Francis Scott Key penned the words to the US National Anthem after watching the bombardment for 25 hours and seeing “Bombs bursting in air, missiles, so much debris, he strained to see. Was the flag still there? He couldn’t see a thing. All night long, he couldn’t. At the crack of dawn, he ran out to the banister, and he looked, straining his eyes, but all he could see was dust and debris, and then there was a clearing, and he beheld the most beautiful sight he had ever seen: The torn and tattered stars and stripes, still waving.”
During the War of 1812, Key, accompanied by the British Prisoner Exchange Agent Colonel John Stuart Skinner, dined aboard the British ship HMS Tonnant, as the guests of three British officers: Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane, Rear Admiral George Cockburn, and Major General Robert Ross. Skinner and Key were there to negotiate the release of prisoners, one of whom was Dr. William Beanes, a resident of Upper Marlboro, Maryland who had been arrested after jailing marauding British troops who were looting local farms. The town feared Dr. Beanes would be hanged so they asked attorney Francis Scott Key to sail with Colonel John Skinner under a flag of truce to the British flagship Tonnant in order to arrange a prisoner exchange.
Skinner, Key, and Beanes were not allowed to return to their own sloop because they had become familiar with the strength and position of the British units and with the British intent to attack Baltimore. The British placed Francis Scott Key and Colonel Skinner under armed guard aboard the H.M.S. Surprise. They were transferred to a sloop where they watched 19 British ships fire continuously for 25 hours over 1,800 cannon balls, rockets and mortar shells at the earthen Fort McHenry. Fort McHenry was named for Secretary of War James McHenry, who had signed the Declaration of Independence. His son, John McHenry, fought in the battle.
During the Battle of Fort McHenry, the citizens of Baltimore extinguished every light in every window so that the British would not be able to use them to get their aim. A thunderstorm providentially blew in and rained so hard the ground was softened, allowing most of the cannon balls to sink in the mud. With the darkness broken by lightning and the new exploding cannon balls, Francis Scott Key saw the dramatic scene of “bombs bursting in air.” On the morning of Sept. 14, 1814, “through the dawn’s early light,” Key saw the flag still flying.
At 7 a.m. that morning, a 30′ x 42′ flag (made by Mary Young Pickersgill, a “maker of colors,” and her thirteen year old daughter Caroline, who were commissioned by 2 officers of Maj. George Armistead who had asked the previous summer for a flag so big that “the British would have no trouble seeing it from a distance”), the British bombardment began, and the flag was ready to meet the enemy. The bombardment continued for 25 hours, the British firing 1,500 bombshells that weighed as much as 220 pounds and carried lighted fuses that would supposedly cause it to explode when it reached its target. But they weren’t very dependable and often blew up in mid air. From special small boats the British fired the new Congreve rockets that traced wobbly arcs of red flame across the sky. The Americans had sunk 22 vessels so a close approach by the British was not possible. That evening the cannonading stopped, but at about 1 a.m. on the 14th, the British fleet roared to life, lighting the rainy night sky with grotesque fireworks.
Key, Col. Skinner, and Dr. Beanes watched the battle with apprehension. They knew that as long as the shelling continued, Fort McHenry had not surrendered. But, long before daylight there came a sudden and mysterious silence. What the three Americans did not know was that the British land assault on Baltimore as well as the naval attack, had been abandoned. Judging Baltimore as being too costly a prize, the British officers ordered a retreat.
Waiting in the predawn darkness, Key waited for the sight that would end his anxiety; the joyous sight of Gen. Armisteads great flag blowing in the breeze. When at last daylight came, the flag was still there!
Being an amatuer poet and having been so uniquely inspired, Key began to write on the back of a letter he had in his pocket. Sailing back to Baltimore he composed more lines and in his lodgings at the Indian Queen Hotel he finished the poem. Judge J. H. Nicholson, his brother-in-law, took it to a printer and copies were circulated around Baltimore under the title “Defence of Fort M’Henry”. Two of these copies survive. It was printed in a newspaper for the first time in the Baltimore Patriot on September 20th,1814, then in papers as far away as Georgia and New Hampshire. To the verses was added a Tune: “Anacreon in Heaven” by music publisher, Thomas Carr. In October a Baltimore actor sang Key’s new song in a public performance and called it “The Star-Spangled Banner”.
