Francis Scott Key

Francis Scott Key

The Author of the National Anthem

  • Dr. William Beanes

    An American named Dr. Beanes, who had once been a friend to many British soldiers, noticed some soldiers hanging around after their attack on Washington were causing trouble and making a mess. He called for their arrest, only to be captured by British soldiers in retaliation, who imprisoned him on a British ship miles off the coast of Baltimore, Maryland.
  • Francis Scott Key

    A lawyer named Francis Scott Key, a father of eleven children originally from Georgetown, Virginia, was asked to negotiate for Dr. Beanes release from the British. Boarding a ship called the HMS Minden, he and another lawyer, John Skinner, sailed into the harbor with a white flag of surrender flying. They feared for their safety but were allowed to board the British ship in peace. General Ross with the British listened as Key and Skinner showed Dr. Beanes kindness to British soldiers. Ross agreed to his release. But while aboard the ship, Key and Skinner had heard too much! The British were planning to attack Fort McHenry, and General Ross couldn’t risk these two American lawyers giving up their plan.
  • September 13th

    By the morning of September 13th, 1814, the battle had begun. Cannons firing, bombs exploding, smoke filling the sky – it was a brutal battle, lasting for nearly 25 hours. Francis Scott Key and his companions found themselves anxiously watching from miles away on a British ship as their beloved America was attacked, wondering what the outcome would be.

    Have you ever been worried while you wait for the outcome of an event – a sports match, a thrilling movie, or an exciting game? How do you feel in those situations?

  • September 14th

    The morning of September 14th, the smoke was finally beginning to clear, and the sun began to rise, casting its light across the water. From miles away, trapped in the British ship, Francis Scott Key could just make out an outline of a flag flying through the hazy light. Which flag was it? The beautiful stars and stripes of the American flag were there – the Americans had not surrendered! They were victorious! Key was so overcome by his great joy and relief that he began to write a poem that would live on for years to come as the national anthem of his great country.

    When you feel scared or nervous, what do you do? Does it help you to pray, sing a song, talk to God, or write about your feelings while you wait?

Francis Scott Key was finally released from the ship and brought his poem home to finish. He wrote four verses although most Americans only know one, the first verse.

Soon, his poem was published in the paper under its first title, “The Defence of Fort McHenry.” The first performance of the poem set to music was in a theater in Baltimore in October of 1814. It was finally published with music with the name we know today, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” This patriotic saong became extremely popular in the 19th century, especially during the Civil War, when many Americans sang it to remind them of their shared beliefs and the ideals it represented for their country. In 1917, the United States Army and Navy declared the song the unofficial national anthem. In March of 1931, after years of campaigns to recognize it officially, President Herbert Hoover signed into law “The Star-Spangled Banner” as our country’s national anthem.

The Star Spangled Banner

  • How it was heard in 1854: From the Smithsonian Museum of American History, this 19th century version (MP3) of the Star-Spangled Banner is from the Smithsonian’s website and collection. According to the Smithsonian’s website, this recording of the National Anthem is performed on original instruments from the National Museum of American History’s collection and played as it would have been heard in 1854. The music is arranged by G. W. E. Friederich.