Back in time: An anthem is born

MU students may find themselves remembering important events in American history during constitution week.

Peyton Powell
Staff Writer

“O say can you see”: 203 years ago on this day, the most well-known and patriotic poem was written in the middle of a war. Today, we put this song to music, and we play it at special events such as before a game starts, at a presidential inauguration, or even during times of victorious celebration. This special poem is known as “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and its original poem title was “Defense of Fort McHenry. It was written by Francis Scott Key on September 24th, 1814.

Francis Scott Key was born to parents Ann Phoebe Penn Dagworthy and Captain John Ross Key, a lawyer, judge, and officer in the army, on August 1st, 1779.  In the year 1796, he graduated for St. John’s College, located in Annapolis, MD, and then became a lawyer under his uncle. He then married Mary Tayloe Lloyd on January 1st, 1802.

On the night of September 7th, 1814, during the battle of 1812, Key was a guest of three British officers upon the British ship HMS Tonnant. Key was accompanied on his trip by the British exchange officer Agent Colonel John Stuart Skinner, who dined alongside him and the other guests. Colonel Skinner and Key met to talk about and negotiate the release of some American prisoners, one, named Dr. William Beanes, of which was later released. However, both Skinner and Key, along with Beanes, the prisoner who they negotiated to release, were not allowed to go back to their own sailboat, due to their becoming familiar with the patterns and plans of the British forces intent to attack Baltimore.

Then, on September 13th, the British forces attacked Fort McHenry, in Baltimore, MD, and Key was forced to watch the whole battle unfold from his small window from the ship where he was being held. Since the night was very rainy, Key could not tell if the American flag still stood, and he realized that he would not know how America faired until dawn when everything settled.

The next morning at dawn, when Key looked out his window, he could see the American flag still waving after everything that took place in the previous twenty-four hours. After seeing this, he then became inspired by what he saw and he wrote the poem “Defense of Fort McHenry,” which has four verses, and at the end of each verse he wrote “O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.”

MU students may find themselves remembering important events in American history during constitution week.
MU students may find themselves remembering important events in American history throughout constitution week (Photo courtesy of the National Museum of American History).

Key’s poem was published on September 21st, 1814, in William Pechin’s American and Commercial Daily Advertiser. His poem was then taken to music publisher, Thomas Carr, who adapted the poem into a song and put to the tune of John Stafford Smith’s “To Anacreon in Heaven.” Due to the imagery of the American flag used in the poem, the title was changed from “The Defense of Fort McHenry” to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

About a century after the song was first published, “The Star-Spangled Banner” was adopted as the national anthem by president Woodrow Wilson in 1916 and then was officially proclaimed by congress in 1931 with a signature by Herbert Hoover.

Since the year 1814, “The Star-Spangled Banner” has become a symbol of nationalism and pride of our country and heritage and that can be seen whenever it is played. Francis Scott Key will forever go down in history as a person who helped create our countries identity, and this date will also go down in history as the day that our anthem was created. “O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.”