Mary Pickersgill: Maker of the Star-Spangled Banner


Mary PickersgillMary Pickersgill was born on February 12, 1776 in Philadelphia, PA.  She moved to Baltimore in 1793 with her mother and daughter after John her husband passed away.  Her mother had been a maker of flags and ships colors in Philadelphia, and upon moving to Baltimore, Mary carried on the family business.  They moved into a modest home at 60 Albemarle Street.

In 1813 the United States was embroiled in the midst of the War of 1812 against the British.  Washington had just been burned and the British were turning their attention to Baltimore.  Defenses at Ft McHenry were prepared and the commander, Major George Armistead felt that the only thing still needed for the fort was "a flag so large that the British should have no difficulty seeing it from a distance."  He approached Mary about making the flag, whose dimensions would measure 30 feet hoist by 42 feet fly. 

Mary agreed to make the flag in time period of only six weeks.  With help from her daughter and two nieces, Mary sewed the flag in her small Baltimore home.  When the flag became too large, it was taken to Claggett's Brewery where it was laid out on the floor of the basement so that it could be completed.

On September 14, 1814 the flag was raised over Ft. McHenry after the Americans succeeded in defending the city against British invasion.  Francis Scott Key, who was being held captive by the British aboard ship, saw the flag and penned the famous poem "The Defense of Ft McHenry", now known as the "Star-Spangled Banner."

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades K-4:

Topic 3: The History of the United States: Democratic Principles and Values and the People from Many Cultures Who Contributed to Its Cultural, Economic, and Political Heritage 

Standard 4: How Democratic Values Came to Be, and How They Have Been Exemplified by People, Events, and Symbols 

Standard 4E: The student understands national symbols through which American values and principles are expressed. 
3-4: Analyze the Pledge of Allegiance and patriotic songs, poems, and sayings that were written long ago to demonstrate understanding of their significance. [Reconstruct the literal meaning of a historical passage] 

Primary Resources

  1. TITLE: Ordnance voucher no. 26, James Calhoun, Deputy Commissary, for Mary Pickersgill for one American Ensign and one garrison flag
    DATE: 1 February 1815
    SOURCE: Maryland State Archives SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Star Spangled Banner Flag House Association Collection), MSA SC 366, 00/09/02/22
  2. DESCRIPTION: Receipt, U.S. Army to Mary Pickersgill showing payment of $405.90 for making the Star-Spangled Banner and $168.54 for making a smaller flag
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: August 19, 1813
    NOTES: Note on reverse indicates that Maj. George Armistead, Fort McHenry's commander, received both flags on Aug. 19, 1813
    SOURCE:Star Spangled Banner
    REPOSITORY: Flag House and Star-Spangled Banner Museum
  3. TITLE:  Letter from Caroline, Mary's Daughter to Major Armistead's daughter about the making of the Flag.
    SOURCE:  Smithsonian Institution
    REPOSITORY:  Original housed at the American Antiquarian Society
  4. DESCRIPTION: Flag House, 844 East Pratt & Albemarle Streets, Baltimore, MD
    ALTERNATE TITLE: Mary Young Pickersgille House; Star Spangled Banner House
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    SOURCE: Built in America
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress, Prints and Photograph Division, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

See also:

Additional Media Resources

Maryland Women's Hall of Fame

Star Spangled Banner: Educator Information. From the Smithsonian Institution.

Additional Instructional Resources

Star Spangled Banner: Educator Information. From the Smithsonian Institution.

Love It or Leave It? Exploring the Relationship Between Flags, Anthems and Patriotism. From the New York Times on the Web Learning Network.

The War of 1812 - Baltimore's Role From the National Park Service.

Teacher's Guide, Fort McHenry. From the National Park Service.

The Star-Spangled Banner: Fact or Fiction?. From the UMBC Center for History Education

A History of the War of 1812 and the Star-Spangled Banner. From the National Museum of American History.

Blog Post: Star Spangled Women: Mary Pickersgill. From the National Museum of American History.

Interactive Flag. From the National Museum of American History.

Interactive Star-Spangled Banner. From the National Museum of American History.

Spreading the News. From the National Museum of American History.

Poetry and Our National Anthem. From the National Museum of American History.

Music, Poetry and History. From the National Museum of American History.

Measuring the Flag. From the National Museum of American History.

Design Your Own Family Flag. From the National Museum of American History.

Secondary Resources

Colston, Frederick M.  Battle of North Point:  The Bombardment of Fort McHenry and The Birth of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Baltimore:  J. H. Furst Co., Printers, n.d.

Delaplaine, Edward S.  Francis Scott Key:  Life and Times.,, 1937.

Manakee, Harold R.  Star Spangled Banner: The Story of Its Writing by Francis Scott Key at Baltimore, September 13 - 14, 1814. Baltimore:  The Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, MD, 1954

Meyer, Sam.  Paradoxes of Fame:  The Francis Scott Key Story.  Annapolis, MD:  Eastwind Publishing, 1995.

O'Connell, Frank A. and Wilbur F. Coyle.  National Star-Spangled Banner Centennial, Baltimore, Maryland, September 6 to 13, 1914. Baltimore:  National Star-Spangled Banner Centennial Commission, and Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, 1914.

Weybright, Victor.  Spangled Banner:  Story of Francis Scott Key.  New York, NY:  Farrar & Reinhart Inc., 1963.

Whitcraft, Melissa.  Francis Scott Key.  New York, NY:  Franklin Watts, 1994

Associated Heritage and Preservation Organizations

The Star-Spangled Banner Flag House and War of 1812 Museum
844 E. Pratt Street
Baltimore, MD 21202
Ft McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine
East End of Fort Ave
Baltimore, MD 21230

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Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by Richard Olson.


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