Francis Scott Key and the Star Spangled Banner

Francis Scott Key is famous for writing the words to the Star Spangled Banner, while the Battle of Baltimore is waged in his sight. However, the story behind the song and the flag that inspired the Anthem is an interesting one.

Francis Scott Key was born in Maryland on August 1, 1779 at the family plantation Terra Rubra. The family was financial secure with Key’s father being a Captain in the Continental Army, a lawyer and a judge. When it was time for Francis Scott Key to determine a career path, he decided to follow in the footsteps of his father by studying law in St John’s College in Maryland.

As a Baltimore based Lawyer during the War of 1812, Key was invited to meet with the British troops to negotiate the release of an American prisoner. Key was successful in gaining the prisoners release and Key was allowed to go back to his ship. But the British would not let him go back to Baltimore, because he had seen what the British plans were and ship formations for their attack of Baltimore. 

During the night of September 14, 1814, Key was only able to watch from his ship as the British Navy attacked the American base at Fort McHenry. The attack continued through the night and ended on September 15, 1814. When the attack finally ended, Key was able to observe the smoke clearing and the flag that was flying at Fort McHenry was still waving, meaning that the Americans were still in command of the fort. When he was allowed to go back to Baltimore, he wrote a poem called “The Defence of Fort McHenry”, in which he described the scene. This poem was put with music and in 1816 the United States adopted “The Star Spangled Banner” as the National Anthem of the U.S.

The original flag that was flown at Fort McHenry is still in existence, however it is in extremely poor condition. Over the years the United States has worked to restore the flag, which has remained on display at the Smithsonian Museum. At Fort McHenry, during the day they fly a replica of the large Garrison Flag, and replace it at night and during bad weather with a smaller storm flag. The fort takes the story of the flag seriously, and does an extensive people search to find park rangers that can explain the story properly to visitors of the fort. The original size of the flag was 42 feet by 30 feet, with 15 stars, and was made in anticipation of the Battle of Baltimore. The mayor of the city wanted a large U.S. flag to fly in the fort as a show of strength to the British. After the end of the British attack, the flag was severely damaged and tattered and now on measures 34 feet by 30 feet.

Despite the relentless attack on Fort McHenry throughout the night, the British were not able to take control of the fort from the American Army. Because the Fort remained in U.S. control, the British were not able to continue on to the City of Baltimore. This was a crucial part of the United States defense of the mainland and eventually helped turn the tide of the war.

Because of the sights and sounds of the Battle of Baltimore that Francis Scott Key witnessed, he penned a poem that has turned into one of the most inspirational songs in history. Meanwhile, the flag that remained flying at Fort McHenry has also become a symbol of American strength and determination. That flag will be preserved and hopefully remain a visible symbol of America for generations to come.