Maryland Archaeology Month – Buried Treasure of the Flag House: Immigration and Business in Jonestown & 2001 Survey

The Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology (BCUA) expected to find a high concentration of cultural material at the site of the beehive oven foundation and previously undisturbed privy, and indeed they did with over 15,000 items being uncovered.

The BCUA team identified at least five buried yard surfaces in the survey area. They dated to 1928 – 1953, with objects associated with the occupation of the Flag House by the Association, 1875 -1928, with objects related to various tenants & businesses, and three areas where artifacts dated from the prehistoric era through the mid-19th century. The yard surfaces that included the oven foundation and privy held nearly 8,000, including those items identified as being from the period of Mary Pickersgill’s occupation. The earliest features indicate that the beehive oven was constructed after 1799 but before 1807. No trace of the shed that first appeared in the 1894 drawing was uncovered.

Artifacts associated with the yard surface dating to 1928 – 1953 and the Flag House Association’s occupation of the Flag House yielded 2,994 artifacts, mostly architectural.


Digging foundation of the Maryland House, c. 1950.
Architectural artifacts: wrought nail, cut nail, wire nail, glass, mortar, slate.

The privy feature sourced artifacts associated with occupation by various tenants and businesses between 1875 -1928, 6,076 artifacts, to be exact. The privy was built about the same time as the house – c. 1792/1793 and was likely used until about 1910. Around 1909, homes were connected to public sewers with large portions of the city connected by 1914. During this time, the house was used as a dual dwelling and retail space

Flag House, 1907

Immigration to Baltimore increases beginning around 1878. The influx of Eastern European Jews and Italian immigrants is represented in shops and occupants of the Flag House. Cobbler Moritz Zimmerman was among the first to live and work in the Flag House. The Zaborovsky family, immigrants of Poland, occupied the living quarters on the second floor. Italian immigrant and last resident of the Flag House, Placido Milio operated a steamship ticket office, bank of Naples, and freight agency with Adams Express Company from 1910 to 1927.

The Flag House as it appeared c. 1920

The 1875 -1928 yard feature yielded numerous objects associated with occupation by various tenants and businesses like these small bottles – evidence of the household supplies once kept by the general store and pharmacy that operated from the first floor of the Flag House. 


Green glaze, promotional penny bank in the shape of a tankard, C.D. Kenny Co. – Founded in Baltimore in 1872, opened a coffee, tea, and sugar store at Lexington and Greene Streets, later expanding to more retail stores in the region eventually closing the retail businesses by 1934 and moving to wholesale. This bank probably dates to the early 1900s. C.D. Kenny also happened to manufacture commemorative souvenirs for the 1914 Star-Spangled Banner Centennial.

Adults and businesses were not the only ones to occupy the Flag House or the surrounding tenements and rowhomes. Numerous toys and artifacts indicative of the lives of 20th-century children were found.

The 2001 Test Pits – Construction of the Hofmeister Building

The 2001 test pit survey sought to uncover any features and cultural material associated with the block of homes and businesses located behind the Flag House from Granby Street south to the Flag House and their yards and footprints that ran from Albemarle Street west to Slemmers Alley. Ground disturbance related to additions added the buildings located at 110, 112, 114, and 116 Albemarle Street between 1890 and 1901, had a significant effect on the study area.

Only 444 artifacts were uncovered from 9 features that included structural features, two brick-lined privies, one wooden lined privy, brick walls, and one stone wall.



Looking south on Albemarle Street toward Flag House, 1940’s

The detail of the 1890 Sanborn Map of Baltimore shows the Flag House outlined in red and the site of the 2001 archaeology survey. Feature I contained two brick-lined privies that first appear on the 1890 Sanborn map and yielded 222 of the 444 artifacts.

Flag House, rearview of Albemarle Street looking northeast across Pratt Street, about 1945.

The majority of artifacts contained in the test pits were household items and dietary remains in the backyards and privies associated with the dwellings within 110 to 118 Albemarle Street. Feature III was the site of a wood-lined privy that did not appear on any maps and had a dense concentration of artifacts including, architectural, faunal, kitchen, and toys.

It is unclear when these privies were taken out of use – features I and III were not filled until sometime in the first quarter of the 20th century, and feature II only had construction debris like ash, mortar, brick, and window glass. Based on the 1890 map, features I and III (the two brick-lined privies and wooden lined privy) appear to be associated with 112 and 114 Albemarle Street.

There was no privy identified for 110 Albemarle. It is likely under the modern sidewalk or masonry fence. Prehistoric artifacts were likely transported to the area via fill.

