Mary Pickersgill, an entrepreneurial flagmaker, created one of the most significant legacies of the Battle of Baltimore in this location: the Star-Spangled Banner. The Federal rowhouse at the present-day corner of Albemarle and Pratt streets, built around 1793, served as both her home and business. Pickersgill, along with her team of assistants, assembled a 30 by 42 foot flag out of thin wool bunting. The women stitched together fabric which would become an icon of American identity and inspire the song we know as the national anthem.
Born in Philadelphia in 1776, Pickersgill learned the skill of flag-making from her mother, Rebecca Young. Her business acumen proved essential to support herself and her family her husband John, a merchant, died in 1805. Pickersgill positioned herself well in a city dependent on the maritime trade. Pickersgill appears in the an 1816 directory as a “maker of ships colours, signals, &c.” Since all ships needed signal flags to communicate while at sea, Pickersgill’s services as well as her shop’s proximity to the busy port of Baltimore brought in steady work.
During the summer of 1813, Pickersgill received a commission from the commander of Fort McHenry, Major General George Armistead, for a large garrison flag as well as a smaller storm flag. With the help of her mother, daughter Caroline, nieces Eliza and Margaret Young, and Grace Wisher, an African American indentured servant, Pickersgill completed the massive hand-sewn flags just seven weeks later. Though the team of seamstresses worked mostly at this house, they ultimately assembled the pieces at Clagett’s Brewery on nearby Lombard Street.
Unlike many widows of that era, Pickersgill established herself in the city’s middle class through her trade. A receipt written by the Deputy Quartermaster Commissary for the War Department in Baltimore, James Calhoun, shows that Pickersgill received $405.90 for the larger ensign as well as $168.54 for the smaller flag—very considerable sums in that time. Many of her neighbors on Albemarle Street in 1814 were well-to-do professionals, including the first clerk of the Bank of Maryland, a sea captain, a lumber merchant, an attorney, a merchant, and a physician as well as craftsmen such as a cooper, a sailmaker, a weaver, a carver, and a distiller. Pickersgill purchased her home outright in 1820, and focused her later years on philanthropic efforts through the Impartial Female Humane Society.