The Star-Spangled Banner

The Star-Spangled Banner


America’s national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, was written by Francis Scott Key in 1814. It was the War of 1812, and in September 1814, Key, who was a lawyer, had boarded a British war vessel to negotiate the release of a friend, Dr. William Beanes. The British agreed to release the friend, and they returned to their ship, but the British kept them under guard. The British were about to attack Fort McHenry in the Baltimore Harbor, so they could not allow Key and Beanes to leak the news.

On September 13, 1814, the British began their barrage of Fort McHenry with shells and rockets for 25 hours. The soldiers at Fort McHenry defended the fort by shooting cannons at the ships. Key watched from his ship and was sure the British would win. Instead, in “the dawn’s early light” of September 14, he saw the “broad stripes and bright stars” of the “star spangled banner” yet waving. The Americans had won this Battle of Baltimore and kept Fort McHenry in their possession.

Francis Scott Key immediately – yes, while still on the ship – wrote this four-verse poem which he called Defence of Fort M’Henry, and later he set it to an already popular English tune by John Stafford Smith. Though officially used in the United States Navy as early as 1889, the United States Congress officially made The Star-Spangled Banner the national anthem in 1931.

The flag that Francis Scott Key saw was a flag with 15 stripes and 15 stars. It was made by Mary Young Pickersgill of Baltimore (along with her daughter, three nieces, an indentured servant and her mother) working 10-hour days for six weeks. It is a very large flag, measuring 30 by 42 feet, and each star is two feet in diameter. She also made a smaller flag – a storm flag – which is the flag that flew during the battle. Only in the morning, after the battle had been won, was the Star-Spangled Banner raised.

Major George Armistead, who was in command at Fort McHenry at the time of the battle, kept the Star-Spangled Banner. It passed through his family and was eventually acquired by the Smithsonian Museum. Over the years, it grew quite tattered, and pieces were missing that people had cut off as souvenirs. The Smithsonian restored the flag, and it is now on display in the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.


1. Oh, say, can you see? By the dawn's early light

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming;

Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,

O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming.

And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air.

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there:

Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave?

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

2. On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,

Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,

What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,

As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?

Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,

In fully glory reflected now shines in the stream:

'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh, long may it wave

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

3. And where is that band who so vauntingly swore

That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion

A home and a country should leave us no more?

Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution!

No refuge could save the hireling and slave

From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

4. Oh, thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand

Between their loved home and the war's desolation!

Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land

Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,

And this be our motto: "In God is our trust":

And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Here is a version with all four verses and lyrics on the screen.

Here is the first verse only.

1-The Star-Spangled Banner song sheet.pdf
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