Today, let’s honor a famous Chesapeake Bay artisan, Mary Young Pickersgill. Mary was a widowed seamstress living in Baltimore in the 1800’s. Her specialty was making flags, a craft she learned from her mother. Mary was commissioned to make the flag that is now considered the “Star Spangled Banner Flag”. Her flag flew over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. Francis Scott Key was inspired to write “The Star Spangled Banner” after seeing the flag still flying over Fort McHenry in the early morning after the battle 200 years ago.
According to Mary’s daughter Caroline,
it took over 400 yard of material to make the flag and it weighed 50 pounds. Mary’s daughter, two nieces, Eliza Young and Margaret Young, a free African American apprentice, Grace Wisher, and elderly mother, Rebecca Young helped sew the flag. The flag was assembled at a local brewery, Claggetts, because of its large size. The flag flew on a 90 foot flag pole and took 11 men to raise the flag. Precautions were made to make sure the large flag was secured to the topping to prevent it from being torn, during the battle even though shots pierced the flag it still flew on its staff.
Mary was very successful in her business and became very active in social issues for disadvantage women way before these issues were major concerns in society. She was well known for her benevolence as well as her sewing abilities in Baltimore.
The Battle of Baltimore was fought September 13 – 14, 1814 and Fort McHenry is celebrating the 200th anniversary this year. The flag is now on display at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. Mary’s residence in Baltimore has been made into The Star Spangled House Flag House and 1812 Museum.
Happy 4th of July,