The Regional Review

Volume IV - No. 1

January, 1940

This flag, flown over Fort McHenry during the British bombardment of September 13-14, 1814, is the "star spangled banner" which Francis Scott Key, three miles out in Baltimore harbor, saw when he composed the verses that have become the national anthem. Presented to Lieutenant Colonel George Armistead, who had commanded the fort, that flag later became the property of his daughter, Georgianna. It was given to the United States National Museum in 1912 by her son, Eben Appleton. In addition to its great patriotic values, its historical importance is enhanced because it is one of the few existing flags which bear fifteen stars and fifteen stripes, the standard design from 1794 to 1818. It is said that several shot tore through it but, although many holes are visible, it is not possible to determine their origin. Several feet have been lost from the fly end. The remainder, about 28 feet on hoist and 32 feet on fly, was quilted in 1914 to a backing of linen as a preservative measure. The flag now is on display in the National Museum, by courtesy of which the above photograph is reproduced.

And Its Origins at Fort McHenry

Regional Supervisor or Historic Sites,

The composition of The Star Spang Banner, and the successful defense of Port McHenry against the British bombardment on September 13-14, 1814, which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem, are the historic events which Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine commemorates. These events take high place in the body of tradition and emotional factors which are distinctly American.

Soon after the beginning of the War of 1812 the British blockaded Chesapeake Bay, a strategy adopted largely because of the activity of privateer ships sailing from Baltimore harbor, and of the inconvenience to the United States of having a leading exporting and importing center closed. It was not until two years later, however, after the blockading fleet had been greatly reinforced, that the British attempted, in what is known as the Chesapeake Bay Campaign, to destroy Washington and Baltimore. The movement against Washington in August, 1814, was a success and the Capitol and White House were destroyed after the city's defense failed to hold when the militia met the British troops at Bladensburg on August 24, 1814.

The attack against Baltimore, made in mid-September, three weeks later, was the conflict in which Fort McHenry took a prominent part and for which it is remembered today. The British fleet had anchored in the Patuxent River and the attacking force had proceeded overland to Washington. After burning the federal buildings the invaders returned to their base, with raiding parties and stragglers roaming the nearby countryside. The appearance of British troops as they passed through Upper Marlborough, a town in Maryland about 35 miles east of Washington, led some of the inhabitants to speculate on the result of the expedition against the city.

Dr. William Beanes and a group of local people were enjoying a social hour when three British stragglers appeared. As a result of the argument which followed between the soldiers and Dr. Beanes and his companions, the stragglers were arrested on charges of disturbing the peace and placed in the local jail. One of them escaped and reached a scouting party of British cavalry, which proceeded immediately to Upper Marlborough and captured Dr. Beanes and took him to the base on the Patuxent where he was turned over to Admiral Cochrane.

draft of The Star Spangled Banner
The manuscript draft of The Star Spangled Banner. Photocopy by courtesy of the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore.

The Star Spangled Banner
Facsimile of the first page of the first printing of The Star Spangled Banner with music. It was published by the Carr Music Store of Baltimore. The inset shows Charles Wilson Peale's portrait of Francis Scott Key. The original is in the Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, by permission of which the above reproduction is made.


In 1775 the Continental Congress adopted the stripes as part of the design of the flag, and in 1777 added the thirteen stars. In 1794 two additional stars and two more stripes were included as a result of the admission to the Union of two new states, Vermont and Kentucky. It was provided by Act of Congress, April 4, 1818, that the American flag should be composed of thirteen stripes, representing the original thirteen states, and that the number of stars should be that of the number of states, new stars being added on July 4 following the admission of new states.

Francis Scott Key, a prominent attorney of Georgetown and a close friend of Dr. Beanes, undertook to intercede on his behalf and effect his release. Obtaining President Madison's permission, and accompanied by Colonel J. S. Skinner, of Baltimore, agent for the exchange of prisoners, Key proceeded on a packet boat under a flag of truce and met the British fleet which was making ready to move against the city. Admiral Cochrane agreed to release Dr. Beanes, but indicated that none of the Americans would be permitted to return to the mainland until the movement against Baltimore had been carried out because he did not wish them to convey ashore the information of his plans to attack.

