It is almost impossible to separate black clothing of the nineteenth century from the mourning customs of the Victorian period. However, black velvet, lace, and other trimmings could adorn the fancy dresses of the fashionable nineteenth-century woman. An 1802 Philadelphia publication on contemporary fashion describes a close-fitting bonnet of black velvet trimmed with black lace. A second is described as having a turned-up brim at the front, lined and trimmed with scarlet, and sporting a scarlet feather. Yet another pink silk bonnet is listed as being trimmed with black ribbon and adorned with black lace and feather. In February of 1802, a walking dress of white muslin, under a scarlet cloak trimmed all around with black lace and the matching bonnet is described in “Lady Brownlow’s Reminiscences.” When paired with pink, purple, scarlet, and blue fabrics, black was a familiar accent to walking outfits and evening attire of the early 1800s. By the winter of 1823, black satin shoes, black velvet hats, and black velvet dresses were all the rage and were often trimmed in black lace. Eleven years earlier, Napoleon sponsored the resurrection of Chantilly lace production in Normandy. At the height of its popularity during the 1830s, every fashionable lady would have had collars, veils, cuffs, and other clothing trimmed in black Chantilly lace. A revival of black Chantilly lace in the 1860s is exemplified by lace production’s role during 1862, International Exhibition. Visitors were treated to watching lace manufacturers producing an order for tunics, trimmings, pocket-handkerchief, fan, and parasol, all en suite for the sum of 150,000 francs.
In the last half of the nineteenth century, black clothing becomes synonymous with the customs and symbolism surrounding the etiquette of Victorian mourning. While black was, of course, required for deep mourning, rules of grieving also dictated the types of fabrics acceptable for this first stage of mourning. Dresses of bombazine, paramatta, delaine, barege, merino, and crape were considered appropriately somber for deep mourning. Bonnets were to be of plain black crape with a long crape veil, a shawl of plain black with no trimming or border were topped off with black crape collar, sleeves, black boots, and gloves. Black fabrics of the time also held invisible dangers. Black dyes, especially those used in the crape veils, could irritate the eyes, were harmful to breathe in, could affect the complexion, and leave staining on the skin. Ladies’ etiquette books didn’t only give instruction in the fashionable and refined art of mourning dress, they also gave practical advice for combating the effects of the dye. Even recipes for pastes to remove the staining caused by sweating in black mourning attire were given. In the 1872, “Ladies Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness: A Complete Handbook for the Use of the Lady in Polite Society,” by Florence Hartley, the procedure for removing skin staining required the purchase of 1/2 oz each of cream of tartar and oxalic acid, a poison, from the druggist’s who would combine and crush them together in a mortar. The lady would then dip a dampened towel into the paste and apply it to the skin, with instructions to immediately wash it off with soap and water. As the deep mourning stage ended, women could begin to substitute all-black attire with grays, deep purple, and lavenders and could begin to incorporate lace and other adornments like bows and short veils. An 1842 mourning outfit is described as a dress of black barege made with a deep hem at the bottom of the skirt and bodice cut three-quarters high and laced up the back. A ruche of the material finishes the neck of the corsage and the edge of the long tight sleeves. A pelerine of black lace cut low in the beck is worn around the shoulders and fastened with a black ribbon bow. An under-dress which shows through the barege is of grey. A drawn bonnet also of grey, trimmed round the face with black tulle, and small black flowers and long grey feather surrounds the crown and hangs down on the left side. Gloves of black lace and slippers of black completed this costume.
COMMEMORATING THE DEFENSE OF BALTIMORE
September 1814, following the burning of Washington three weeks earlier on August 24, the British army, under command of Major General Robert Ross, landed at North Point, just east of Baltimore, and began a land advance on the city. The King’s Army was met at North Point by the Baltimore City Third Brigade, Maryland State Militia, under the command of Brigadier General John Stricker. At the Battle of North Point, two American riflemen fired shots at General Ross, one fatally wounding the British commander. The death of General Ross allowed the Americans to slowly withdraw back toward Baltimore and fortifications that had been dug in at Potter’s Hill (now Patterson Park). During the unsuccessful land advance, the British Royal Navy had moved its fleet to within a mile of Fort McHenry. Over the course of 27 hours from September 13 to 14, the fleet bombarded the Fort with an estimated 1,500 – 1,800 Congreve rockets and mortar bombs. On the morning of September 14, the 30′ x 42′ Star-Spangled Banner was raised over the Fort, as it was every morning for reveille. Because of the uncertainty of how many men were stationed in the fort and surrounding fortifications, the British fleet withdrew, setting sail for New Orleans.
Commemorations of the successful defense of Baltimore and Old Defenders began shortly after the War of 1812 and centered on General Stricker’s victory at North Point. Throughout the mid-19th century, Marylanders celebrated with picnics on the battlefields around Baltimore. The traditional program while the Old Defenders survived was for Defenders’ Day programs that started with a rally and speeches at Baltimore’s Battle Monument, the landmark memorial in the former colonial-era courthouse square along North Calvert Street, between East Lexington and East Fayette Streets. Following the speeches, the militia units marched from the Battle Monument either out on Eastern Avenue then south on Old North Point Road to the battlefield at North Point or took a steamship excursion from the Inner Harbor of the Northwest Branch of the Patapsco River downriver and up to Bear Creek. At North Point, the militia units participated in a sham battle and then marched to the former Loudenschlager’s Hill (now Hampstead Hill). Soon celebrations grew to involve parades, speeches, and the city-wide Star-Spangled Banner Centennial in 1914.
