Tracking The Star-Spangled Banner Trail


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     Giant Americna Flag

    Mary Pickersgill, a Baltimore banner maker, was hired to stitch a giant flag (30- by 42-feet). It was so large it had to be constructed on the floor of Brown's Brewery. She enlisted the help of others, including her indentured servant, Grace Wisher, a black teenager. Her home has been converted into the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House ( that's open to the public. You can see the tribute to Wisher and others, along with artifacts and displays that depict that intensive period.

    Mary Pickersgill picture

    Mary Pickersgill produced the flag of 1812.


    Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine ( brings the War of 1812 alive with activities, tours, drum and fife performances, cannon firings, costumed soldiers and sailors, ranger talks and the unfurling of a large replica flag (17- by 20 feet). "The flag meant hope and salvation," says Ranger Jim Bailey. "Changing the flag is one of the coolest things we do here."

    silhouette is of Grace Wisher

    This silhouette is of Grace Wisher, the black indentured servant of
    Mary Pickersgill, who helped stitch the flag. 


    The War of 1812


    It occurred between the better-known Revolutionary and Civil Wars. But as it happened, the British were attacking young America again. They had already torched the White House, causing President James Madison and his wife, Dolly, to flee. Their next target was Baltimore.

    Star Spangled Banner House was once the home of Mary Pickersgill.
    The Star Spangled Banner House was once the home of Mary Pickersgill.


    As we know, in 1812, Blacks were still enslaved. Although in Baltimore, many African Americans were skilled freemen who worked in important trades, such as sail makers, carpenters, riggers, naval mechanics, ship builders, and others. The calamity of war impacted their lives, too. So, when the British attacked Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore on September 12, 1814, twenty percent of the ordinary citizens who fought alongside the militia were free and enslaved Blacks. Amazingly, those ordinary men defeated the most powerful naval fleet in the world.

    Signage at Fort McHenry overlooks the area where the Battle of Baltimore took place.
    Signage at Fort McHenry overlooks the area where the Battle of Baltimore took place.


    That battle will forever be remembered in our national anthem. Francis Scott Key, who penned the lyrics, witnessed the encounter while being held on a British vessel. The next morning, when through the mist, he saw the United States' flag flying, he knew which side had been victorious. His original manuscript is on display in the Maryland Historical Society, located in Baltimore.

    The city of Baltimore.
    The city of Baltimore.


    Key was a successful lawyer who dabbled in poetry. "The Star-Spangled Banner" is said to be his best work. It was the public who set the words to an old drinking ditty. But when Key wrote the phrase, "the land of the free," he wasn't referring to everybody, because he was a slave-owner and an anti-abolitionist. The third verse malevolently mentions the slaves who went over to the enemy's side. Nevertheless, the flag stood (and still stands) as a symbol for a country with ideals of liberty for all.


    Southern Maryland


    The war flowed south through the counties of Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's. Travelers can follow the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail of 100 miles, stopping to enjoy events and view places that were plundered, burned and/or destroyed. On plantations, slaves escaped; some joining the British navy, others finding refuge with Indian tribes. Of the 4,000 Blacks who fled with the invaders, about 2,400 relocated to Canada or Trinidad as free people. The author's daughter-in-law, Joelle McDaniel, who's from Trinidad, remembers school lessons about the "Merikans" who settled on the island at that time.

    Charles Ball was a slave who fought on the American side
    Charles Ball was a slave who fought on the American side in the
    War of 1812. He was returned to bondage after the war.


    In an exhibit at Jefferson Patterson Park (, you'll learn about Charles Ball, a local slave who escaped and enlisted with the US Chesapeake Flotilla. After the war and after fighting for the nation's freedom, he was returned to slavery.


    Travel to St. Mary's County to visit Sotterley Plantation ( that was built in the early 1700s by an Englishman, James Bowles. The property of 2,000 acres was near the Patuxent River. It is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is open to the public year-round  


    During the War of 1812, it served as a mustering station for the American militia, and when it was invaded by the Redcoats, many slaves escaped. Nevertheless, not every slave chose the freedom that the British offered, but the four who did, returned later to free 48 more.

    Agnes Lightfoot, of Florida, is a direct descendant of slaves at Sotterley Plantation.
    Agnes Lightfoot, of Florida, is a direct descendant of slaves at Sotterley Plantation.


    Agnes Lightfoot, a resident of Palm Coast, Florida, has documents that prove that her ancestors were slaves on Sotterley Plantation. Her late mother, Agnes Kane Callum, who resided in Baltimore, had researched the family's genealogy back to Sotterley. Mrs. Callum discovered that Raphael Cane (notice the change in spelling) was brought to Sotterley and his son, Henry, was born there in 1860.


    Owner Dr. John Hanson Bristol kept careful records, and listed the first and last names of his slaves. Once emancipated, some of the family left, but many stayed on as servants. Through due diligence, Mrs. Callum was instrumental in having the slave cabin restored. Because of her research and dedication, she was elected to the Sotterley Board of Trustees, and, after retiring, was named Trustee Emeritus.


    The War of 1812 lasted for three years, but Maryland will continue to celebrate its part in that history. 



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    I recently learned of a FTC law requiring web sites to let their readers know if any of the stories are "sponsored" or compensated.  American Roads and Global Highways' feature writers are professional travel writers. As such we are frequently invited on press trips, also called fam trips. Most of the articles here are results of these trips. On these trips most of our lodging, dining, admissions fees and often plane fare are covered by the city or firm hosting the trip. It is an opportunity to visit places we might not otherwise be able to visit and bring you a great story. However, no one tells us what to write about those places. All opinions are 100% those of the author of that feature column.  

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