the star spangled banner -- 11/25/14

Today's selection -- from The Star-Spangled Banner by Lonn Taylor, Kathleen M. Kendrick, and Jeffrey L. Brodie. The Star Spangled Banner celebrated in our national anthem had fifteen stars, fifteen stripes, and was huge -- one-fourth the size of a basketball court. It was made in haste on the large floor of a beer brewery as part of the preparations of Fort McHenry in Baltimore under the presumption that the British would attack there. That presumption was correct. In 1814 the British, after burning the buildings of Washington, DC, attacked but were defeated in the Battle of Baltimore. That British force then sailed to Louisiana where they were defeated again by Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans:

"The flag that so impressed and inspired Francis Scott Key on the morning of September 14, 1814, was made for Fort McHenry under a government contract by a Baltimore flagmaker, Mary Pickersgill, in the summer of 1813. ...

"Someone ... ordered two flags from Mary Pickersgill: a garrison flag, thirty by forty-two feet, and a smaller storm flag, seventeen by twenty-five feet. Although it seems large today, the garrison flag was a standard size for the time, about one-fourth the size of a modern basketball court. Garrison flags were intended to fly over forts on flagpoles as high as ninety feet and to be seen from great distances. Armistead seems to have had a special fondness for large flags: when he was stationed at Fort Niagara in 1802, he had requested a flag thirty-six feet wide and forty-eight feet long. ...

Pickersgill's Star Spangled Banner Flag displayed in 1873 at the Boston Navy Yard

"Born in Philadelphia on February 12, 1776, Mary Young Pickersgill was an experienced flagmaker who had learned the art from her mother, Rebecca Flower Young. ... In making the enormous garrison flag, Pickersgill was helped by her thirteen-year-old daughter Caroline, her teenaged nieces Eliza and Margaret Young, and a young African American indentured servant, Grace Wisher, who was apprenticed in 1809 to spend six years learning 'the art and mystery of Housework and plain sewing' from Pickersgill. ... [Caroline] recalled the hours they had spent sewing the enormous flag: 'The flag being so very large, my mother was obliged to obtain permission from the proprietors of Claggetts brewery, which was in our neighborhood, to spread it out in their malt house; and I remember seeing my mother down on the floor, placing the stars. ...The flag contained, I think, four hundred yards of bunting and my mother worked many nights until 12, o'clock to complete it in the given time.'...

"The design of the flag that Mary Pickersgill and her family made for Fort McHenry in 1813, with fifteen stars and fifteen stripes, was the second official version of the American flag. The original Flag Act, passed June 14, 1777, provided that 'the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.' ...

"The fifteen stripes and fifteen stars of the Fort McHenry flag reflected a change introduced by the second Flag Act, which was passed January 13, 1794. The act stipulated that after May 1, 1795, the flag design should acknowledge the two new states -- Kentucky and Vermont -- that had joined the union since the original Flag Act. The fifteen-star, fifteen-stripe design remained intact from 1794 until 1818, even though additional states continued to join the union after 1795. In 1818, Congressman Peter Wendover of New York introduced a bill based on a proposal from naval captain and War of 1812, hero Samuel Chester Reid. The bill would reduce the number of stripes in the flag to thirteen, intended to signify the original thirteen states. It would increase the number of stars to twenty, the number of existing states, while providing that stars for new states would be added to the flag on the Fourth of July following admission to statehood. President James Monroe signed Wendover's bill into law on April 4, 1818, thereby establishing the fundamental design of the current American flag."


Lonn Taylor, Kthleen M. Kendrick, and Jeffrey L. Brodie


The Star-Spangled Banner: The Making of an American Icon




Copyright 2008 by the Smithsonian Institution


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