Peach pits and grape seeds
Personal Artifacts
1. Indian head penny, 1868
2. Indian head penny, 1900
3. tobacco pipe bowl
4. tobacco pipe stem
5. 1919 penny
6. 1943 nickel
7. Bakelite handle
8. 1868 Indian head penny detail
9. Lincoln head penny, 1919 detail front and back

What questions did the findings of both surveys answer? How does the Flag House answer existing questions and mysteries about the life of Mary Pickersgill and the women who lived in the Flag House and worked alongside her? How do these findings shape the ways in which the Flag House interprets and shares the stories of the diverse lives of its occupants?

Objects that belonged to Mary in the Flag House Collection and artifacts uncovered during archaeology seem to indicate that Mary was a lady of refined taste, despite her socio-economic role as a widow who never remarried. All speak to Mary’s position in the culture of her time and indicate a genteel middle-class station in society. The lack of tobacco pipe stems and bowls, also speaks to the household being mostly female for more than a decade (1807-1818).

As with objects that date to Mary Pickersgill’s occupation of the Flag House, artifacts from both surveys informed the ways in which we interpret the Flag House as part of the diversity brought to Jonestown by immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For much of the Flag House’s history, tours and interpretation, of course, focused on the birth of Star-Spangled Banner. However, the role the house played as a community resource is closely tied with the mission of the Museum today.

There was a wealth of artifacts related to the Milio family, which allow us to interpret themes in Maryland history connected to the social, educational, cultural, and economic experiences of Italian immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

What’s next for the Flag House and it’s once buried treasure?

Developing hands-on programming related to the artifacts gave us the opportunity to capitalize on our educational collection and connect more people with the story of Mary Pickersgill and of the Flag House. Programs teach students to handle and research primary sources and replica artifacts to experience life in a time far different from their own.

We continue to ask questions that we hope can be answered through researching these artifacts. As noted in the 1998 survey report, the faunal remains found in the beehive oven foundation need further analysis and could reveal a great deal about the diets of generations of Flag House occupants.

In 2020 and 2021, the Flag House will undergo a reimagining of its interpretive plan to include more about the immigrant experience, women’s history, and the history of enslaved persons in urban households, as well as, Mary’s free African American apprentice Grace Wisher.

The Museum will increase public and research access to its collection of artifacts through an ongoing digitization project.

By 2020, the Flag House will complete a third archaeological survey of a high potential area and possible privy beneath the brick walkway that is currently obstructed by the wheelchair ramp for the Maryland House building. This survey will be part of the restoration of the 1930s era brick and iron wall along Albemarle Street. Any cultural material found during this survey will join the Flag House Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology collection of artifacts and be used to conduct further research about the diverse individuals who occupied the Flag House.

This series has been adapted from a presentation developed for the Flag House by Executive Director Amanda Shores Davis and given to the Friends of Clifton Mansion, September 2019.

Maryland Archaeology Month – Buried Treasure of the Flag House: Mary Young Pickersgill

Built in 1793 by Brian Philpot and occupied by flag maker Mary Young Pickersgill from 1807 until 1857, the Flag House is the site where Mary and her household of women crafted the large 30’ x 42’ garrison flag for Fort McHenry that inspired the national anthem. In the last half of the 19th century, the Flag House’s first floor was converted into more traditional business space. It was occupied by a general store, liquor store, post office, cobbler, bank, and steamship ticket and freight office. Many of these businesses were owned by immigrants and provided services in both Italian and English. Today the Flag House interprets Mary’s life as a female business and landowner. Both archaeological digs were conducted to discover more information about life in the Flag House, the home’s role in the neighborhood as a cornerstone that joined the communities of Jonestown and Little Italy and to better understand Mary as a woman who was exceptional for her time. There is very little to document Mary’s life before or after her time in Baltimore.

We know she was born in Philadelphia in 1776 at the height of tensions between the Americans and the British. We understand that the death of her father, William Young, in 1778 was the catalyst for Mary’s mother Rebecca turning to her brother Col. Benjamin Flower, Commissary to George Washington’s Continental Army, for assistance in launching a military supply business. We know that the same fate befell Mary when her husband John Pickersgill died while working in London in 1805, and like her mother, Mary never remarried and turned to flag making to support her daughter Caroline. And we also know that in her later life, Mary devoted her time to philanthropic ventures that aided the women of Baltimore whose lives closely paralleled her own experience. What we don’t know is how she felt about any of this. What were her tastes? How did she reconcile being a seemingly progressive woman with the rise of genteel values and societal pressure to be a respectable woman who was married, a mother, and virtuous? There are no known primary source documents in Mary’s voice. We have the receipt for the Star-Spangled Banner, the receipt for the last known flag made by Mary in 1815, and minimal records from the Impartial Female Humane Society during Mary’s presidency. The goal was to find and analyze the cultural material, personal objects, household objects, food, toys, tools, anything that might inform the previously unknown history of the Flag House and its occupants.

