On September 14, 1814, Francis Scott Key stood on the deck of an American truce ship and saw the flying of Fort McHenry's big garrison flag above the walls. It was a signal that the British had withdrawn their ships from the river Baltimore River. Key wrote about this in his poem "Defence of Fort M'Henry." Today, this poem is often called America's National Anthem.
Key was a lawyer living in Maryland. In August 1814, he traveled to Washington, D.C., where he met with President James Madison and Secretary of State John Quincy Adams to discuss ways to protect Americans in Baltimore after the city's mayor asked for help defending against attacks by British soldiers. On October 7, 1814, Key witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British fleet. He remembered this experience years later when he wrote about it in "The Star-Spangled Banner."
How did Key come up with the words to the song? What language problems did he have to solve?
In order to write "The Star-Spangled Banner," Key needed a subject that would carry a six-line stanza throughout. He chose the attack on Fort McHenry as his subject because it was a real event that happened months before he wrote about it.
Francis Scott Key was inspired to compose the poem "Defence of Fort McHenry" after seeing the flag flying above Ft. McHenry on the morning of September 14, 1814, after the fight 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.
On September 14, 1814, Francis Scott Key stood on the deck of an American truce ship and saw the flying of Fort McHenry's big garrison flag above the walls. He'd seen Britain's twenty-five-hour assault of the fort, and flying the American flag was a victorious sign of valor and persistence for Key.
Francis Scott Key, who was onboard a ship several miles distant on September 14, 1814, could just make out an American flag fluttering over Fort McHenry in the "dawn's early light." As British ships began to leave Baltimore, Key concluded that the United States had survived the conflict and had halted the enemy's approach. He wrote about his experience later that day in a poem now known as "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Key was aboard the U.S.S. Lexington, which was under command of Captain John Hart. The ship was near Fort McHenry at the time the poem was written so it can be assumed that Key saw the American flag flying there. The battle had ended more than three hours before he wrote about his experience so he must have seen the flag shortly after it had been raised by Colonel Marcus Miller for the first time since the attack began.
Hart ordered the crew to silence their guns because he didn't want to give away their position but also didn't want to fight any more battles that day. After the war had ended, Hart received a letter from President James Madison thanking him for his service and praising his courage during the battle. This is probably when Key composed his poem about the flag being used as a source of inspiration for another nation to fight for its freedom.
There are other locations around Fort McHenry where flags were flown during the battle but they were lost soon after the conclusion of the fighting.