Immediately popular, it remained just one of several patriotic airs until it was finally adopted as our national anthem on March 3, 1931. But the actual words were not included in the legal documents. Key himself had written several versions with slight variations so discrepancies in the exact wording still occur.
The flag, our beloved Star-Spangled Banner, went on view, for the first time after flying over Fort McHenry, on January 1st, 1876 at the Old State House in Philadelphia for the nations’ Centennial celebration. It now resides in the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History. An opaque curtain shields the now fragile flag from light and dust. The flag is exposed for viewing for a few moments once every hour during museum hours.
Francis Scott Key was a witness to the last enemy fire to fall on Fort McHenry. The Fort was designed by a Frenchman named Jean Foncin and was named for then Secretary of war James McHenry. Fort McHenry holds the unique designation of national monument and historic shrine.
Since May 30th, 1949 the flag has flown continuously, by a Joint Resolution of Congress, over the monument marking the site of Francis Scott Key’s birthplace, Terra Rubra Farm, Carroll County, Keymar, Maryland.
The first verse is well-known, but the fourth verse had an even more enduring affect, as it contained a phrase which became the United States’ national motto:
O thus be it ever when free men shall stand,
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation;
Blest with victory and peace, may the Heaven-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,
Over the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Americans honor the flag, as it is the symbol of the “republic for which it stands.”
A “republic” is where the people are king, ruling through their representatives–their public servants. When someone dishonors the flag, what they are saying is they no longer want to be king, they no longer want to participate in ruling themselves, they want someone else to control their lives!
Francis Scott Key had actually reworked a previous song he had written nine years earlier to celebrate the American victory over the Muslim Barbary pirates titled “When the Warrior Returns from Battle Afar,” 1805:
In the conflict resistless, each toil they endured,
Till their foes shrunk dismay’d from the war’s desolation,
And pale beam’d the Crescent, its splendour obscured
By the light of the star-spangled flag of our nation.
Where, each radiant star gleam’d a meteor of war,
And the turban’d heads bow’d to the terrible glare;
Then mix’d with the olive the laurel did wave,
And form’d a bright wreath for the brows of the brave.
Muslim pirates had enslaved an estimated 180 million Africans and over a million Europeans. Virtually every African slave brought to America had been purchased from Muslim slave markets.Those intent on removing reminders of past groups which participated in enslaving Africans must, by extension, remove Islamic symbols.
After the Battle of Fort McHenry, President James Madison proclaimed, Nov. 16, 1814: “The national legislature having by a Joint Resolution expressed their desire that in the present time of public calamity and war a day may be recommended to be observed by the people of the United States as a day of public humiliation and fasting and of prayer to Almighty God for the safety and welfare of these States, His blessing on their arms, and a speedy restoration of peace. … I … recommend … offering … humble adoration to the Great Sovereign of the Universe, of confessing their sins and transgressions, and of strengthening their vows of repentance … that He would be graciously pleased to pardon all their offenses against Him … that He would in a special manner preside over the nation … giving success to its arms.”
Remembering American history is necessary to counteract a communist tactic of deconstruction, which is:
- say negative things about a country’s founders so people emotionally detach from them
- then the people are moved into a neutral position where they don’t remember where they came from
- then they can be easily brainwashed into the communist future planned for them
Francis Scott Key labored for seven years before the Supreme Court to free 300 African slaves from the ship Antelope captured off the coast of Florida in 1820.
Jonathan M. Bryant wrote in “Dark Places of the Earth: The Voyage of the Slave Ship Antelope” (2015): “Most startling of all, Key argued … that all men were created equal. … If the United States had captured a ship full of white captives, Key asked, would not our courts assume them to be free? How could it be any different simply because the captives were black?”
In 1841, two years before his death, Francis Scott Key helped former President John Quincy Adams free 53 African slaves in the Amistad case. Francis Scott Key became a board member of the American Sunday School Union and the American Bible Society.
