Think of Betsy Ross, and you probably picture a demure, patriotic seamstress and maybe an apple pie or two. That's too bad, because the real Betsy Ross was a pistol, "a tough businesswoman fond of dark snuff and storytelling," writes Ruth Graham for Slate. Fortunately, a new wave of history books is adding a little reality to the "whitewashed" version of yore.
For starters, Ross was an upholsterer—a rougher profession than seamstress—who married three times and turned her back on her Quaker upbringing. She may have sewn that first flag in part for patriotism, but she also got the equivalent of $2,000 in today's money. "It's an American habit to scrub clean the ones we love," writes Graham. "In Betsy Ross's case, however, there's plenty to admire in the scruffier original. In fact, that pragmatic capitalist mom is more authentically American than any character a storybook writer could dream up."