Key saw an American flag fluttering before daybreak and subsequently penned a poem about his experience called "Defence of Fort M'Henry," which was published on September 21, 1814 in William Pechin's American and Commercial Daily Advertiser. The poem became very popular and is considered the first patriotic song of the United States.
Key had been hired by the Americans to write some poems for them to celebrate their victory over Britain at the Battle of Baltimore the previous month. The British commander at Fort McHenry was afraid that the Americans would use these poems as propaganda against him; therefore he ordered his men to burn down the fort after they lost the battle. This prompted Key to write this poem about America.'s future role as a nation.
Francis Scott Key, Dr. Beanes, and Colonel Skinner awakened the next morning to see the American flag still flying over the fort. This was the inspiration for Key. On the back of a note he had in his pocket, he began to write a poem. He finished the poem that afternoon as the sun went down behind the lake. That night, he sang some of the lines from his poem to his wife. The next day, he sent her the poem with a letter saying it was good enough to be sung at a war rally.
Key's poem was set to music by Joseph Philbrick Hayne. William McGavin, who played Johnny Appleseed in movies and on TV, recorded the song in 1918. It became popular during World War I. Today, it is often called "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Interesting fact: Although it is sometimes said that Francis Scott Key wrote the poem while imprisoned in Baltimore's Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, this is not true. He wrote the poem after seeing the flag fly over Fort McHenry when the war ended. The poem was first sung at a war rally in Baltimore on July 5, 1814. Key was alive but injured at this time; he died in 1815.
On September 14, 1814, Key wrote "The Defence of Fort McHenry" about his experience watching the British fleet's bombardment on Fort McHenry (in Baltimore Harbour) during the Engagement of Baltimore, a battle of the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States. The poem was first published in the London newspaper The Sun the following year.
Key had been appointed an assistant engineer at the fort by its commander, Lieutenant Colonel William Lightfoot Lee. During the night of September 13/14, Key and another officer, James W. B. Browne, watched as the British fleet fired over 400 shells into the fort. After the attack ended, they wrote down what they saw from their window and then drafted a poem about it. It was not published until five years later when John Russell Bartlett, editor of The Sun, heard it sung by students at Georgetown University while he was visiting there with his family. He bought the copyright and published the poem in his paper the next year.
Key lived in Baltimore after the war and is buried in Greenmount Cemetery there. Today, "The Defence of Fort McHenry" is considered one of the most important poems in American history because it helped to inspire Americans after their victory in the war to continue fighting for their country. It also made Key famous after only one year out of the army.
Star Spangled Banner Francis Scott Key writes a poem that is eventually put to music and becomes America's national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner," on September 14, 1814. The poem, originally titled "The Defense of Fort M'Henry," was written after Key watched the British bombardment of the Maryland fort during the War of 1812. In it, he described the American flag as if it were alive.
Key had only just arrived in Washington, D.C., after leaving his job as a clerk at the U.S. Treasury. He lived in a boardinghouse where he spent most of his time writing poetry. On September 5, while walking through the city's public park, Key saw the British attack on the fort and remembered the scene later used in "The Star-Spangled Banner." He wrote about it later that day in a letter to his brother-in-law: "I am going to get up a little poem on our country's defense. I think it will take me a week or so yet but it will be worth while when finished." He finished it on September 14 and sent it to a newspaper editor who published it the following month. The poem became very popular and "The Star-Spangled Banner" was soon being sung at patriotic events all over the United States.
Key never claimed credit for the poem. It has been suggested that he may have taken inspiration from other poems that had already been written about the war.
Francis Scott Key was inspired to compose the poem "Defence of Fort McHenry" after seeing the flag flying above Fort McHenry on the morning of September 14, 1814, after the combat had concluded. These lyrics were written by Key and placed to the music of a famous song at the time, "To Anacreon in Heaven" by John Stafford Smith. The original lyrics for "Defence of Fort McHenry" include the following lines:
"O'er the ramparts we watched, when the sun was low, / And saw the red glare of the cannon glow; / Saw the shot fly fast and heard the war-whoop cry / From the brave men who fought that day below.
The old fort stood up black and grim / Against the sky—a signal light she waved! / O'er her walls in death the blue flag floats free / Where once the white banner of the slave waves — / 'Tis a beacon bright o'er miles of stormy sea / That warns of danger far and near.
And now she stands where once stood Fort McHenry, / A city needs that guard so bravely gay; / But proudest of all is she, my own town, / She bears the name of Maryelizabeth.
Today, Baltimore enjoys one of the highest quality of life scores in the country. However, like many other cities across the country, it has experienced an uptick in violence over the past few years.