The Star Spangled Banner
(Our National Anthem)


In the War of 1812, it was at the battle for the harbor, Fort McHenry, and the city of Baltimore that the poem, "The Defense of Fort McHenry" was written by Francis Scott Key. It was on the night of September 13, 1814. The poem later became our national anthem which is called the Star Spangled Banner.

British Admiral George Cochrane began a bombardment of the harbor and Fort McHenry at dawn on September 13th. This bombing lasted 24 hours and produced a spectacular light show in the night sky. (The show was probably much like our 4th of July fireworks shows). Francis Scott Key watched this show from his ship, the Minden, where he was being held captive until the bombardment was finished. Key was so inspired by the fireworks in the sky and the sight of our flag still standing over Fort McHenry that he wrote the poem.

Francis Scott Key, a young lawyer from Georgetown, was in the area to get the release of his friend, Dr. Beanes from the British. Dr. Beanes had led a local citizen group which jailed British soldiers. He was arrested and charged with attacking a British soldier with his pistol. After his capture, Dr. Beanes was taken aboard the British ship, Surprise, which was anchored in the Baltimore harbor.

When Francis Scott key heard about this arrest, he and another friend, John S. Skinner, brought a note with them from President James Madison to get Dr. Beanes released. Admiral Cochrane didn’t want to listen to Key’s arguments. But Key finally convinced the British Admiral to spare Dr. Beanes’ life because he had always given wounded British soldiers very good care.

Because Key, Skinner, and Beanes had seen the British fleet preparing for the attack. Admiral Cochrane would not allow them to return to land. He was afraid they would tell the American army about the British plans. So, he ordered the three men back to their ship, the Minden, to stay until after the attack.

While on the Minden in the harbor, Key watched the battle and the lights in the sky. By the dawn’s early light, Key could still see the stars and stripes of our flag flying over the fort. Fort McHenry had not fallen. At that moment Key began to write his poem which he finished later that night at his hotel, the Indian Queen Hotel.

Key’s brother-in-law, Judge Joseph H. Nicholsen, had the poem set in type and printed. Judge Nicholsen suggested that the poem could be sung to the tune of "Anacreon in Heaven", a song composed in England in the 1770's and sung across America in taverns. By 1889 it had become the unofficial national anthem. On March 3, 1931 the United States Congress proclaimed "The Star Spangled Banner" as the official national anthem of the United States of America.

 Student Activity

Now that you know about our national anthem, it is time for you to do some activities. Here are three activites for you to do.

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