to her doorstep? Had the war Betsy feared for so long come to her own home?
Watch for Part Two of Patriots, Petticoats, and Providential History in the August issue of RUBY Magazine! To learn more about Betsy Ross and the Betsy Ross House Museum, visit http://historicphiladelphia.org/betsy-ross-house/history/
Listen to a dramatization of the whole story on The Writer’s Reverie Podcast, by Kathryn Ross at www.thewritersreverie.com. Click Podcasts on the menu bar and scroll down to access Patriots, Petticoats, and Providential History.
Looking for guidance on writing and publishing your book? Contact Kathryn Ross and ask about her Book Shepherd Publishing Services at Pageant Wagon Publishing.
Writer-speaker, Kathryn Ross is Pageant Wagon Publishing—igniting God’s Word and biblical principles as a vibrant light of literacy and learning in the life of your Christian family. Inspired by the stillness of birdsong, silent reflection, antiques, and teatime, she filters her love of history, classic literature, and the arts through God’s Word, to inform her words. Her passion to equip women and families in developing a Family Literacy Lifestyle produces readers and thinkers who can engage the world from a biblical worldview. In addition, she mentors authors as a book shepherd, assisting them in the development, editing, design, and production of the book God has called them to write. Miss Kathy blogs and podcasts at www.thewritersreverie.com and www.pageantwagonpublishing.com