Mary was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on February 12, 1776. Her father, William Young, died two years after her birth. Rebecca Young, Mary's mother, supported herself and her family by making flags in Philadelphia and later in Baltimore. Mary undoubtedly teamed her skills from her mother, and she followed in Rebecca's footsteps as a flagmaker.
Mary was married to John Pickersgill on October 2, 1795 when she was nineteen years old. The couple moved to Philadelphia and four children were born to them. Only one daughter, Caroline, survived. Caroline was born June 12, 1800 in Philadelphia. John Pickersgill went to London on business for the United States Government where he worked for the "British Claims Office." John died in London on June 14. 1805. As a young widow, Mary moved to "the flag house" in 1807 with both her daughter, Caroline (then seven years old) and her mother (then seventy-four years old).
She chose the work she knew best to support herselfsewing and flagmaking. The neighborhood was convenient to the bustling waterfront and she advertised in Baltimore City Directories as a maker of "Ships Colours, Signals, etc." Because of her skills and her known patriotic zeal, she was asked to make a flag for Fort McHenry in 1813 by Commodore Joshua Barney and General John Stricker. In fact, she made two flags for the fort-- one a storm flag, and the other a huge banner30' by 42'. This large flag, when finished became "the largest battle flag" or army flag, ever made. This flag was destined also to bring fame to Mary Pickersgill. Francis Scott Key was inspired seeing it "in the dawn's early light" to write the poem which set to music became our national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Mary Pickersgill worked long and hard hours to support her family and prospered enough to buy the house she had been renting. An early account states that Mary was very popular in the society of her time, and her home was the scene of many happy entertainments. She was considered a woman of charm, culture and personality, vivacious and public-spirited. She did not possess much wealth but was certainly part of the middle class social structure.
There is evidence of her care and concern for others. In January 1802, the "Impartial Humane Female Society" was organized to find employment and to provide funds for widows and deserted wives. In 1850, Mary Pickersgill became president of the Society and a home was established for five women. Because of her efforts, the "Society" was enlarged, its activities increased, and Mary is credited as the first Baltimore woman to direct a charity organization. Today in Towson, Maryland, Pickersgill, Inc. is visible proof of her efforts.
Mary Pickersgill died in her home on October 4, 1857 at the age of 81. She is buried alongside her daughter, Caroline, and her so-in-law, John Purdy, in Loudon Park Cemetery, Baltimore. Caroline did not have any children, so there are no direct descendants of Mary Pickersgill. She is described in notes after her death in the following manner: