Are you ready for fireworks? What will you be thinking about while you twirl your sparklers or cover your eyes against the deafening “boom!”? What will you talk about while you sit in lawn chairs on the evening of the Fourth of July and taste homemade ice cream and watch the city’s fireworks display?
I made wonderful memories on those summer nights, many sticky-hot Fourth of Julys. Sometimes, when my sisters and I went to bed, we could still hear the neighbors setting of their fireworks and occasionally a really big one would light up our windows and keep us awake.
Now, think of the loudest, brightest firework you’ve ever seen and multiply it by millions. Then, you might begin to be able to imagine what Francis Scott Key saw the night he wrote our nation’s national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner.
It was during The War of 1812, when many brave men were fighting for America’s freedom from Great Britain. On the night of September 3, 1814, Mr. Key and another gentleman named, John Skinner, courageously boarded an enemy ship to try and convince the British to release another friend of theirs, a doctor by the name of William Beanes. While they were on board the enemy ship, Mr. Key and Mr. Skinner overheard the British’s battle plans to attack Baltimore. To keep them from warning the Americans, the British forced Key and Skinner to stay onboard until after the battle.
That night, Francis Scott Key stood on the deck of the enemy’s ship and watched as they bombed Fort McHenry which protected Baltimore’s harbor. As darkness fell, he could just barely make out the outline of the flag still flying proudly over Fort McHenry. As long as the flag flew, he knew that the Americans had not surrendered.
For 12 hours, the battle raged and the small American fort held its ground. In the middle of the night, bombs lit up the sky and rockets flashed through the air. Finally, before daylight, the bombing stopped. It was strangely quiet, and Mr. Key couldn’t see if Fort McHenry had been captured or survived.
Suddenly, very early in the morning, the mist cleared away and Mr. Key caught a glimpse of the red, white and blue flag still flying proudly over Fort McHenry. He was so excited, he felt like singing! Quickly, Mr. Key dug a piece of paper from his pocket; it was an unfinished letter. He began to scribble down a poem on the back of his paper.
Several days later, on September 16, Mr. Key, Mr. Skinner and their doctor friend were released. Safe in a hotel that night, Francis Scott Key finished writing the words to The Star Spangled Banner.
The poem was a hit and quickly put the tune of a familiar song. It was sung in many places and gained popularity, but it wasn’t until March 3, 1931, 117 years later, that President Herbert Hoover declared The Star Spangled Banner to be the official national anthem.
Most people know the words to the first verse of The Star Spangled Banner. And most people also know that our country was founded on biblical principles and the desire for every person to have the freedom to worship God as they wanted to. But very few people have heard, or remember the words to Francis Scott Key’s fourth verse. It is a beautiful poem that reminds us that God is the giver of freedom, our protector and the one in whom we place our trust.
“O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”
To read all four verses of The Star Spangled Banner and read some more history, click here.