“Defence of Fort McHenry” – Words of the National Anthem

September 14, 1814, 9 A.M.“At this time our morning gun was fired, the flag hoisted, Yankee Doodle played, and we all appeared in full view of a formidable and mortified enemy, who calculated upon our surrender in 20 minutes after the commencement of the action.” Joseph Hopper Nicholson, U.S. Volunteers at Fort McHenry to a friend, September 17, 1814.

It was at this moment,  that a 38 year old Georgetown lawyer, Francis Scott Key, witnessed from an American flag-of-truce vessel, the President, admist the British fleet, the great garrison flag (42’x 30′) over Fort McHenry. The following is from a handbill that was distributed to every soldier at Fort McHenry soon after the bombardment.

********

DEFENCE OF FORT McHENRY

The annexed song was composed under the following circumstances – A gentleman had left Baltimore, in a flag of truce for the purpose of getting released from the British fleet, a friend [Dr. William Beanes] who had been captured at [Upper] Marlborough. He went as far as the mouth of the Patuxent, and was not permitted to return lest the intended attack on Baltimore should be disclosed. He was therefore brought up the Bay to the mouth of the Patapsco, where the flag vessel was kept under the guns of a frigate [HMS Surprise], and he was compelled to witness the bombardment of Fort M’Henry, which the Admiral had boasted that he would carry in a few hours, and that the city must fall. He watched the flag at the Fort through the whole day with an anxiety that can be better felt than described, until the night prevented him from seeing it. In the night he watched the Bomb Shells, and at early dawn his eye was again greeted by the proudly waving flag of his country.

Tune -ANACREON IN HEAVEN.

O! say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,

What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,

Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight

O’er the ramparts we watch’d, 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;

 

O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,

O’er  the Land of the free, and the home of the brave?

 

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 full glory reflected new shines in the stream,

 

‘Tis the star spangled banner, – O! long may it wave

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

 

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 wash’d out their foul footsteps pollution.

No refuse 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.

 

O! thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,

Between their lov’d home, and the war’s desolation,

Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land,

Praise the Power that hath made and preserv’d 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.

*  *  *  *  *

On September 20, 1814, the Baltimore Patriot and Evening Advertiser published the words. Within the year every newspaper in the eighteen states had also published it.

Sources: One of the rare copies of the “Defence of Fort McHenry” handbills is at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore.

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Published in: on April 3, 2011 at 10:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

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