While many know the story behind Francis Scott Key penning the beloved “Star Spangle Banner”, not many know the story of the flag that was flown at Fort McHenry that inspired the Key to write the words that would become the National Anthem of the United States of America. This flag was created by Mary Young Pickersgill.
Mary Young Pickersgill was born in 1776 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during the difficult period of the Revolutionary War. Her family moved to Lebanon, Pennsylvania during the war and later to Baltimore. There she was married and was widowed.
Mary took up the trade of flagmaking, needing to support herself and her daughter. She became quite skillful at the trade and became well-known as a flagmaker. Therefore, during another critical time in U.S. History, she was selected to make the flag for Fort McHenry. In 1813, Major George Armistead hired Mary Young Pickersgill to sew a flag with 15 stars and 15 stripes, the number of states then in the Union. Anticipating an attack on Fort McHenry by the British during the War of 1812, Major Armistead asked that the flag be made extra large so that it would be plainly visible to the English Fleet. He had also hoped the large flag would lift the spirits of the Baltimoreans, allowing them to see this flag fly in defiance of the British.
Mary and her daughter Caroline, then only a mere 13 years-old, accomplished the task in six weeks. She took great care to make sure the flag was well constructed. The entire flag was sewn by hand with flat felled seams and tight stitching, so it would not come apart in the wind. It required four hundred yards of wool material and the finished flag measured 30 by 42 feet. The flag had to be assembled in a nearby malt house, because there was no other place large enough to assemble it.
This flag was used as the garrison flag of Fort McHenry during the British siege of the fort during the War of 1812. 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 our National Anthem.