A STAR-SPANGLED HISTORY
America’s national anthem was written by a young Washington, D.C., lawyer named Francis Scott Key. In September 1814, during the War of 1812, a British fleet was attacking fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. Key had been sent to the flagship of the British admiral who was in charge of the bombardment. He was delivering a message from U.S. President James Madison, asking for the release of a Maryland doctor who had been taken on board the British ship. The British admiral agreed to release the prisoner. However, just as Key and the doctor were preparing to leave the ship, the attack on Fort McHenry began. The bombardment of the fort began early on September 13 and lasted until the next morning.
Worried about the fate of the fort, Key waited anxiously. As dawn was breaking the next day, it became evident that Fort McHenry had survived the British attack. How did Francis Scott Key know that outcome? He saw the American flag still waving in the breeze, which meant the Americans still controlled the fort and the attack had failed. That morning, while still on board the British ship, he wrote a stanza of a poem on the back of the envelope. The next day, after he had been released, he wrote the rest of his poem in Baltimore. He showed his poem to his brother-in-law, a local judge. The judge liked the poem and suggested that they set it to the tune of an old English song. They published the new song on leaflets and later in several newspapers. Francis Scott Keys song soon became very popular. However, it remained nothing more than a popular tune for quite some time. It didn’t become our national anthem until 1931, more than 116 years after the famous banner was seen still waving.