The Star Spangled Banner
In 1814, Francis Scott Key pens a poem which later was published in the Baltimore Patriot, and then set to music. The original title was “The Defence of Fort McHenry.” The melody was a popular English drinking song titled “To Anacreon in Heaven,” composed by John Stafford Smith. The song become so popular among Americans that it was soon referred to as “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The popularity was so outstanding that President Woodrow Wilson announced that it should be played at all political events. On March 3, 1931, it was officially adopted as the United States national anthem. The Star-Spangled Banner is one of the most recognizable icons of the United States.
There are some today who wonder why we should have an anthem that depicts such violence. It is apparent that they are sorely unaware of its history, how it came about, and why it’s been cherished by all patriotic American citizens through the years.
It was on June 18, 1812, when America declared war on Great Britain. It happened after a series of trade disagreements that had taken place. In August 1814, Great Britain sent troops to invade Washington, D.C., and to burn down the White House, Capitol Building along with the Library of Congress. Their next target was to hit Baltimore.
In preparations for a British attack, upon the rampart of Fort McHenry stood a three-story-tall flag waving atop a 90-foot flagpole. It’s bold red, white and blue stripes were unmistakable as being the American Flag.
On September 13, 1814, during the War of 1812, there were many British prison ships anchored about a thousand yards from Fort McHenry, off the Baltimore shore. Within the ship’s bowels were anguishing American Patriots, who had been crammed into cells since being captured by the British.
There were prisoners on both sides, the British and the Americans. The American Government went to Britain with a desire to negotiate for the release of these prisoners. They told how they wished to send out a lawyer by the name of Francis Scott Keys to do the negotiating, to see if a mutual exchange could take place.
Key was told that one of his friends, Dr. William Beanes, had been taken prisoner by the British, and was being held captive within one of the prison ships. On the appointed day Key took a rowboat out to negotiate the prisoner’s release with the ship’s officials. It was agreed upon that the men could be exchanged on a one-to-one bases.
Elated that he had been successful, Key rushed down into the hold of the ship to tell the prisoners that their sufferings were about to end. When his eyes adjusted to the dimly lit area, he was appalled at what he saw. There were Patriots crammed together, and having to endure sufferings far beyond description. The stench found within the hold burned the eyes. Knowing the news would bring strength to their souls, he announced they would soon be free, and taken out of their chains and filth to be returned to the colonies.
Returning on deck to speak to the Admiral regarding safe passage for the prisoners, Key was told there was a change of plans. The arrangement would still be honored, however, after tonight it would no longer be needed. Key asked the Admiral what was meant by no longer being needed. The Admiral replied that this night they had given the colonies an ultimatum. Either they lay down the colors of the flag they hold so dear, or they would level Fort McHenry.
Key asked the Admiral how he could do this with the few ships that were at his command. The Admiral brought Key’s attention to the horizon where hundreds of tiny dots could be seen. They were the entire British War fleet, and would arrive in striking distance within a few hours. They were coming to wipe out Fort McHenry, and afterwards the war would be over, and the prisoners would be free anyway.
Key was in shock, and told the Admiral how this is not predominantly a military fort, and within it were women and children. The Admiral assured him that it wouldn’t take long before they would surrender. Once lowering the American flag on the fort’s rampart, the bombing would end. Then all of the colonies would again be under British rule.
When the bombardment started, neither Key nor the men were allowed to leave until after it ended.
Key left the deck, and went down to tell the men what was about to happen. They asked about the ships, were there enough to do as they had threatened? Key replied that there are hundreds. Knowing what being under British rule would mean to the colonies, Key told the men he would shot down to them what is taking place regarding the flag.
While standing on the ship’s deck, Key’s eyes were fixed upon the flag as the bombing campaign unfold. He could barely hear the men calling out, wanting to know where the flag was, and is it still standing. He would shout over the roar of the cannons that the flag could still be seen.
During the attack Key watched as the invading fleet came into view, and then joined the barrage. And yet the flag still did not fall. The Admiral exclaimed that those in the Fort must be insane! Feeling by now nothing should be alive or standing, least of all the flag.
At sunset every ship’s cannons were aimed directly at the rampart, in a consolidated effort to bring it down. Through the darkness of the night a red glow of fire, explosions, and heavy smoke hung over the Fort and water. Seeing the American flag still flying, Key quickly penned a few lines in tribute to what he was witnessing. Nothing could be heard over the roar of the cannons for three hours, though Key still shouted down to the worried men below, that she still stands.
The men in the cells were praying throughout the night that God would please keep their flag standing, and preserve the colonies from being taken over by the British. For if they should lose the war, this would mean enslavement for her citizens, penalty of death for her Patriots, and assuredly the end of America’s freedom.
The next morning Key found the smoke had cleared, and there was a mist hanging over the fort. However, the rampart was tall enough to where they could still see the flag. The pole was now at an awkward angle, but the flag was still at the top. Seeing this, Key kept scribbling a draft of his ballad.
Seeing they were unable to take down Fort McHenry, the British fleet retreated toward Chesapeake Bay.
When all was silent, the prisoners still within the cells, and those who survived within the fort, praised God for He had preserved them throughout the night.
What Key and the others found in Fort McHenry, was a scene of horrible destruction. When looking at the rampart, Key saw that the flag had suffered repetitious direct hits. He was told how patriots within the fort, when seeing the flag starting to lean rush over to hold it up with their bodies. They knew full well how all the guns were aimed at the rampart and flag, but they also knew what it meant if it should fall. When these patriots died they were removed, and others took their place. As Key looked at the flag, tattered and in shreds, his eyes fell to the foot of the flagpole where he saw the bodies of those who sacrificed their lives, in order to keep it standing.
After leaving Fort McHenry, Key acquired a room at the Indian Queen Inn, located on High Street. There he made a fair copy of the lines he had written. As the battle was fresh in his mind, he added the phrases “rockets’ red glare” and “bombs bursting in air.”
Later he showed his work to a friend, who was a well-connected Maryland jurist. A day later a typeset version of the poem came off the press at the Baltimore American. The business still had not yet resumed regular publication after the siege. When Key left, he had not yet titled the piece. However, a few days later the Baltimore Patriot published the poem, bearing the title his friend had given it, “Defense of Fort McHenry.” Later the editor of the publication had noted that the song was destined to outlast the occasion.
At the time little did Key realize how important his poem, and eventually the song would become to the United States of America. Or how cherished it would be to her citizens. Many Patriots and citizens have given their lives, back then and today, to bring about this country. To honor them we sing our anthem in their remembrance, and with pride.
The Star Spangled Banner
O say can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner, O long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation.
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the Heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.'
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
The Pledge of Allegiance
There has been many renditions of the United States Pledge of Allegiance throughout the years.
In 1892 it started out as: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all," as written by the socialist minister Francis Bellamy (1855-1931).
And then in 1923 it was changed to read: "I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
The last change was in 1954, when there was the threat of Communism seeping into our nation. President Eisenhower encouraged Congress to add the words "under God," into the pledge, showing to the world that America is under the protection of Almighty God. This created the 31-word pledge we say today.
"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
Click on the Patriot soldier to return to the 1776 page.