He told the Washington Society of Alexandria, March 22, 1814: “The patriot who feels himself in the service of God, who acknowledges Him in all his ways, has the promise of Almighty direction, and will find His Word in his greatest darkness, ‘a lantern to his feet and a lamp unto his paths.’ … He will therefore seek to establish for his country in the eyes of the world, such a character as shall make her not unworthy of the name of a Christian nation.”
Francis Scott Key wrote a detailed account of the Battle of Fort McHenry to Thomas Jefferson’s cousin, John Randolph, Oct. 5, 1814. John Randolph was a U.S. Congressman from Virginia who went on to become a U.S. Senator, 1825-1828. President Andrew Jackson appointed John Randolph as U.S. Minister to Russia, 1830.
Francis Scott Key shared his faith with John Randolph: “May I always hear that you are following the guidance of that blessed Spirit that will ‘lead you into all truth,’ leaning on that Almighty arm that has been extended to deliver you, trusting only in the only Savior, and ‘going on’ in your way to Him ‘rejoicing.’”
Rep. John Randolph wrote to Francis Scott Key, Sept. 7, 1818 (Hugh A. Garland, “The Life of John Randolph of Roanoke,” New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1853, Vol. II, p. 99): “I am at last reconciled to my God and have assurance of His pardon through faith in Christ, against which the very gates of hell cannot prevail. Fear hath been driven out by perfect love.”
In 1817, John Randolph was one of the founders of the “The Society for the Colonization of Free People of Color of America” which helped found the country of Liberia, West Africa, in 1821-22.
John Randolph wrote to Francis Scott Key, May 3, 1819, (Hugh A. Garland, “The Life of John Randolph of Roanoke,” New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1853, Vol. II, p. 106): “I still cling to the cross of my Redeemer, and with God’s aid firmly resolve to lead a life less unworthy of one who calls himself the humble follower of Jesus Christ.”
Rep. John Randolph made Francis Scott Key the executor of his will. In his will of 1819, John Randolph arranged for all his slaves to be freed after his death, writing: “I give and bequeath to all my slaves their freedom, heartily regretting that I have ever been the owner of one.”
In his will of 1822, John Randolph also provided money for transportation, supplies and the purchase of land for his freed slaves to settle in the free State of Ohio. Each slave above the age of 40 was to receive 10 acres of land. Randolph’s will was challenged in court but after a lengthy battle it was upheld.
The 383 former “Randolph Slaves” arrived in Cincinnati in 1846. They overcame many difficulties and local prejudices, and eventually settled Rossville, Ohio, near the town of Piqua. In Rossville and Piqua, they established Cyrene African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1853, Second Baptist Church in 1857, an African Baptist Church in 1869, and a Jackson African Cemetery in 1866.
In their Jackson African Cemetery, founded in 1866, one of the gravestones has engraved on it: “Born A Slave – Died Free.”
From this settlement came some of the first African-Americans to serve in the U.S. military during the Civil War.
Rep. John Randolph wrote to John Brockenbrough, Aug. 25, 1818 (“Collected Letters of John Randolph of Roanoke to Dr. John Brockenbrough,” Kenneth Shorey, editor, New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1988, p. 17): “I have thrown myself, reeking with sin, on the mercy of God, through Jesus Christ His blessed Son and our (yes, my friend, our) precious Redeemer; and I have assurances as strong as that I now owe nothing to your rank that the debt is paid and now I love God – and with reason. I once hated him – and with reason, too, for I knew not Christ. The only cause why I should love God is His goodness and mercy to me through Christ.”
In a rousing account of one of the critical turning points in American history, Through the Perilous Fight tells the gripping story of the burning of Washington and the improbable last stand at Baltimore that helped save the nation and inspired its National Anthem.
