“Light tomorrow with today.” ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning
By: Proserpina, 1:16 AM GMT on August 16, 2013
THE STAR SPANGLE BANNER IS BORN
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 as well as the birth of our National Anthem.
“Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
Two hundred years ago this summer, flag maker Mary Pickersgill and her 13 year old daughter, Caroline Pickersgill, sewed the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem “Defense of Fort McHenry”. When the poem was put to music it was called “The Star Spangled Banner” and on March 3, 1931 it became the American National Anthem.
In 1813 the USA was still fighting the War of 1812, often called the Second War of Independence. The people of Baltimore were certain that the British would attack the city, and for many months everything was made ready at Fort McHenry to defend Baltimore. Needing a flag to fly over the Fort, Major George Armistead, the commanding officer, wrote a letter to General Samuel Smith in which he stated that the fort was ready except for a flag “so large that the British will have no difficulty in seeing it from a distance”.
A delegation consisting of Armistead, Smith, General Stricker, and Commodore Barney commissioned a local flagmaker named Mary Pickersgill to make two flags, ‘one American ensign, 30x42 feet, first quality bunting’ and another flag ’17 by 25 feet’.
By R.McGill Mackal
In early summer of 1813 Mary Young Pickersgill assisted by two nieces, local seamstresses, a free African American apprentice (Grace Wisher), and her 13 year old daughter, Caroline, set to work. For six weeks they all cut and sewed by hand stars and stripes. When the time came to assemble the main flag, it was so large that they could not spread it across the floor of the house. The women carried the stars and stripes to a local brewery where they spread the flag on the floor and pieced it together.
The larger flag contained over 400 yards of fabric, it included 15 stripes and 15 stars to represent the 15 states of the union. Each stripe was two feet wide and each of the stars measured 24 inches across from tip to tip. Experts estimate that there were more than 1 million hand stitches in the Flag.
At the end of the six weeks, the finished flags were presented to the soldiers at Fort McHenry. It took 11 men to raise the larger flag onto a 90 foot flagpole! The flag was so big that it could be seen for several miles from the Fort.
By the time that the British attacked the Fort in September 1814, the American forces were well prepared for an attack. They built barricades and sunk boats around the fort so when the British ships entered the harbor they could not get in firing range of the fort. The British however di fire on the Fort from a distance. More than 1800 cannonballs hit Fort McHenry on the night of September 13, 1814.
The smaller flag may have been flying when the British attacked Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore on September 13, however it was the larger flag that was flying over the Fort at daybreak on September 14, 1814, after the British had ceased firing at the Fort.
The morning of September 14 Francis Scott Key was on a ship eight miles away from the Fort, negotiating a prisoner exchange when saw the huge flag flying over the Fort. Francis Scott Key was so relieved to see the American Flag still flying over the Fort that he was moved to write a poem which eventually became known as the ‘Star Spangled Banner. Years later Key said “Through the clouds of war, the stars of that banner still shone…Then, in that hour of deliverance and joyful triumph, my heart spoke, and ‘Does not such a country, and such defenders of their country, deserve a song?’ was its question. With it came an inspiration not to be resisted.”
Soon after, the poem was set to the music of a British pub song called ‘The Anacreontic Song’.
Stitching History: Recreating the Star-Spangled Banner
The Maryland Historical Society is recreating the 30 x 42 foot Star Spangled Banner flag!
The flag will be sown during the same six-week time period that Mary Pickersgill did 200 years ago.
The recreated flag will then be flown at Fort McHenry during the Defenders Day celebration!
MdHS recruited experienced sewers to construct the majority of the flag. However this past August 3 and August 11 the public was able to participate in the stitching of the flag.
Updated: 7:01 PM GMT on September 10, 2013