When: 6:30 p.m. Friday Flag Day
Where: First Presbyterian Church, 800 S. Enota Drive NE, Gainesville
Two hundred years ago this summer, Maj. George Armistead commissioned a flag maker by the name of Mary Young Pickersgill in Baltimore, Md., to sew two flags for Fort McHenry at Baltimore Harbor. One of them would be 30 feet by 42 feet, large enough the British could see it from a long distance across the water as it loomed over the star-shaped fort.
Susan Campbell Bartoletti details the scope of this work through the eyes of Mary’s daughter, Caroline, in her book, “The Flag Maker.”
In less than two months, the family sewed hundreds of thousands of stitches across 400 yards of wool bunting. Each flag had 15 stripes and 15 stars for the original 13 colonies plus Vermont and Kentucky. The stars on the larger flag were 2 feet wide.
Mary’s mother, Rebecca Young, started the family business of flag making in Philadelphia during the American Revolution. Young, her daughter, Mary, and Mary’s daughter, Caroline, moved into the home known as the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, 844 Pratt St., Baltimore, Md., in 1806. The household had little or no idea of the impact its work would have on American patriotism in the future.
According to the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission, Armistead wanted the British to make no mistake about America’s resolve to defend Fort McHenry in the War of 1812, also known as the Second War for Independence.
American sailors were being pressed into the Royal Navy because of its expansion during the Napoleonic wars. England restricted American trade, blockading the Chesapeake Bay area for more than two years. Thus, Armistead strengthened Fort McHenry in preparation of an attack.
One year after Mary Pickersgill delivered the flags to Armistead, the British burned Washington, D.C., and the White House in 1814. In an article of The Canadian Encyclopedia, Jason Ridler describes how Sir Alexander Cochrane, commander of the North American Station of the Royal Navy, led the British siege on Fort McHenry, in Baltimore Harbor. Although sunken ships in the harbor kept the British fleet from sailing close enough to demolish the fort, the bombardment was intense with 25 hours of blasts and bombings.
A lawyer named Francis Scott Key was on a boat in the Patapsco River on Sept. 13-14, 1814. He was seeking the release of Dr. William Beanes through the exchange of prisoners. Key was detained because the British were about to attack Fort McHenry. He observed the Star-Spangled Banner waving over Fort McHenry after a long night of gunfire and rocket firing. Overjoyed the “flag was still there” and the British had not taken the fort, Key wrote a poem that made its way into several publications, titled “In Defence of Fort McHenry.”
Attention gradually shifted toward regard for the flag as a national expression of America’s freedom. Key’s poem became the lyrics for the United States national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner” in 1931, according to Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine.
The giant flag has been restored through several preservation projects and is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. It stands for the values of the country.
Two local residents described ancestral patriotism related to the flag.
“The flag reminds me of my ancestor, John Turk, who fought and died in the War of 1812,” said Donna Hulsey, chairwoman of the American Flag Committee, Col. William Candler Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. “He is my fourth great-grandfather. I found documentation through the National Archives. He enlisted in August 1813 and served with Captain Garrett L. Standridge’s Company of Volunteer Infantry, 1st Regiment Georgia Militia. He died at Fort Lawrence, Ga., (November 1813) and his father, William Turk, served in the Revolutionary War in South Carolina.”
Dena Westbrooks, a media specialist at Flowery Branch High School and Constitution Week chairwoman for the Col. William Candler Chapter DAR connects the flag with patriotic thoughts about her ancestors who fought for America’s freedom.
“Through my genealogical research (with the National Archives) I have discovered three ancestors who fought in the War of 1812, later receiving pensions for their service,” she said. “Enoch Underwood and Solomon Clark both have War of 1812 Military Markers on their graves and lived their later lives in North Georgia.”
Seventeen-year-old Enoch served with Capt. Robert Love’s 43rd Infantry, N.C., and 18-year-old Solomon served with Capt. Hamilton Shields’ Virginia militia. Joel Gentry served in John Ashe Alston’s 3rd Regiment from South Carolina and is buried in Laurens, S.C.
Veterans Dave Causey and Ken Wallace voiced their ideas about our flag.
Causey is a veteran of the Korean War.
“I joined the ranks of thousands of men and women who have fought and died for the freedom that our flag represents — a nation founded on the belief that all people should be free,” the Oakwood resident said. “The stars and stripes on our flag represent our nation’s unity and freedom. When we enlist in the military, we say the following words as part of our oath: ‘I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.’ We honor our flag as a symbol of our constitution and the freedoms it provides.”
U.S. Air Force veteran Ken Wallace wishes everybody could experience the education he received in flag code etiquette and standards of respect for the flag.
“It is disappointing these days to see a lack of regard, at times, for the flag and what it means,” he said. “The flag is a symbol of our country. Disregard or callousness toward it is a disregard of the freedom that America represents.”
In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress approved the Federal Flag Code. The section “Respect for the Flag,” gives instruction on how to salute the flag and behave in an appropriate manner toward it. Directions for flag retirement are included: “(The flag) should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning, when it is in such a condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display.”
Hulsey has collected worn or tattered American flags that will be retired in a ceremony at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the lake house behind the First Presbyterian Church, 800 S. Enota Drive NE, Gainesville.
“The Col. William Candler Chapter DAR has planned a flag retirement ceremony in conjunction with Scout Troop 3 Mountaineers, Northeast Georgia Council, led by Scoutmaster Jon Irving on Flag Day,” she said.
Ashes from the retired flags will be buried in a place of honor.