Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Mary Young Pickersgill (1776-1857)
MSA SC 3520-12457

Biography:

Mary Young Pickersgill was born on February 12, 1776 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during the Revolutionary War.  Daughter of William and Rebecca Young, her family moved to Lebanon, Pennsylvania during the war and later to Baltimore.  There she was married to John Pickersgill on October 2, 1795, and the couple resided in Philadelphia.  They had four children, only one of whom survived, a daughter named Caroline.  Mary's husband John traveled to London to work as a U.S. Government employee in the British Claims Office.  He died in London on June 14. 1805.  Widowed at age 29, Mary moved to Baltimore in 1807 with her daughter Caroline and her mother.  The family resided in the home that is today the "flag house" museum at 844 East Pratt Street in Baltimore.  In order to support herself and her young daughter and 74-year-old mother.

Pickersgill is famous for having made the original "Star-Spangled Banner," the U.S. flag that is now hanging in the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History and Technology in Washington, D.C.  The flag was made to fly over Fort McHenry in Baltimore to defend it from the British siege of the fort during the War of 1812.  Major George Armistead and General Samuel Smith, the commander of the Baltimore militia that defended the fort, wanted to have a flag that would be big enough for the British to see clearly from a distance.   They hired Pickersgill, a Baltimore resident who had become a well-known manufacturer of "Silk Standards & Cavalry Colors, and other Colors of every description" at No. 60 Albemarle Street.  With the help of her 13-year-old daughter, Caroline Purdy, Pickersgill sewed the flag in six weeks, and the flag was raised on August 19, 1813.  It had 15 stars and 15 stripes, the number of states in then in the Union, was hand-sewn with flat felled seams and tight stitching to make it sturdy in the wind.  It required four hundred yards of wool material and  measured 42 feet by 30 feet.  She was paid $120 for her work on the flag.

When Francis Scott Key saw the flag from a ship eight miles down the Patapsco River on September 14, 1814, the flag was still waving in the breeze after twenty-five hours of heavy bombardment by the British.  The British were very discouraged to see it still there, but Key was inspired to write the poem that became the U.S. National Anthem.  The last known display of the battle flag at Fort McHenry appears to be in 1824, when the Marquis de Lafayette visited on his national tour of the country.

In her later years, Pickersgill became president of the Impartial Humane Female Society, a Baltimore organization designed to assist widows and abandoned wives.  She died on October 4, 1857 and was buried in Loudon Park Cemetery in Baltimore.  When Major Armistead's wife Louisa died in 1861, Pickersgill's famous flag was bequeathed to Armistead's daughter Georgiana (b. 1817) who was residing in Boston.  In 1874, the flag was displayed and photographed for the first time at the Boston Navy Yard.  In 1907, the Armistead-Appleton family bequeathed the original "Star-Spangled Banner" to the Smithsonian Institution where it has been on  display since 1964.  Pickersgill's legacy continues to be recognized, as in March 2002, she was posthumously inducted into the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame.

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