September 14, 1814: “Star-Spangled Banner” penned
Betsy Ross, the woman credited with producing the first-ever American flag, is a household name in the U.S. But do you know about the man who penned the iconic national anthem? “The Star-Spangled Banner” may be one of the most treasured songs of the American people today, yet it has a fairly morbid history.
The anthem’s unlikely poet
Most people wouldn’t pin Francis Scott Key as someone who would pen the national anthem. Key grew up in Maryland and went on to become a prominent lawyer, taking on cases in politically-charged locations such as Washington, D.C. The high-profile attorney also expressed a strong discontent for America’s involvement in the war from the beginning of the conflict in 1812. He often used his legal power to attempt to diffuse conflicts rather than promote them. However, due to his political ties in Washington, he still found himself tied up in the U.S. conflict with the British…particularly when his pal got kidnapped.
Witnessing widespread destruction
In early 1814, the British began to do the unthinkable: burn the city of Washington to the ground. To be more specific, they targeted government buildings, such as the Capitol Building and the White House. During these frightening attacks, one of Key’s buddies, physician William Beanes, was captured by a British fleet off the coast of Baltimore. Key ventured to the ship that had kidnapped Beanes to negotiate his release. After all, Key was an attorney, and he knew how to talk negotiations like the back of his hand. Unfortunately, the British wouldn’t let the duo go until after Baltimore’s Fort McHenry was completely demolished. On September 13th, from a ship called Tonnant eight miles away from the action, Key witnessed the bombing, burning, and widespread destruction of Baltimore.
Penning the icon tune
Fortunately, the British were unable to fully overthrow Fort McHenry, and they eventually abandoned their efforts to claim victory. Still, the damage they did was significant. Key was likely certain that the Americans aboard would return to nothing more than rubble onshore. However, when Key jumped off the ship and looked up to the sky, he found that an American flag was still waving over the catastrophic scene. Reflecting on the symbol of resilience, Key penned a brief, emotional poem about the event. This scribbled-down set of lines would go on to become “The Star-Spangled Banner.” After getting published in multiple newspapers and becoming popularized as a bar song, President Wilson brought the tune to the national stage, and the jingle went on to become the national anthem.