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ELIZABETH GRISCOM: FREEDOM CREATES COURAGE

On January 1, 1752, Samuel and Rebecca Griscom gave birth to a baby girl they named Elizabeth. Elizabeth grew up a Quaker in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After completing her formal education, Elizabeth went on to work as an apprentice to John Webster, a talented and popular Philadelphia upholsterer.

After she spent several years apprenticing, Elizabeth fell in love with a fellow apprentice named John Ross, an Anglican. Being devout Quakers, Elizabeth’s family did not approve of her relationship with John. Marrying outside of the faith was an offense worthy of expulsion from the Quaker community. Nevertheless, on November 4, 1773, Elizabeth and John cross the Delaware River to New Jersey, where they married without the blessing of her family and fellow Quakers. Despite that, the newlyweds prospered, soon opening their own upholstery business.

Two years into their marriage, John, a member of the local militia, was guarding munitions near the Delaware River when an explosion of gunpowder killed him, leaving Elizabeth a childless widow at the age of 24. Elizabeth continued to run the upholstery business, making extra income by mending uniforms and making tents, and blankets.

The young widow worked and lived in a 2-story "bandbox" style house, with one room on each floor and a winding staircase stretching from the cellar to the attic. The building’s first floor had a large window to display merchandise, and its proximity to the Delaware River, made it an ideal location for a business. The first floor front room was used as the workshop and showroom. Elizabeth lived in the rest of the house.

On June 15, 1777, two years after John’s death, Elizabeth married her second husband, Joseph Ashburn. Joseph was a mariner and was often at sea, leaving Elizabeh, a new mother, alone in Philadelphia. The sea was a dangerous place during the Revolution; in 1780 the British captured Joseph’s ship. The crew was charged with treason and taken to prison. Ashburn died in that prison. Elizabeth, at the age of 30, was widowed for the second time.

In 1783, Elizabeth married a third time, her new husband John Claypoole was a Quaker and Elizabeth’s relationship with her family was restored. Their marriage lasted 34 years until John’s death. The last 20 of those years, Elizabeth cared for her disabled husband, who suffered from wounds he had received in the same war that claimed her first two husbands. The Revolutionary War took a lot from this simple Quaker upholster, she died in her sleep on January 30 1836, she was 84.

40 years later her grandson, William Canby, told the Historical Society of Pennsylvania the story of Elizabeth’s life. That’s when Elizabeth received the honor due her patriotism. We remember her life, not because of the sacrifices she made for America’s independence, but because of a day in 1777 when her deceased husband’s uncle George Ross entered Elizabeth’s upholstery shop with two other men. One of those men, George Washington reached into his coat pocket, handed Elizabeth a piece of paper, and asked if she could sew what was drawn on the paper....

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