Star Spangled Banner

How many of you have ever been to Baltimore, Maryland? There is a famous historical fort at Baltimore. Do you know the name? Fort McHenry. Do you know what happened there on September 13 and 14th in 1814?
Our nation anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” was born.
Who wrote it? Francis Scott Key.
All countries today have national anthems, but there are only four that are older than ours. The Dutch in Holland have been singing their “William of Nassau” since the 17th century. Great Britain’s subjects have been singing “God Save the Queen” since the mid-18th century. Denmark’s citizens have been harmonizing on theirs since later in the 18th century and Frenchmen have been singing their stirring anthem, “The Marseillaise,” since the end of the 18th century. “The Star Spangled Banner” is next in line, having been written in 1814.
Now, here are some of the details of the writing of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Frances Scott Key was born in Frederick, Maryland. He was educated in the law and for a time practiced law in Baltimore, later moving to Washington. In addition to his legal talents he was a part-time poet.
While he was living in Washington, the war with England known as the “War of 1812” was being waged. The British sent a naval and army force to harass shipping along the East Coast of America and to capture and destroy the cities along the coast. This task force sailed up Chesapeake Bay and landed a force of 5000 soldiers aimed at capturing Washington, D.C.
This force defeated the American Army defending the Capital and captured the city of Washington. They burned the Capitol, the White House and numerous other buildings then withdrew and marched on to capture Baltimore, Maryland. The plan of attack against Baltimore was for the naval vessels to move up to Baltimore and bombard Fort McHenry and at the same time the army was to move up and take the city by land.
While the British plans were being perfected a rather unusual situation presented itself. For some unknown reason when the British army left Washington, they took with them as a prisoner a doctor by the name of William Beanes, and Dr. Beanes was now being held on one of the British battleships.
Now here is where Francis Scott key entered the picture. Dr. Beanes’ friends prevailed on attorney Key to try and effect the release of the good doctor. Francis Scott Key received approval from President Madison to visit the British fleet, and the President assigned a Col. John Skinner to accompany him. Col. Skinner was a prisoner exchange officer with the War Department and had been in contact with the British in handling other exchanges.
Col. Skinner and Francis Scott Key hired a small sloop and sailed out to meet the British fleet. The release of Dr. Beanes was accomplished and the three were about to leave when the British admiral decided that they should be detained until after the bombardment of Fort McHenry, which was about to begin.
The shelling started late in the afternoon and lasted all night. Dr. Beanes, Col. Skinner and Frances Scott Key stood on the deck of a British Man of War all night watching the action. When morning came they were heartened to see the Stars and Stripes still waving over the fort. Key was inspired and jotted down his famous poem.
The storming of the fort and the army attack on land failed, and the British withdrew after releasing Key and his friends. Frances Scott Key showed his poem to some of his Baltimore friends, and they had it printed in handbill form under the name “The Defense of Fort McHenry.” Soon set to music, it began to be sung all over America. It was accepted by the Army and the Navy for playing on all patriotic and ceremonial occasions but was not officially adopted by the Congress as our national anthem until 1931.
Now here is a personal reference to this history lesson. While living in Washington, I went on a business trip by car to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I stopped for lunch at the Francis Scott Key Hotel in Frederick, Maryland. This was a historical building, and a plaque stated that Francis Scott Key frequently stopped at this hotel and that his poem had been recited and sung here by Key himself as his visited his home town.Several years later, my wife and our two daughters were in nearby West Virginia to attend an afternoon wedding and since our family has always been attracted to historical places and things, I suggested we drive over to Maryland and have dinner at the Francis Scott Key Inn. It was agreed. Our order for dinner was mostly chicken, by my daughter Shirley Ann ordered a Rocky Mountain trout, something she had never tried, before. When the trout came, it was baked whole, head and all. Shirley looked at the trout and the trout looked back at her! She said, “When I ordered this trout, I didn’t know he was going to stare at me while I tried to eat him.”
I carefully folded a napkin and made a cap for the trout and pulled it down over his eye. But it was no use. She did not want any part of the trout, so I ended up eating the trout while she ate my order of roast chicken. So now when I hear “The Star Spangled Banner,” I think of the Francis Scott Key Inn and a baked trout with a melancholy gleam in his eye.

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