Taken aboard the Admiral's flagship, the Surprise, Key and his companions were compelled to accompany the British as the fleet moved up the Patapsco River against Baltimore. Under a guard of marines, the Americans were transferred to their own boat in the rear of the fleet as the ships took position to bombard Fort McHenry and attempt the capture of the city. It was from this vantage point that Francis Scott Key and his friends witnessed the bombardment of the fort throughout the day of September 13 and the night of the 13-14. When dawn of the 14th came he saw that the American flag, the stars and stripes, was still flying over the fortress and that it and the city had not fallen to the British. That morning the British gave up their attempt on Fort McHenry and Baltimore and moved downstream toward the Chesapeake. Key and his companions were released and made their way into the city.

There are many versions of the manner in which Francis Scott Key wrote the poem, The Star Spang Banner, but perhaps the most reliable one is that given in a preface to the 1857 edition of Key's poems, by Roger B. Taney, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, who had married Key's only sister. Tansy asserts that the verses were written down from memory on an envelope as Key and his companions came ashore on the morning of September 14, and were rewritten in a hotel that night. The next morning Key showed the lines to Judge Joseph H. Nicholson, of Baltimore, who had married his wife's sister. Judge Nicholson was greatly impressed by the inspirational quality of the poem and his wife took the manuscript to the printing office of Captain Benjamin Edes, on the corner of Baltimore and Gay Streets) and had the verses struck off in hand bill form. It appears that Edes was absent on duty with his regiment and that The Star Spangled Banner was set up in type and printed by an apprentice, Samuel Sands, a young boy only 12 years of age. The poem was published September 20 in The Baltimore Patriot. Soon it was being sung in taverns and theaters throughout the land as an expression of American patriotism.


By Act of Congress, approved on March 3, 1925, Fort McHenry was set aside as a "national park and perpetual national memorial shrine as the birthplace of the immortal 'Star-Spangled Banner,'" to be administered by the War Department. Like many other historic sites, it was transferred in 1933 to the custody of the National Park Service. It was redesignated August 11, 1939, as "Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine." The 47-acre area is within the corporate limits of Baltimore, about three miles from the center of the city. The five-point star fort bears the name of James McHenry who served in the Revolution and later became Secretary of War.

The Star Spangled Banner was sung first (publicly at least) by an actor, Ferdinand Durang, in Baltimore, to the old English tune of To Anacreon in Heaven. This melody had been used previously in America for a song called Adams and Liberty, of the Revolutionary War period. Key may have had this tune in mind when he composed The Star Spangled Banner. The selection of the music of To Anacreon in Heaven to be used with the poem has been credited variously to Key, to Judge Nicholson, and to Ferdinand Durang. Although the song won general acceptance at an early date as the national anthem, it was not until March 3, 1931, that Congress made it official.

Francis Scott Key, a native of Frederick County, Maryland, born August 1, 1779, was 35 years old when he composed the words that have made his name immortal in the United States. He died February 11, 1843, end his remains are buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery at Frederick. Monuments commemorating him have been erected at Fort McHenry; at Eutaw Place, in Baltimore, and at Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. The Key Bridge over the Potomac at Washington also is a tribute to his memory.


A report issued last month shows that the total of areas of the National Park System reached 155 as of December 1, 1939, with an aggregate acreage of 20,820,225.51, or 32,531.59 square miles. The distribution:

National Parks2514,898.299,534,907.66
National Historical Parks411.727,503.13
National Monuments8014,874.989,519,988.00
National Military Parks1132.7720,973.87
National Battlefield Sites72.561,636.36
National Historic Sites4.35223.59
National Recreational Area12,655.581,699,573.00
National Memorials8.49317.06
National Cemeteries11.55353.46
National Capital Parks19.215,892.78
National Parkways345.0928,856.60

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Date: 04-Jul-2002