Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail
#onthisday January 6, 1809 – Ten-year-old African American Grace Wisher entered into a six-year indentured contract with Mary Pickersgill to "learn the art and mystery of Housework and plain sewing.”
Grace had been indentured as an apprentice by her mother, Jenny Wisher, who was a free African American. The terms of Grace’s indenture were fairly standard, with Mary promising to provide food, shelter, and clothing, and to teach Grace “the art of Housework and plain sewing.” Mary also promised to pay Grace’s mother $12 at the beginning and end of the indenture, and in exchange, Grace promised to faithfully serve and obey Mary for six years.
Up until 1817, the law required that apprentices receive at least a rudimentary education during their indenture, but this provision was often ignored when it came to African American children. Additionally, some indenture arrangements substituted a cash payment in the place of educational instruction. Grace’s indenture contract did not require Mary to provide reading and writing instruction. In contrast, Mary Pickersgill did promise to provide such an education to her white apprentice in 1814, 13-year-old Mary Ann Martin.
Grace’s work would have included household chores, such as food preparation, laundry, and cleaning, and she likely performed this alongside the one enslaved person, who was likely a woman known to be part of the Pickersgill household.
Since the indenture terms meant that Grace would have also participated in sewing activities, it is widely believed that Grace assisted in the creation of the Star-Spangled Banner flag in 1813. At this point, Grace would have been five years into her apprenticeship, and Pickersgill most likely would have drawn upon her skills to assist in such a massive undertaking.
Learn more: https://www.nps.gov/fomc/learn/historyculture/grace-wisher.htm
Fort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine
The Star-Spangled Banner Flag House
National Museum of American History