Mary Young Pickersgill, c. 1850

The Flag House is a two-story brick house with a third-floor attic and shared a party wall and eight-flue chimney with the building to the west on Queen Street (now Pratt Street). The kitchen wing, known as a flounder, was built at the same time as the central portion of the house. In March of 1799, two insurance policies were purchased for the home, No. 617, for the main block of rooms of the house and No. 618, which covered the kitchen. There is no mention of the beehive oven in the insurance policy for the kitchen – but because of the archaeology material located within the beehive oven foundation, we can be almost sure that it was constructed around 1807 when Mary moves into the Flag House. 

Floor Plans for the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House

In July 1807, Mary moved from Philadelphia to Baltimore after the death of her husband in 1805 to be near her mother, Rebecca, and her sister Hannah who lived a block from the Flag House on Granby Street. At this time, tensions leading up to the War of 1812 had already begun to rise, ignited by the British attack on the USS Chesapeake by the HMS Leopold and the 1807 embargo. After the War of 1812 and between 1820 and 1870, the population of Baltimore increased from 63,000 to 269,000.

Mary Young Pickersgill (in black) and her sister Hannah Young Wells Fearson (in plaid), c. 1845

By 1820, Mary Pickersgill was a homeowner having acquired half interest in the Flag House for $1,000, from the heirs of owner, Amos Vickers. On September 19, 1820, she purchased the remaining interest on the property for another $1,000. In 1828, Pratt Street was extended east and 60 Albemarle Street, the former address of the flag making business, changed to 44 Pratt.

About this same time after Mary took ownership of the house, architectural evidence suggests the Flag House’s kitchen was reworked. The beehive oven was removed in favor of an interior iron stove around 1830 (it is important to note that Mary’s son-in-law, John Purdy, was himself an iron merchant). Ghost lines in the brick of the kitchen wall indicate the location of a former opening that repeats the size of the exterior chimney base that would have allowed for a large cooking hearth and was probably associated with the beehive oven. Discontinued use of the beehive oven more than likely assisted in the preservation of the wealth of archaeological material uncovered in this survey unit.


This image from the 1955 interior restoration shows the drastically reduced size of the hearth opening.

On October 4, 1857, Mary Pickersgill died, and ownership of the Flag House passes to her daughter Caroline Pickersgill Purdy. Caroline Pickersgill Purdy leases the Flag House in May of 1864, selling the property outright in November of that year. The property was sold again to Samuel Ready in 1869, beginning an era of dwelling and retail use. Samuel Ready’s ownership dates from 1869 to 1878. Upon Ready’s death ownership of the house, passed to the trustees of the Samuel Ready Asylum for Female Orphans. The Samuel Ready trustees hold ownership until 1927 when the Flag House Association and Baltimore City take ownership of the property to preserve its history with the intent of opening a public museum dedicated to the Star-Spangled Banner. The Flag House opened to the public as a historic house on November 11, 1928. This 1894 sketch the earliest known drawing of the Flag House is done looking toward the Albemarle Street elevation we can see a small shed has appeared at the back of the kitchen – this is the site of the 1998 dig.

1894 Sketch of the Flag House

The Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology (BCUA) expected to find a high concentration of cultural material at the site of the beehive oven foundation and previously undisturbed privy, and indeed they did with over 15,000 items being uncovered.

The total excavation site was a 10’ x 7.5’ square foot section of ground with artifacts totaling 15,507. There were 4,472 in unit levels, 11,035 in features. These 11,000 + artifacts were mostly found in 3 features: a 19th-century utility trench (2,994 artifacts), the beehive oven foundation (1,703 artifacts), and the privy feature (6,076 artifacts). The remaining 942 artifacts were spread out between 18 other features.

1998 Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology Survey Map

The BCUA team identified at least five buried yard surfaces in the survey area. They dated to 1928 – 1953, with objects associated with the occupation of the Flag House by the Association, 1875 -1928, with objects related to various tenants & businesses, and three early yard areas where artifacts dated from the prehistoric era through the mid-19th century. The three early yard surfaces that included the oven foundation and privy held nearly 8,000, including those items identified as being from the period of Mary Pickersgill’s occupation. The earliest features indicate that the beehive oven was constructed after 1799 but before 1807. No trace of the shed that first appeared in the 1894 drawing was uncovered.

