Happy Flag Day: Stitching The Star-Spangled Banner!
Happy Flag Day! Yes, June 14 is the official Birthday for Old Glory.
So to commemorate the occasion, here’s a little known story about a well-known flag, and the person who made it.
It was the summer of 1813 and in many ways the United States continued its fight for independence from England. Even though the US had established emancipation in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence, the battle raged on.
For most people the Battle of Baltimore doesn’t ring a bell. However, it was this fight that not only proved our strong defense against the British, but also gave the country its national anthem: The Star Spangled Banner.
It was this explosive battle that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the inspiring song which “gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.” And while most American’s are familiar with the Star-Spangled Banner story, few are familiar with the story of THAT flag, the one that “gave proof though the night.” So in honor of Flag Day, here it is.
There was a flag maker from Baltimore by the name of Mary Young Pickersgill. In fact, she came from a long line of flag makers, her mother being quite accomplished in the craft. So by the time Pickersgill was 37, she had established her own business. In fact, her name appears in Baltimore directories as a maker of “Ship Colours, Signals, etc.,” namely the functional flags spoken of early in this column.
But in the summer of 1813, it was a request from Fort McHenry in Baltimore which would make her a big part of US history. Mary received a commission from a commander to make an American flag “so large that the British will have no trouble seeing it from a distance.” Pickersgill’s Star Spangled Banner measured 30 x 42 feet.
To assemble the unusually large flag, she had to lay it out on the floor of a neighboring brewery and worked on it at night by candlelight. She ironically used English wool bunting for the stripes but it was good old American cotton for the stars.
The rest is history, as they say. Not only did the United States win the Battle of Baltimore, proving its military might against England. But Pickersgill’s banner inspired the words that now have Americans standing up, taking off their hats and pledging allegiance to their country in song.
It’s funny how certain stories and people become a part of American history and some don’t. Most folks have heard of Francis Scott Key and his creation of our national anthem, yet hardly anyone knows about the person who sewed the famous banner that inspired the song.
And I bet that most readers are familiar with the grade school story of Betsy Ross being the Mother of the American flag. And that’s true, most historians concur that General George Washington commissioned her to do so. Ross did sew the FIRST American flag, but not this Star-Spangled Banner that inspired Scott’s tune.
I’d like to think that Mary Pickersgill represents the true, every-day patriotic American. A person who gets up every day and just lives their life. They’re not looking for the limelight. In fact, probably like most, hard at work, by the dawn’s early light!
Kathy Bedell ©Leadville Today