Mary Young Pickersgill is the flagmaker of the famous banner hoisted over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812.
Born Mary Young in Philadelphia in 1776, she learned the flagmaking trade from her mother, Rebecca Young, who made ensigns, garrison flags, and continental standards during and after American Revolution. Her family first moved to Baltimore, when she was a child. In 1795 she married John Pickersgill and moved back to Philadelphia until his death.
Mary returned to Baltimore in 1807 with her widowed mother and young daughter, Caroline. She established a flag-making business in her home – now the Flag House and Star Spangled Banner Museum.
Anticipating an impending British attack in 1814, Major George Armistead, commander of the forces at Fort McHenry, commissioned Pickersgill to sew a flag “so large that the British will have no difficulty seeing it from a distance.” She was able to hand sew the 30 by 42 foot flag in just six weeks with the help of her daughter, two nieces, and two African-American servants.
Pickersgill was paid $544.74 for her work. The receipt of the payment is on display at the Flag House and Star Spangled Banner Museum.
When the British attacked Baltimore on September 13 and 14, Francis Scott Key saw Pickersgill’s flag while held captive on a British ship and was inspired to compose the poem that became the U.S. national anthem. Key’s original manuscript is on display at the Maryland Historical Society Museum.
Pickersgill was a successful businesswoman and philanthropist actively involved in issues such as housing, job placement assistance, and financial aid for disadvantaged women – long before they were prominent social concerns.
Pickersgill’s flag is the centerpiece of an extensive 10-year, $85 million renovation to the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History, re-opening to the public in late November, 2008.
Pickersgill is buried at Loudon Park Cemetery, 3620 Wilkens Avenue.
GPS: N 39° 16.860′, W 076° 40.733′.