Mary Pickersgill—with the help of her daughter, nieces, and a young black indentured servant—sewed the flag that flew over Fort McHenry and inspired Francis Scott Key to write the lyrics that later became the national anthem.
The women of Pickersgill’s family had a history of entrepreneurship. When Pickersgill’s mother, Rebecca Young, was widowed, she supported her family including the young Mary, by making flags and other items for the military. In fact, Young made the first national flag with instructions from George Washington.
Mary Pickersgill, after her husband's death in 1805, set up a business sewing banners and flags with her daughter and mother. In 1813, Lieutenant Colonel George Armistead commissioned Pickersgill to make the flag that would become known as “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
As Mary Pickersgill embarked on making the giant garrison flag for Fort McHenry, she needed a larger floor space for the project and used the malthouse of a local brewery. It took about seven weeks to complete the 42 by 30 foot garrison flag.