In the summer of 1814, the United States of America teetered on the brink of disaster. The war it had declared against Great Britain two years earlier appeared headed toward inglorious American defeat. The young nation’s most implacable nemesis, the ruthless British Admiral George Cockburn, launched an invasion of Washington in a daring attempt to decapitate the government and crush the American spirit. The British succeeded spectacularly, burning down most of the city’s landmarks—including the White House and the Capitol—and driving President James Madison from the area. As looters ransacked federal buildings and panic gripped the citizens of Washington, beleaguered American forces were forced to regroup for a last-ditch defense of Baltimore. The outcome of that “perilous fight” would help change the outcome of the war—and with it, the fate of the fledgling American republic.
In a fast-paced, character-driven narrative, Steve Vogel tells the story of this titanic struggle from the perspective of both sides. Like an epic novel, Through the Perilous Fight abounds with heroes, villains, and astounding feats of derring-do. The vindictive Cockburn emerges from these pages as a pioneer in the art of total warfare, ordering his men to “knock down, burn, and destroy” everything in their path. While President Madison dithers on how to protect the capital, Secretary of State James Monroe personally organizes the American defenses, with disastrous results. Meanwhile, a prominent Washington lawyer named Francis Scott Key embarks on a mission of mercy to negotiate the release of an American prisoner. His journey will place him with the British fleet during the climactic Battle for Baltimore, and culminate in the creation of one of the most enduring compositions in the annals of patriotic song: “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Like Pearl Harbor or 9/11, the burning of Washington was a devastating national tragedy that ultimately united America and renewed its sense of purpose. Through the Perilous Fight combines bravura storytelling with brilliantly rendered character sketches to recreate the thrilling six-week period when Americans rallied from the ashes to overcome their oldest adversary—and win themselves a new birth of freedom.
Nearly every American knows The Star-Spangled Banner, the national anthem of the United States of America. Yet many people dislike the song, contend that it glorifies militarism, and question its suitability as the musical embodiment of nationhood. Even professional vocalists have trouble singing the multi-octave melody and remembering the words. So why in 1931 did Congress designate it as the official national anthem, more than a century after Francis Scott Key put pen to paper?
Filled with fascinating, little-known facts drawn from a variety of primary sources, Star-Spangled Banner provides the first narrative history of this controversial song, which turns 200 years old in 2014. Marc Ferris’s lively account, which traces the evolution of the song’s instant popularity as well as its use and abuse by Americans of different political stripes, also explains the changing rituals surrounding the song, including the practice of standing―with hats removed and hand held over the heart―during public performances.
This entertaining book will appeal to patriots of all persuasions, along with sports fans, musicians, veterans, history buffs, and anyone who has ever struggled to hit the high notes in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
What So Proudly We Hailed is the first full-length biography of Francis Scott Key in more than 75 years. In this fascinating look at early America, historian Marc Leepson explores the life and legacy of Francis Scott Key. Standing alongside Betsy Ross, Thomas Paine, Patrick Henry, Paul Revere, and John Hancock in history, Key made his mark as an American icon by one single and unforgettable act, writing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Among other things, Leepson reveals:
• How the young Washington lawyer found himself in Baltimore Harbor on the night of September 13-14, 2014
• The mysterious circumstances surrounding how the poem he wrote, first titled “The Defense of Ft. M’Henry,” morphed into the National Anthem
• Key’s role in forming the American Colonization Society, and his decades-long fervent support for that controversial endeavor that sent free blacks to Africa
• His adamant opposition to slave trafficking and his willingness to represent slaves and freed men and women for free in Washington’s courts
• Key’s role as a confidant of President Andrew Jackson and his work in Jackson’s “kitchen cabinet”
• Key’s controversial actions as U.S. Attorney during the first race riot in Washington, D.C., in 1835.
Published to coincide with the 200th anniversary of “The Star Spangled Banner” in 2014, What So Proudly We Hailed reveals unexplored details of the life of an American patriot whose legacy has been largely unknown until now.
Due to careful research, Spier’s artwork depicts “the dawn’s early light” and “the rocket’s red glare” with remarkable authenticity and detail in this celebratory book. Among the highlights: a brief history of the anthem, a reproduction of Francis Scott Key’s original manuscript, music for guitar and piano chords and many photographs.
A Child Study Children’s Book Committee: Children’s Book of the Year, An American Bookseller Pick of the Lists.