On Sept. 13, 1814, Francis Scott Key composed a poem that would later become a well-known American tune; in 1931, The Star Spangled Banner was written and put to music, becoming the national anthem of the United States of America.
O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s 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?
The Star Spangled Banner contains four verses, although when commonly heard as a song at special events, typically only the first verse is sung.
Key was born and raised in Maryland, later becoming a lawyer, and was appointed U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.
During the War of 1812, also known as the Second War of American Independence, Key watched Fort McHenry in Maryland get bombarded by the British, and one of the only things to remain was a single American flag.
Inspired, Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner as a poem, which was later put to music, and reflected on “the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.”
Following a series of trade disagreements with Great Britain in June of 1812, America declared war, and in August of the same year, the British burned the White House, the Capitol Building and the Library of Congress. Next on their list was Baltimore, where one of Key’s friends was being held prisoner by the British, according to history.com.
After Key located the ship where his friend, Dr. William Beanes, was being held, Key was able to talk them into releasing him, but the British forbid them both from leaving until after they had bombarded Fort McHenry. As he watched the explosions at the fort from just miles away, it was clear that the British weren’t able to conquer the fort; after they gave up, Key saw the lone flag flying over and wrote a few lines of the poem.
Later, the poem was published in newspapers and eventually set to the tune of an English drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven.”
In 1916, it was requested by President Woodrow Wilson that the Star Spangled Banner be played at all official events, and was officially named the national anthem in 1931.
The very flag that flew over Fort McHenry is archived in the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
As Americans, we hear this song frequently, sometimes on a day-to-day basis, but little do many know the significant events that led up to the creation of the now-famous tune.
Jessica Ricard can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org