Please join Aero Jet Medical Air Ambulance Authority in wishing a happy 200th birthday to The National Anthem of the United States of America. While almost all Americans know that it was written by Francis Scott Key, many do not know the history behind the Anthem.
In the early 1810s the United States was engaged in a conflict with Great Britain over the British restriction of U.S. trade rights with France and the imprisonment of U.S. sailors. Ultimately, on June 18, 1812, President Madison signed a measure that had been passed by both houses of Congress, declaring war with Great Britain and thus the war of 1812 began.
In August, 1814 the British captured Washington, D.C. and took as prisoner a prominent physician named William Beanes. A young yet well-known lawyer named Francis Scott Key was asked to assist in negotiating Beanes’ release, and together with Col. John Skinner was successful in doing so. The three men were not permitted to leave the Chesapeake Bay area immediately but were instead held aboard their ship while Ft. McHenry was bombarded beginning on Sept. 13.
A year prior to this bombardment the commanding officer of Ft. McHenry, Maj. George Armistead, had commissioned a giant U.S. flag to be made for the fort by Mary Young Pickersgill and her daughter, Caroline. Maj. Armistead wanted this huge flag, which measured 30 ft. by 42 ft., to be clearly visible to the British Navy.
Despite over 24 hours of continual bombardment, the British were not able to destroy the fort. When morning came Key saw the flag was still flying. Besides being a lawyer, Key was an amateur poet, and upon seeing the flag he immediately began to write a poem based on what he had seen during the bombardment. He finished the poem, which he called “Defence of Fort McHenry” within a few days and gave it to his brother-in-law, Judge J. H. Nicholson.
Nicholson realized that the words fit the popular melody “The Anacreontic Song”, the official song of the Anacreontic Society, an 18th-century gentlemen’s club of amateur musicians in London, written by English composer John Stafford Smith. Nicholson took it to a printer and copies were circulated around Baltimore. A note was added to the verses that read “Tune: Anacreon in Heaven.”
In October a Baltimore actor put Key’s poem to the referenced tune in a public performance and called it “The Star-Spangled Banner”. It went on to become a popular patriotic tune and on March 3, 1931, was officially adopted as our National Anthem.
The flag that survived the battle and inspired the poem has since become known as the Star Spangled Banner Flag. It is now on display in the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History.
Information for this entry was derived from the following sources: