It was on this day in 1814 that a young American lawyer and poet named Francis Scott Key wrote what was to become his most famous poem, “Defence of Fort McHenry,” while on board a British Navy ship in Chesapeake Bay. Key had been negotiating with the British for the release of a prisoner they had taken in their raid on Washington, but because he had heard about the Navy’s plans for attacking Baltimore, he was not released until after the battle. That was how he came to witness the bombardment of Fort McHenry from the deck of H.M.S. Tonnant on the night of September 13. When the sun rose the following morning, and Key saw the Stars and Stripes flying over Fort McHenry, the sight inspired him to write a poem. Soon afterward, Key’s words were set to the melody of a popular song by English composer John Stafford Smith, and it quickly became known as “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“The Star-Spangled Banner” became the national anthem of the United States on March 3, 1931. Often criticized for being difficult to sing and/or for glorifying warfare, it remains stubbornly popular with the American people; and two centuries years after its composition, its ability to send a shiver up the patriotic spine and bring a tear to the patriotic eye remain intact.