Fragments, like those pictured above, were found in one of those early yard surfaces and matched the pattern on this pierced fruit basket owned by Mary Pickersgill. They are likely remnants of the undertray for the basket pictured below.

More ceramic fragments representing utilitarian and decorative ceramics used in daily life throughout the 19th century.

Also found in the foundation of the beehive oven was evidence of the flag making business. Items included pins, thimbles, and a pair of scissors.

Objects that belonged to Mary in the Flag House Collection and artifacts uncovered during archaeology seem to indicate that Mary was a lady of refined taste, despite her socio-economic role as a widow who never remarried.

Mary advertises her flag-making business until about 1816, around the time when Caroline Pickersgill marries John Purdy. From this time until he died in 1837, John Purdy, an iron merchant, is listed as the head of the household. Despite Mary being the owner of the property, her flag making appears to cease between 1815 and 1816. Around this time in American society, genteel values of a woman’s position as wife and mother were widely accepted. In essence, Mary shows an inclination to prove she is of a true woman’s place in society through her possessions.

The Flag House interprets Mary’s life and household in this manner today. Female business operators in the 19th-century were considered less than virtuous than their contemporaries who took part in more traditional roles of child-rearing and housework. These attitudes did not seem to stop Mary from using her business success to acquire the refined furnishings and objects of material culture that would have adorned the homes of her contemporaries who may have been considered of a more genteel nature.

Part III of our Maryland Archaeology Month series, Buried Treasure of the Flag House: Immigration and Business in Jonestown, will be posted on Wednesday, April 29.

This series has been adapted from a presentation developed for the Flag House by Executive Director Amanda Shores Davis and given to the Friends of Clifton Mansion, September 2019.

‘A KNOCK-OUT FOR THIRST’

Founded in 1893 by brothers H.S. and L.W. Phillips, the Phillips Brothers Bottling Company and Champion Bottling Works was located at 609 South Caroline Street. An article from the RE-LY-ON magazine dated January 1922 describes the state-of-the-art bottling facility after the introduction of the rotary high-pressure bottle filler. At their start, Phillips Brothers Bottling was counting production by the dozens, but in 1922, the automatic filler’s daily output could reach 6,000 dozen bottles of Champion ginger-ale. The storehouse’s capacity was 40,000 bottles held in reserve for the summer rush on carbonated beverages. Champion beverages were so popular among Baltimoreans that without new stock, the reserve would have lasted less than a month. Champion soda flavors produced at the Baltimore plant were ginger ale, sarsaparilla, lemon, and chocolate. Champion cola and soda water could also be purchased in siphon bottles.

Phillips Brothers Bottling Company Ceramic Bottle Stopper
c. 1893-1927
The Phillips Brothers motif is two boxers and was depicted on stoppers and impressed into bottles.
This stopper is a tapered cone-shape and a pointed end which was fitted with a rubber gasket popular on glass bottles from the mid-1870s until the 1920s.

April is #marylandarcheologymonth ! We’ll be sharing some of the more than 15,000 artifacts found during excavations at the Flag House between 1984 and 2001. For a more in-depth look at the Flag House’s archaeological surveys visit, our blog where we’ll be posting a three-part series. http://www.flaghouse.org/blog 

Maryland Archaeology Month – Buried Treasure of the Flag House: Jonestown

There have been two significant archaeological surveys at the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House. The first survey took place between September 1998 and January 1999, intending to uncover artifacts in a privy and beehive oven foundation directly behind the historic Flag House. This project uncovered more than 15,000 unique artifacts. The second and less extensive survey was done in 2001 to determine if there were any sites of significant cultural material located within the site area demarked for construction of the Hofmeister Building, the Flag House’s modern museum facility.
Built in 1793 by Brian Philpot and occupied by flag maker Mary Young Pickersgill from 1807 until 1857, the Flag House is the site where Mary and her household of women crafted the large 30’ x 42’ garrison flag for Fort McHenry that inspired the national anthem. In the last half of the 19th century, the Flag House’s first floor was converted into more traditional business space. It was occupied by a general store, liquor store, post office, cobbler, bank, and steamship ticket and freight office. Many of these businesses were owned by immigrants, provided services in Italian and English, and are evidence of the diversity of the Jonestown neighborhood. Today the Flag House interprets Mary’s life as a female business and landowner.
Both archaeological digs were conducted to discover more information about life in the Flag House, the home’s role in the neighborhood as a cornerstone that joined the communities of Jonestown and Little Italy and to better understand Mary as a woman who was exceptional for her time. There is very little to document Mary’s life before or after her time in Baltimore. We know she was born in Philadelphia in 1776 at the height of tensions between the Americans and the British. We understand that the death of her father, William Young, in 1778 was the catalyst for Mary’s mother Rebecca turning to her brother Col. Benjamin Flower, Commissary to George Washington’s Continental Army, for assistance in launching a military supply business. We know that the same fate befell Mary when her husband John Pickersgill died suddenly while working in London in 1805, and like her mother, Mary never remarried and turned to flag making to support her daughter Caroline. And we also know that in her later life, Mary devoted her time to philanthropic ventures that aided the women of Baltimore whose lives closely paralleled her own experience. What we don’t know is how she felt about any of this. What were her tastes? How did she reconcile being a seemingly progressive woman with the rise of genteel values and societal pressure to be a respectable woman who was married, a mother, and virtuous? There are no known primary source documents in Mary’s voice. We have the receipt for the Star-Spangled Banner, the receipt for the last known flag made by Mary in 1815, and minimal records from the Impartial Female Humane Society during Mary’s presidency. The goal was to find and analyze the cultural material, personal objects, household objects, food, toys, tools, anything that might inform the previously unknown history of the Flag House and its occupants.


