George Washington by Gilbert Stuart

“The Star-Spangled Banner”

The National Anthem


On September 13, 1814, Francis Scott Key watched from sea as the British attacked Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. Smoke and fire filled the sky throughout the night as the battle went on. He was shocked to see that, the next morning, the American flag remained flying from the fort, a sign of an American victory. In his awe, he wrote the initial verse of the poem ”The Defense of Fort McHenry” on the back of a letter. After its completion, Key’s poem spread across the nation. After John Stafford Smith set the lyrics to a tune, it became known as ”The Star-Spangled Banner,” our national anthem.

“Oh, say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?”

—The opening lines of the Star-Spangled Banner

“It seemed as though mother earth had opened and was vomiting shot and shell in a sheet of fire and brimstone”—Francis Scott Key on the attack on Fort McHenry

President Woodrow Wilson declared “The Star-Spangled Banner” the national anthem in 1916, but Congress did not pass this as law until March of 1931.

The Star-Spangled Banner is set to the tune of ”To Anacreon in Heaven,” a popular English drinking tune at the time.

After boarding a British ship to ask for the release of his friend, who was being kept prisoner, the British did not allow Key to return home until after the attack on Fort McHenry. That is why he watched the event unfold from sea.