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The Truth About The Betsy Ross House & Philadelphia History

Did Betsy Ross really live in the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia?


Betsy Ross is a figure in American and Philadelphia history, but her story is less clear than the one taught in school. It is known that she ran an upholstery shop with one of her three husbands, all of whom predeceased her.  There is agreement of that fact. As a widow, she continued the business and also undertook to make flags for ships. This is an agreed upon fact as well.

An early bill she sent to Congress for this work is the basis of the first flag claim.  The traditional story surfaced just in time for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and was related by a proud grandson.

There is no evidence as to what the Betsy Ross flag looked like nor the supposed meeting of the Founding Fathers with her to discuss the design.  As house numbers were NOT used in Philadelphia history until 1857, it is not even possible to identify the Ross house location with absolute certainty.

In any event, the Betsy Ross House is a rare survivor of a modest home of the 18th century.  Its sparse and simple furnishings provide a contrast to the more elegant museum period rooms of this era in Philadelphia history.  Conveniently, there is a flag store located just across the street from the Ross House.

Research summarizes the evidence authenticating the Betsy Ross House, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as the site once occupied by Betsy Ross. There is almost no doubt that as of 1785, Betsy Ross and her third husband, John Claypoole, lived on the north side of Arch Street, between Second and Third Streets in Philadelphia, which is the present location of the Betsy Ross House. Although it cannot be definitively established, the evidence points strongly to the conclusion that Betsy Ross lived either in the house which is now 239 Arch Street or at 241 Arch Street, now the garden of the Betsy Ross House.

In attempting to establish whether Betsy Ross lived at the site which is now the Betsy Ross House, (presently numbered 239-245 Arch Street), one may begin with the earliest Philadelphia city directories, published in 1785. Prior to that date, the only record of Philadelphia residents were the militia and tax rolls. Unfortunately, these records listed only property owners and neither Betsy Ross nor any of her three husbands owned property.

The earliest city directories in Philadelphia history were published in 1785 by Frances White and John MacPherson. These directories were used from 1785 until 1791 when they were replaced by a new directory, using a different numbering system. Under the crude system utilized by White, the entry for John Claypoole in 1785 was:

“Claypoole, John, upholsterer, Arch b. Second and Third Streets.”

The answer is somewhat complicated because the numbering system used today, which assigns the numbers “239-245 Arch Street” to the Betsy Ross House, was not instituted until 1857. Prior to that time two different systems were used. From 1785 to 1791 the above-described MacPherson system was in effect and, as above noted, Betsy Ross occupied “335 Arch.” From 1791 to 1857 a second system was used. In 1791 Col. Clement Biddle published a directory that replaced the MacPherson directory. Biddle used the system of numbering houses alternatively from one side of the street to the other, increasing from east to west, as is done today. However, whereas today the numbers between Second and Third Streets on the north side of Arch range from 205 to 249, under Biddle’s 1791 system which was in effect until 1857, the numbers ranged from 57 to 99.

There is evidence, however, that Betsy Ross did occupy the location numbered 89 Arch Street. In a sworn statement dated July 31, 1891, Betsy Ross’ daughter, Rachael Claypoole Fletcher, stated:

“[The house in which my mother made the flag] was on the north side of Arch Street, a few doors below Third Street, above Bread Street, a two story house, with attic and a dormer window, now standing, the only one of the row left, the old number being 89; it was formerly occupied by Daniel Niles, shoemaker. Mother at first lived at the house next east, and when the war came, she moved into the house of Daniel Niles.”

The conclusion of serious research must be treated with some caution,  The contemporary historical evidence, therefore, shows that the Claypoole residence of 1785, “335 Arch Street,” is now located at either 239 Arch Street or 241 Arch Street. It becomes clear when the search of directories, the affidavits and other evidence has been analyzed that no evidence exists which gives the conclusion that the site of the Betsy Ross House is the location where Betsy Ross lived when she made the first flag of the United States.

This information along with a lot of other information on Philadelphia history is special to us because we provide limousine and sedan services to this historic Philadelphia attraction, any many others. If you are planning to tour Philadelphia, call us at (888) 258-9555 so we can help you with travel arrangements and other assistance. In fact, click the button below for a rate quote to The Betsy Ross House or any other location in the Philadelphia area.

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The Truth About The Betsy Ross House & Philadelphia History

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