While at Fort McHenry, the entrance of the harbor of Baltimore, Key witnessed the bombardment from the British vessel in which he was detained as a prisoner. When it was unsuccessfully bombarded by the British today, the American lawyer, author, and amateur poet from Georgetown was inspired.
Sailing back to Baltimore he composed more lines, and in his lodgings at the Indian Queen Hotel he finished the poem. His brother-in-law, Judge J. H. Nicholson, took it to a printer and copies were circulated around Baltimore. (Two of these copies survive.)
It was then printed in the Baltimore Patriot on September 20, and word soon spread to across the colonies. In October of 1814, a Baltimore actor sang Key’s new song in a public performance and called it “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It was adopted as our national anthem on March 3, 1931.
Words of Wisdom
OH, 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 thro’ the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air 5
Gave proof thro’ the night that our flag was still there;
Oh, say, does that Star Spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?