In 1814, following the Burning of Washington and the Raid on Alexandria, Francis Scott Key and John Stuart Skinner set sail from Baltimore aboard the ship HMS Minden to secure an exchange of prisoners.
Key and Skinner boarded the British flagship HMS Tonnant and spoke with Major General Ross and Vice Admiral Cochrane over dinner while the two officers discussed upcoming war plans. The British officers agreed to the prisoner exchange, but the Americans were temporarily held captive because they heard the details of the planned attack.
During the rainy night, Key witnessed the vicious bombardment and wondered if anything or anybody had survived. But at first light the next morning, there it was. The American Flag, tattered and torn, but still flying. There was no white flag of surrender.
Key was inspired by the sight of the flag, then with fifteen stars and fifteen stripes. The flag later came to be known as the Star-Spangled Banner and is today on display in the National Museum of American History, a treasure of the Smithsonian Institution.
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 September 16, he and Skinner were released in Baltimore. He completed the poem that stands as our National Anthem today, the Star Spangled Banner. Sing it proudly. When you sing it, stand. When you stand, put your hand over your heart. Treat it with the respect that it deserves and the celebrate the freedom that it has brought you and your family, paid for over and over with brave people who gave their lives to defend it. If you can’t do that, then God Bless You. You need it.
O! 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 rockets’ 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?
Happy Fourth of July!