Stars and Stripes
As the War of 1812 waged on, the citizens of Baltimore began to prepare for a possible British attack. It seemed inevitable; the British considered Baltimore a “nest of pirates” due to the privateer clippers that were built in the city’s shipyards.
During the summer of 1813, Fort McHenry’s commanding officer Major George Armistead wanted a flag that was “so large that the British will have no difficulty in seeing it from a distance.” Mary Pickersgill, an experienced Baltimore City flagmaker, was contracted to create two flags – a 30 x 42′ garrison flag and a 17 x 25′ storm flag for use during inclement weather.
In seven weeks, Mary, along with her daughter Caroline, nieces Eliza and Margaret, and indentured servant Grace Wisher, made the two flags. For the larger flag, the two-foot wide stripes were made up of English wool bunting. The cotton stars were two feet wide from point to point. Since it was the practice at the time to add a stripe and star for each state as it entered the Union, there were 15 stars and stripes on the two flags (to represent the 13 original colonies and Vermont and Kentucky, the next two states to enter the union). The flags were delivered to Fort McHenry on August 19, 1813.
Following the Chesapeake Campaign and the War of 1812, the American flag developed into a dominant national symbol. The Star-Spangled Banner assumed a meaning beyond local celebration. This flag represents the broad ideals and values of the nation. Today, the American flag continues to evoke a special, patriotic feeling. In times of war, when returning from overseas, during space exploration, and at sporting events or other public gatherings, the American flag continues to represent freedom, democracy, and the intangible nature of “what it means to be an American.”
Photo Courtesy of the National Museum of American History. Content Courtesy of the National Park Service.