Rebecca Young & Mary Pickersgill: A Garrison flag for Fort McHenry,1813

Mary Pickersgill

Mary Pickersgill. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 3520-12457

Perhaps one of the best known War of 1812 stories in Maryland is the story of a mother, a daughter and  nieces, both of whom made two flags that will forever be known as “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  Formerly of Philadelphia, Rebecca (Fowler) Young (1739-1819) was a well established “maker of colours.” In 1806 she moved to Baltimore with her daughter Mary (Young) Pickersgill (1776-1857) and her neices Caroline (1794-1884), Elizabeth (d. 1883) and Margaret Young (1770-1846).

Together they settled  in their 2  1/2 story brick row house at the corner  Pratt and Albemarles Sts. along the Baltimore waterfront.  It was here in the summer of 1813 that Colonel John Calhoun (1743-1816), U.S. Deputy Commissary of Purchases placed an order for two U.S. flags for Fort McHenry. One a storm flag measuring 17′ x 25′  and one a garrison flag measuring 42′ x 30′ each of woolen bunting. The flag being so large Rebecca placed it in a  local brewery next door known at (Edward) Johnson’s Brewery (not Claggett’s Brewery). Johnson served three terms as Mayor of Baltimore.

By October 1813 these flags were delivered to Maj. George Armistead at Fort McHenry. A year later on the morning of Sept. 14, 1814, the larger of the two, was raised over the fort to the national tune of “Yankee Doodle”  played by four young fifers and drummers, following a 24 hour naval bombardment by British warships in Baltimore harbor. The flag was raised, not in victory, nor the birth of Armistead’s daughter Georgianna (in Gettysburg, Pa.), not that the British navy were retiring down river – but due to U.S. Army Regulations, that gave inspiration for Francis Scott Key to write a new national hymn.

Prior to his assignment to Fort McHenry in June 1813, Armistead had served at Fort Niagara, New York on two occasions where he had also order a new garrison flag that was much larger than the famous flag at Fort McHenry. In 1907 the descendants of the Armistead family donated as a gift the flag to the Smithsonian institution of American History in Washington, D.C. where it may bee today.

Source: “Yankee Doodle played, A Letter from Baltimore, 1814,” by Scott S. Sheads (Maryland Historical Magazine, Winter 1981.), 380-382; Baltimore Patriot, Feb. 9, 1819; The Sun, April 24, 1884;

Published on January 23, 2011 at 12:36 am  Leave a Comment  

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