Flags and beer: A Baltimore tradition

The kindness of a Baltimore brewer plays a small part in the story of America’s national anthem

Written by Rob Kasper for The Baltimore Sun

During the Fourth of July weekend in Baltimore, there will be plenty of flags flying and beers sipped. This connection between the American flag and Baltimore beer goes back almost 200 years and played a small but interesting role in history.

During the War of 1812, seamstress Mary Pickersgill was hard at work on the large American flag that would eventually fly over Fort McHenry and inspire Francis Scott Key to write the poem that would become The Star Spangled Banner. In the summer of 1814, Washington had just been burned, and the British were turning their attention to Baltimore, then the third largest port in America and home to privateers, a nemesis of the British Navy.

The story goes that Colonel George Armistead, who was preparing the defense of the fort, felt that the only thing still needed was “a flag so large that the British should have no difficulty seeing it from a distance.” Mrs. Pickersgill got the job because she was an accomplished seamstress, having learned the flag making trade in Philadelphia from her mother, Rebecca Young. She also had family connections. She was related by marriage to Commodore Joshua Barney and General John Stricker, two of the men in charge of the defense of Baltimore.

She fashioned two flags, a massive 30 foot by 42 foot flag with stars that measured two feet point to point, and a smaller 17 foot by 25 foot flag called a storm flag. In bad weather the larger flag, soaked with moisture, could be too difficult to hoist, so the smaller storm flag could be substituted.

Assembling these large flags required a lot of room, which Pickersgill’s house on Queen Street, now called Pratt Street, did not have. She, however, was on good terms with a neighbor, George I. Brown, who has just bought a brewery at Lombard Street and the Jones Falls.

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