Title: Centenarian
Birthdate: January 10, 1776
Death Date: June 12, 1876
Plot Location: Section 43, Lot 28, southwest quarter

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The notion that Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag was propagated most vocally by her descendants nearly 40 years after she died. (Historians consider it family lore and without evidence.) One of those relatives was her niece, who lived a little more than 100 years. In fact, she almost got her wish to witness the 100th birthday of her country and the Centennial Exposition hosted by her hometown.

Margaret’s mother, Sarah, was the fourth of 17 children born to Samuel and Rebecca Griscom. (Some accounts say there were 17 daughters and five sons.) The eighth child was Elizabeth, whose first married name was Ross, followed by Ashburn and Claypoole. (Read the story of how Mr. and Mrs. Claypoole’s remains came to Mount Moriah and about the failed attempt to remove them, part of the Notable story of Betsy Ross.)

Ancestral research can be full of inconsistencies because the documentation that is available is often inaccurate, mixed with recollections that are passed on from one generation to the next. As part of her 100th birthday, Margaret regaled those who paid a visit with tales of her youth, some of which were printed in a newspaper account about her 100th birthday. Part of that account is shown here.  At times, however those stories contradict the facts of history.

She recalled an interesting lineage on both sides of her family. Samuel had a shipyard but he was also a master builder, completing much of the woodwork in what today is called Independence Hall. Samuel’s grandfather, Andrew Griscombe left Yorkshire, England for Philadelphia in 1682. She claimed he built the first brick house in the city, but that honor is more accurately ascribed to Robert Turner (1635-1700). 

On the Donaldson side, Margaret’s father was a ship builder at his own shipyard. She said she remembered watching a review of British troops and her father holding her up so she could see. The British only occupied Philadelphia from the fall of 1777 until the spring of 1778 when she was barely two years old. She may have remembered her parents telling her about it years later but could she have possibly remembered it at that young age?

At some point during the war, William Donaldson was captain of a merchant ship and was captured and held prisoner in England until the war was over. In 1789 he was lost at sea. 

Margaret also said her cousin, Rachel, was the wife of President Andrew Jackson. Rachel Jackson’s father was John Donelson, whose father was John Donelson, but William’s father was William Donaldson. John Donelson co-founded what became Nashville, Tennessee, and his relationship to William is even more unlikely since he was born 30 years earlier. 

That being said, there are some interesting stories, as there would be with most centenarians. Some, mentioned below, were recalled by Margaret on her birthday in January, 1876. 

She married at age 17 to Joseph Boggs, and had one son in 1795 who died of cholera in 1831.  Sometime in 1794 Margaret said she danced the minuet with President Washington. Her husband died in 1796 and Margaret remained a widow for the rest of her life. She went to work at her aunt Betsy’s upholstery shop where she became a competent seamstress. 

Margaret joined the Claypools and their five daughters in attending Christ Church in Philadelphia. She recalled how delighted she was to sit with them in the pew next to President Washington “from whom they never failed to receive a polite bow.” This would have been before he left office in 1797. (The nation’s capital was in Philadelphia from 1790-1800.) 

Betsy Claypool continued her business well into the 1800s, as did her competitors who also claimed to be the first flag makers. Margaret’s continued involvement is unknown, but with five daughters, she never played a very important role. 

By the mid 1800s she was living with her niece, named Louisa Boggs Beale. After Margaret’s sister, Sarah Donaldson married, she apparently gave her first daughter the middle name of Boggs in honor of Margaret’s brief marriage to Joseph. Louisa’s husband, Dr. Stephen Beale,  was from a large family of dentists. 

Eleven Beale children grew up on Tulpehocken Street in Germantown hearing stories from Aunt Margaret. The oldest child also had Boggs in his name, Joseph Boggs Beale, who has his own Notable life story. He was a commercial artist and book illustrator whose fame grew after his death.

The Beales buried Margaret in their family plot in St. John’s Circle. There is a large and impressive marker for the family, but a stone for Margaret has not yet been located.

Japanese maple tree in front of a monument at Mount Moriah Cemetery

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