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Casebook: The War of 1812
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Mary Young Pickersgill
Mary Young Pickersgill
 Mary Young Pickersgill 
Pickersgill, Mary Young
b. February 12th, 1776 - d. October 4, 1857

Nationality: American

Allegiance: American

Category: Women

Summary:

   Mary Young Pickersgill was born in Philadelphia on February 12, 1776 in Philadelphia, the youngest child in her family. She was the daughter of flagmaker Rebecca Young, who made the Grand Union flag that flew over General George Washington's headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on January 1, 1776.

Mary Young married John Pickersgill at Old St. Paul's Church in Baltimore on October 2, 1795, when she was aged 19. The couple moved to Philadelphia and John Pickersgill became a claims agent in England. When he died in London on June 14, 1805, Mary was left a widow with a young daughter, Caroline, to support (three other children did not survive beyond early childhood). Mary Pickersgill moved back to Baltimore, and following her mother's profession of flagmaker, she became a flagmaker and maker of ships' colors.

In the summer of 1813, Mary was commissioned by Major George Armistead, commander of Fort McHenry, to make two flags, one a garrison flag 30 feet hoist by 42 feet fly, and the other a smaller storm flag 17 feet by 25 feet. Armistead had earlier written to Major General Samuel Smith, the American commander in Baltimore, to say, "it is my desire to have a flag so large that the British will have no difficulty in seeing it from a distance."

Making use of the floor of a brewery near her home at the corner of Queen (now Pratt) and Albemarle Streets, Mary and her daughter Caroline, now aged 13, made the flag over a six-week period out of some four hundred yards of English bunting. The giant flag would have 15 stripes (eight red stripes and seven white stripes), representing the then 15 states, and 15 white stars, each star measuring 2 feet wide from point to point. The two flags were delivered to Major Armistead on August 19, 1813 for a total cost of $574.44, or $405.90 for the large flag.

It is doubtful that the giant flag was flying during the British bombardment of the fort on September 13-14, 1813, because those days were stormy and rainy and the practice at the fort to this day is not fly the large flag when there is bad weather. Certainly the bigger flag was hoisted after the British bombardment fleet withdrew down the Patapsco during the day of September 14.

After the Treaty of Ghent ended the War of 1812, Mary continued to work as a flagmaker, and by 1820 she was able to purchase her house. The previous year, daughter Caroline married John Purdy and the Purdys and Mary Pickersgill continued to live in the house at Albemarle and Pratt. In her later years, Mary became president of the Impartial Humane Society, an organization founded to help find employment for women and to aid widows and deserted wives. She is thus believed to have been the first Baltimore woman to have headed a charitable organization. When Mary died on October 4, 1857, in her home, at the age of 81, an obituary described her as a woman imbued "with feelings of true patriotism. . . and love of country."

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Related pages:
  Baltimore, Battle of
       Battles: Battle of Baltimore 
       Dissertations: 'Chastising Jonathan': British Views of the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake 
       Dissertations: 'The Hour of Peril ... is not yet past': Fall 1814 Baltimore Defense Plans 
       Documents: Brig. Gen. John Stricker to Maj. Gen. Samuel Smith: Report on the Battle of North Point 
       People: Brig. Gen. William H. Winder 
       People: Lt. George R. Gleig 
       People: Rear Adm. George Cockburn 
  Star-Spangled Banner
       Documents: The Star-Spangled Banner 
       People: Francis Scott Key 

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Copyright © Christopher T. George, 2012