Mary Pickersgill, the woman and Baltimore citizen who sewed the Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired our national anthem, was more than a patriot. She was a driven, creative, and successful businesswoman, a female sole proprietor of her flag making business, uncommon in 1813. She devoted her later life to charitable causes, becoming the president of the charitable Impartial Female Human Society in 1828. Under Mary’s direction the Society opened Baltimore’s first home for aged women and lead a successful campaign to raise wages for the city’s seamstresses.
The Mary Pickersgill Award for Women’s Leadership in Business is given annually to a woman in the Baltimore metro area who follows in Mary’s footsteps. This individual is a successful businesswoman who has made significant contributions to her field. She is creative and innovative, inspiring others with her work. She is also a civic leader, demonstrating significant ties to the area through charitable work, mentoring, or community service.
To submit a nomination visit this year’s Pickersgill Award Nomination Form. To see some of the past winners of the Pickersgill Award follow the link: flaghouse.org/awards
Nominations will be accepted until 4:00 p.m. on Friday, September 13, 2019.
On Friday, June 14, 2019, the Flag House hosted the 92nd Flag Day celebration at the museum. We welcomed more than 150 visitors for the day and 25 individuals from 21 countries as they took the oath to become the newest American citizens. Congratulations to our 2019 Flag House Scholar, Anthony Bibbo, on his winning essay. To read more about the Flag House Scholar Award visit flaghouse.org/scholar-award. Thank you to our partners and sponsors for their support of this event.
Fort McHenry National Monument & Shrine
Society of the War of 1812 in Maryland
Maryland State Daughters of 1812
National Society of the Colonial Dames of America
Unites States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Baltimore Field Office
Citizens of Baltimore County
Arthur Perry Sewell, (1900-1946) and Elizabeth Murray Sewell, (1890 – 1977), were the first curators and stewards of the Flag House. Because Arthur had been blinded by a chemical attack during World War I, Elizabeth conducted all correspondence and Flag House operations alongside her husband and on his behalf. The couple resided in a third-floor apartment in the Flag House’s attic as late as 1940. Together they were responsible for the initial preservation of the Flag House, restoring it to its approximate 1813 appearance, using Works Project Administration workers and even continuing preservation work during World War II. After Arthur’s sudden death in October of 1946, Elizabeth continued on as curator until April 1957 and oversaw the first initiatives to expand of the museum’s footprint to include the first museum and office building (1950). In 1955, the Flag House underwent a major restoration project to restore the exterior Pratt Street facade to its approximate 1793 appearance. This phase of preservation saw the removal of the storefront window (1-3), installation of a steel beam support in the basement (4), reconfiguring of rooms to restore partition walls and doorways that had been removed from the first floor (5-7), brick restoration on all exterior facades (8-13) and removal of the steam heat and radiator system and plumbing in the kitchen and third floor attic (14-16).
#WomesnHistoryMonth – Anne Homer Martin was an instrumental donor, volunteer, and member of the Flag House and Baltimore Weaver’s Guild. The Weaver’s Guild completed the 1963-1964 Star-Spangled Banner Flag that was exhibited in the Maryland Pavilion during the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. She wove examples of the fabric on a loom constructed for this project in the Flag House and continued to give weaving demonstrations to school children in the attic into the late 1960s. Mrs. Martin is also the generous donor of the Prescott Bigelow Pewter Collection, part of the Flag House permanent collection since 1959.
After fleeing from Philadelphia in 1777 and the death of her husband, William Young, from camp fever at Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1778, Rebecca Young faced a considerable life decision. At age 39 with five children to raise her options were, either remarry or find a way to support the family financially on her own. Fortunately for Rebecca, her family was well connected to important personalities of the American Revolution and fledgling country. Perhaps the choice of what to do was made easier for Rebecca when her brother Col. Benjamin Flower writes to his sister offering to find her a home near his in Philadelphia where she can begin making supplies for military use. Benjamin Flower, only 29 years old, had been appointed commissary general of military stores by George Washington in 1777 and was responsible for keeping the Continental Army supplied with everything from musket balls to simple cotton shirts. The first time Rebecca’s name appears in military records she is listed in the Musket Ball Book on August 31, 1778, as having been paid for the production of 500 musket balls. This entry appears on the same page as the name of Elizabeth Ashburn (Betsy Ross). Rebecca Young is listed in military records from 1778 until 1788 having moved to Baltimore and completing a continental standard on July 14 of that year. Over the ten years that she provides military wares she is listed as having produced cartridges, musket balls, shirts, bedding, wires and brushes, drum cases, and hat linings, but most important among her work are the continental standards and garrison flags produced by Rebecca between 1781 and 1788. It is apparent that this was a lucrative part of the military supply trade and she launches an aggressive advertising campaign for her flags in the Pennsylvania Packet on May 26, 1781, and continues placing ads more than 30 times in two years. She is paid between £10 and £26 per flag. Flags were essential for all aspects of military operations and Rebecca Young seized the opportunity to turn her work into a what would become the Baltimore flag making business with her daughter Mary Young Pickersgill, the craftswoman responsible for the creation of the Star-Spangled Banner.