The War of 1812 had been running for two years when the fighting escalated in Baltimore Harbor around Fort McHenry. American Prisoner Exchange Agent Colonel John Stuart Skinner sent by the War Department to negotiate the release of Dr. William Beanes. Dr. Beanes was allegedly mistakenly arrested with a group of rowdies as he walked to his home.
On Skinner’s way to meet Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane, Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn, and Major General Robert Ross on the HMS Tonnant, he stopped at the home of noted lawyer Francis Scott Key and asked for his assistance.
Col. Skinner and Key were welcomed by the British command on September 13, 1814 and was invited to stay for dinner. After secure the release of Dr. Beanes but were not allowed to return to Baltimore. The British felt that Col. Skinner and Key had learned too much about the British forces. Col. Skinner, Key, and Dr. Beanes were provided guest accommodations on the HMS Tonnant.
The Battle of Baltimore began after dinner and raged overnight through the next morning. On September 14, 1814, when the smoke cleared, Key saw the Stars and Stripes still flying over Fort McHenry. Following the battle. Col. Skinner, Key, and Dr. Beanes were allowed to return to Baltimore on their own boat. During the trip, Key wrote a poem entitled “The Defence of Fort McHenry”
On September 20, 1814, Key had the poem published in the newspaper Patriot. After publication, Key set the poem to the tune of John Stafford Smith’s “The Anacreontic Song,” a popular drinking song written for London’s Anacreontic Society. The combination was renamed “The Star Spangled Banner.”
“The Star Spangled Banner” was first recognized by the Navy in 1889. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed an executive order to recognize “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem. Finally, President Herbert Hoover singed a congressional bill officially making the song the United State’s National Anthem (36 U.S.C. §301).
In June 2007, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) introduced H.R. 2894, Star-Spangled Banner and War of 1812 Bicentennial Commemorative Coin Act. The bill calls for the minting of 350,000 silver $1 coins “in commemoration of the bicentennial of the writing of the Star-Spangled Banner and the War of 1812.”
The bill calls for the “design of the coins minted under this Act shall be emblematic of the War of 1812 and particularly the Battle for Fort McHenry that formed the basis for the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’.” A $10 surcharge (total of $3.5 million) will be paid to the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission.
H.R. 2894 passed the House of Representatives on May 15, 2008. It was received by the Senate on May 19, 2008 and eferred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.
Image of Fort McHenry courtesy of the Maryland Office of Tourism