Every so often I hear from readers about the topics I post here on History By Zim through the comment section, social media and even by email. Sometimes it’s a note about a particularly interesting topic or just a good ole’ “Hello!” In this case, it’s because of an error in one of my last posts titled “Flag at Fort McHenry“. I thought I would share Philip’s email with you all since he added some great information about “The Star-Spangled Banner” and Francis Scott Key.
Hi Jessica – Love your site. But I found something questionable. Your section of the War of 1812 has some notes on the Flag and the Star-Spangled Banner. You say:
“The poem, originally called “The Defense of Fort McHenry”, was later set to music, renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner” and became the United States’ national anthem.”
There is something not factual about this sentence in your posting. Francis Scott Key actually wrote the “Defense of Fort McHenry” as a song from day one. In fact he had written a similar song in 1803 using the same music called “When the Warrior Returns” in honor of Admiral Steven Decatur’s victory in the Barbary wars. It was a common thing to use the music from a popular song to create new songs in that era. I’m sure you know that music for the Star-Spangled Banner was based on a high class British men’s club drinking song titled “To Anacreon in Heaven” written by John Stafford Smith in the 1780’s. John Adams had actually created his campaign song “Adams and Liberty” using the same tune. The reason everyone passes on the history as you wrote it is that starting in about 1900 there was a major movement to make the “Star-Spangled Banner” our national anthem. The charge was taken up by none other than John Philip Sousa. It took until 1931 for it to finally be made our official anthem during Herbert Hoover’s administration. The delay you see was due to the campaign for the song starting at the same time as the prohibitionist movement came to power. We couldn’t have a drinking song made our anthem! So a PR machine was set up to spin it as a poem Key wrote that someone else just fit music to. That spin – stuck but it’s not the truth.
I’ve attached a copy of the broadsheet published on September 15th 1814 – with the preface most likely written by Key’s brother-in-law, Joseph Hopper Nicholson which clearly states “Tune – Anacreon in Heaven” A local musicologist expert in the Baltimore area confirms all these findings.
Francis Scott Key’s story goes way beyond the song, Key was a a constitutional lawyer, involved in slavery issues, founder of the American Bible Society, and a child of the American revolution yet only an amateur, tone deaf poet, which is the only thing he’s remembered for. But it’s extraordinary how this man and his life is more than relevant than ever to us today!
I’m actually a filmmaker working with Maryland Public Television and we’re trying our hand at crowd funding for a documentary project on Francis Scott Key. I am praying that you would consider doing a blog on this subject and perhaps reference our project. I’m using Kickstarter as the crowd funding portal for the documentary which would air on national public television next year if we are successful. September 14th 2014 is of course the 200th anniversary of Key writing the song.
You can check out the Kickstarter project here http://kck.st/1b9X60D and hopefully, I pray you share it as well. You can find our more information about the project on our website here: http://www.fskusa.org
Patriotism is a tough sell and it shouldn’t be. Supporting our country and it’s history should never be in question even if you question your government as Francis Scott Key did, (he was publicly speaking in protest against the war of 1812 just weeks before witnessing, as a militia volunteer, the British burning Washington in August 1814.)
PS: Notice our national motto: In God We Trust also came from the forth verse in Key’s song. This was ratified in 1956!
Swing by Philip’s Kickstarter page to learn more about his project “F.S. Key & the Song that Built America” and see how you can help make it possible! Thank you again Philip for your great email and for pointing out my error!