Mary Pickersgill learned flag making from her mother, Mary Young, when she was just a girl. When she married, she moved to Philadelphia with her husband. They stayed there until his death. Mary then moved back to Baltimore with her mother and daughter, Caroline.
In order to support her family, Mary put the skills she had learned as a girl to use. She set up a successful flag-making business which she advertised as making “Ships Colours, Signals, etc.” She was soon receiving order from the U.S. Army, Navy and various companies with merchant ships. Her business prospered such that she was able to buy her own home.
And although it was not the norm for the time, Mary Pickersgill bcame involved in a number of social issues, particularly those faced by disadvantaged women.
This woman, born in the year the American colonies declared independence from Britain, was to find her place in history by making the flag celebrated during the War of 1812 by Francis Scott Key in his poem, “The Star-Spangled Banner” which was to become our National Anthem.
Mary was given a $500 contract to make two flags for use at Baltimore’s Ft. McHenry, one measuring 30’ x 42’ to be “so large the British will have no difficulty seeing it from a distance” and a smaller one to be flown in inclement weather. Using over 400 yards of fabric, and with assistance from her mother, daughter and several other women, Mary completed the largest battle flag in the world in just six weeks. The flag had to be assembled on the malt house floor of Claggett’s Brewery in the evenings while the brewery was not in operation. It took 11 men to raise it on a 90-foot flagpole.
Today, the flag is in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, although about 8 feet of the original flag is missing–cut off for souvenirs over the years.