1750 Plat of Baltimore Town & Jonestown – 1998 Study Area Highlighted

To understand the significance of much of the archaeology surveys’ findings concerning the Jonestown neighborhood, we need to travel back to Baltimore’s days as tobacco farmland. The Flag House sits in the Jonestown neighborhood of Baltimore City and is considered to be the oldest neighborhood in Baltimore, tracing its development back to the late 17th century. By that time, much of the original tracts of land owned by Thomas Cole and David Jones were used for tobacco cultivation. The parcels, owned by James Todd, amounted to just over 1,100 acres in the areas of the Jones Falls and today’s Inner Harbor.


1772 A.P. Folie Plan of the Town of Baltimore & Environs

Todd began to sell his land holdings in 1701, encouraging more tobacco farming and the first grist mill on the Jones Falls to be constructed in 1711. The tobacco planters eventually petitioned the Maryland General Assembly to form a town. Thus, Baltimore Town was established on 60 acres at Coles Harbor in December of 1729. Two years later Jonestown, also known as Old Town, was laid out across from the Jones Falls from Baltimore Town.

View of Baltimore, W.H. Bartlett, engraved by B. Fisher, London, 1835,
Star-Spangled Banner Flag House Collection, 2000.1.0

The land on which the Flag House sits was developed by Brian Philpot, whose occupation is listed as ‘gentleman,’ in 1793. That same year, with a jump in population growth, Baltimore’s merchants seized the opportunity to lobby the Maryland General Assembly to charter and incorporate Baltimore as a city; the request was granted in 1796. The land on which Brian Philpot built what would become the Flag House was part of the original Todd’s Range to the east of the Jones Falls and had been in the Philpot Family since the mid-18th century. The land had been subdivided in 1773 between Brian Philpot, Johnathan Plowman, and William Fell as additions to the City of Baltimore. This 1792 map shows the extent of development in Old Town – the Flag House lot at the corner of Queen Street (now Pratt) and Albemarle Street would be developed the following year.

Jonestown, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, was a fashionable area of the City. Neighbors included Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the wealthiest man in Maryland, who wintered at Carroll Mansion at Front and Lombard Streets, beginning in about 1818. But the neighborhood was also very diverse, something that continues to characterize the community until this day. Jonestown had a robust population of tradesmen that owned homes with their shops and businesses below on the ground floor. There was a: brewery, cut nail factory, spinning wheel manufactory, printer, watchmaker, jeweler, plow maker, cabinet maker, carver and gilder, and of course, a flag maker.

1801 Map of Baltimore – By 1801 the City’s footprint expanded
in all directions, and Jonestown had grown even further to the east past Central Avenue

The Flag House is a two-story brick house with a third-floor attic and shared a party wall and eight-flue chimney with the building to the west on Queen Street (now Pratt Street). The kitchen wing, known as a flounder, was built at the same time as the central portion of the house. In March of 1799, two insurance policies were purchased for the home, No. 617 for the main block of rooms of the house, and No. 618, which covered the kitchen. There is no mention of the beehive oven in the insurance policy for the kitchen – but because of the archaeology material located within the beehive oven foundation, we can be almost sure that it was constructed around 1807 when Mary takes occupancy in the Flag House.

Part II of our Maryland Archaeology Month series, Buried Treasure of the Flag House: Mary Pickersgill, will be posted Wednesday, April 15.

This series is adapted from a presentation developed for the Flag House by Executive Director Amanda Shores Davis and given to the Friends of Clifton Mansion, September 2019.