Oh, 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, thro' the perilous fight, O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming? And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof thro' 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 thro' 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, now shines on 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 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.
O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand, Between their lov'd homes and the war's desolation; Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserv'd us a nation! Then conquer we must, when our cause 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!
Francis Scott Key
On the 3rd of September 1814, Francis Scott Key and John S. Skinner, an American prisoner-exchange agent, set sail from Baltimore aboard the ship HMS Minden flying a flag of truce on a mission approved by US President James Madison. Their objective was to secure the release of Dr William Beanes, the elderly and popular town physician of Upper Marlboro, a friend of Key's who had been captured in his home. Dr Beanes was accused of aiding in the arrest of British soldiers.
Key and Skinner boarded the British flagship, HMS Tonnant, on September 7th and spoke with Major General Robert Ross and Admiral Alexander Cochrane over dinner, while they discussed war plans. At first, Ross and Cochrane refused to release Beanes, but relented after Key and Skinner showed them letters written by wounded British prisoners praising Beanes and other Americans for their kind treatment.
Due to the fact that both Key and Skinner had heard details of the plans for the attack on Baltimore, they were held captive until after the battle, first aboard HMS Surprise, and later back on HMS Minden. After the bombardment, certain British gunboats attempted to slip past the fort and effect a landing in a cove to the west of it, but they were turned away by fire from nearby Fort Covington, the city's last line of defense. During the rainy night, Key had witnessed the bombardment and observed that the fort's smaller 'storm flag' continued to fly, but once the shelling had stopped, he would not know how the battle had turned out until dawn. By then, the storm flag had been lowered, and the larger flag had been raised.
Key was inspired by the American victory and the sight of the large American flag flying triumphantly above the fort. It inspired him to write a poem about the incident that would later be put to music and become our National Anthem. Aboard the ship the next day, Key wrote a poem on the back of a letter he had kept in his pocket.
At twilight on the 16th of September, Key and Skinner were released in Baltimore. Key then finished the poem at the Indian Queen Hotel, where he was staying, and he entitled it 'Defence of Fort McHenry.'