“That ol’ Betsy Ross…”
Few characters of the revolution bring about as much controversy as Betsy Ross. Did she truly sew the first American flag based on the instructions of Robert Morris and General Washington, or was that simply an amusing fictional anecdote she used to entertain her children on cold nights? Did she really run around with Benjamin Franklin?
One of the more intriguing stories comes from David Hackett Fischer in his book, Washington’s Crossing. Fischer’s book is about the historic Battle of Trenton, which began with a daring cross over the Delaware River on a freezing Christmas night of 1776. Surprise was of the essence, and one person who might well have squelched the entire operation was Colonel von Donop, who had been ordered to travel with his men to Bordentown, a mere six miles from Trenton where he could be of assistance if Colonel Rall was in need of it. Had he been around to help fight off the rebel attack, perhaps our history would have been a different one.
But he wasn’t there. Instead, he was in Mount Holly, in the arms of an unknown patriot belle. “All the women removed from the Town,” wrote Margaret Morris, “except one widow of our acquaintance.” According to Jager Captain Ewald, who was there with Donop, “The colonel, who was exceedingly devoted to the fair sex, had found in his quarters the exceedingly beautiful young widow of a doctor. He wanted to set up his rest quarters in Mount Holly, which to the misfortune of Colonel Rall, he was permitted to do.” Colonel von Donop stayed with the widow on December 23rd, and was convinced to remain on Christmas night as well. Wrote Captain Ewald, “This great misfortune, which surely caused the utter loss of the thirteen splendid provinces of the Crown of England, was due partly to…the fault of Colonel Donop, who was led by the nose to Mount Holly by Colonel Griffin, and detained there by love…Thus the fate of entire Kingdoms often depends upon a few blockheads and irresolute men.”
“Just who was this “exceedingly beautiful young widow” asks Fischer. “In December 1776, there was a young and very beautiful young widow, a ‘Free Quaker’ strongly sympathetic to the American cause, who lived in Philadelphia, had family connections in Gloucester County, New Jersey, was married there, and often went back and forth. She was acquainted with Margaret Morris, and also with George Washington. Her name was Betsy Ross. One historian, Joseph Tusstin, has raised the possibility she may have been the mysterious widow of Mount Holly. Her husband, John Ross, who had died in 1776, came from Gloucester County and may have been related to Doctor Alexander Ross, who was a physician practicing at Mount Holly in 1776.”
Many people point out that Betsy Ross may receive credit for an act she never committed, that of sewing the first American flag. On the other hand, it is possible that she does not receive credit for an act that could dwarf the other one in importance – that of using her body to secure the victory at Trenton, which altered the tenor of the entire war.
If you are interested in the true stories of the sexual lives of the Founders, join us for our nighttime “Sex and the First City” tour, in which we experience the love lives of Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Franklin…and more. Scandal, blackmail, patriotism and love are all part of this exciting tour, which has been celebrated by the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Metro. Call us at 610-642-2410 for more information!