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Report on The Star-Spangled Banner, Hail Columbia, America, Yankee Doodle; online

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'The Star- Spangled Banner
'Hail Columbia"

" America"
'Yankee Doodle' 1





1 909

L. C. card, 9-35010




















In December, 1907, I received instructions from the Librarian
of Congress to "bring together the various versions both of
text and of music with notes as to the historical evolution"
of "The Star-Spangled Banner," "Hail Columbia," "America,"
and "Yankee Doodle." The report was to be brief and light of
touch, but accurate enough for practical purposes. This task
would have been comparatively easy had the literature on the sub-
ject been reliable. Unfortunately it crumbled under the slightest
critical pressure, and it became imperative to devote more research
and more analytical and synthetic thought to the report than had
seemed advisable at first. This and the fact that the report had to
be compiled without neglect of current duties accounts for the delay
in submitting it.

In form the report is frankly not a history of the subject, such as
one would write for popular consumption. Rather, in this report
data are collected, eliminated, or verified; popular theories founded
on these data are analyzed, their refutation or acceptance is sug-
gested, and, of course, some theories of my own are offered for critical
consideration. All this is done in such a form that the reader is at
no step supposed to find a locked door between himself and the argu-
ment. He is not supposed to accept a single statement of fact or
argument unless the evidence submitted compels him to do so. This
plein air treatment of a popular theme distinguishes the report some-
what from the bulk of the literature on the subject. In short, though
not intended for popular consumption, it may be used for popular
consumption with reasonable assurance of accuracy.

Chief, Music Division


Librarian of Congress

Washington, D. C., August, 1909

y )


Opinions differ widely on the merits of "The Star-Spangled Banner"
as a national song. Some critics fail to see in Francis Scott Key's
inspired lines poetry of more than patriotic value. Some look upon
it merely as a flag song, a military song, but not as a national hymn.
Some criticize the melody for its excessive range, but others see no
defects in "The Star-Spangled Banner" and feel not less enthusiastic
over its esthetic merits as a national song than over its sincere patri-
otic sentiment. This controversy will be decided, whether rightly or
wrongly, by the American people regardless of critical analysis, leg-
islative acts, or naive efforts to create national songs by prize com-
petition. This report does not concern itself at all with such quasi
esthetic problems, nor is it here the place to trace the political history
of "The Star-Spangled Banner" beyond what is necessary for the
understanding of its history as a national song.

As has been well known for a long time, the first though brief
account of the origin of "The Star-Spangled Banner" appeared in the
Baltimore American on September 21, 1814, under the heading of:


The annexed song was composed under the following circumstances: A gentle-
man had left Baltimore, in a flag of truce for the purpose of getting released from
the British fleet a friend of his who had been captured at Marlborough. He went
as far as the mouth of the Patuxent, and was not permitted to return lest the
intended attack on Baltimore should be disclosed. He was therefore brought
up the Bay to the mouth of the Patapsco, where the flag vessel was kept under
the guns of a frigate, and he was compelled to witness the bombardment of Fort
M 'Henry, which the Admiral had boasted that he would carry in a few hours, and
that the city must fall. He watched the flag at the fort through the whole day
with an anxiety that can be better felt than described, until the night prevented
him from seeing it. In the night he watched the Bomb Shells, and at early
dawn his eye was again greeted by the proudly waving flag of his country.

This account is followed by the text of Key's poem without special
title, but with the indication: "Tune: Anacreon in Heaven."

As this account was printed almost immediately after the events
therein described took place, and were in every reader's memory, the
newspaper editor, of course, omitted specific dates, but it is a matter
of history that the gallant defense of Fort McHenry under Major
Armistead began on the morning of Tuesday, September 13, and
lasted until the early hours of September 14, 1814. The gentleman


8 The Star-Spangled Banner.

is, of course, Francis Scott Key, and either his own modesty or an
editorial whim kept his authorship from the public.

The first detailed and authentic account of the origin of "The Star-
Spangled Banner" practically came from Francis Scott Key himself,
who narrated it shortly after the British designs on Baltimore failed,
to his brother-in-law, Mr. R. B. Taney, subsequently Chief Justice of
our Supreme Court. When in 1856 Mr. Henry V. D. Jones edited
the " Poems of the Late Francis S. Key, Esq. . . ." (New York, 1857),
Chief Justice Taney contributed Key's version from memory, in an
introductory " letter . . . narrating the incidents connected with the
origin of the song 'The Star-Spangled Banner.'" This interesting
narrative has been made the basis of all subsequent accounts. Its
substance is this: When, after the battle of Bladensburg, the main
body of the British army had passed through the town of Upper
Marlborough, some stragglers, who had left the ranks to plunder or
from some other motive, made their appearance from time to time,
singly or in small squads, and a Doctor Beanes, who had previously
been very hospitable to the British officers "put himself at the head
of a small body of citizens to pursue and make prisoners" of the
stragglers. Information of this proceeding reached the British and
Doctor Beanes was promptly seized. The British "did not seem to
regard him, and certainly did not treat him, as a prisoner of war,
but as one who had deceived and broken his faith to them." Doctor
Beanes was the leading physician of his town and so highly respected
that the news of his imprisonment filled his friends with alarm. They
"hastened to the head-quarters of the English army to solicit his
release, but it was peremptorily refused," and they were informed
that he had been carried as a prisoner on board the fleet. Francis
Scott Key happened also to be one of the Doctor's intimate friends,
and as Mr. Key, just then a volunteer in Major Peter's Light Artil-
lery, but a lawyer by profession, was a resident of Georgetown, which
means practically Washington, the other friends requested him

to obtain the sanction of the government to his going on board the admiral's ship
under a flag of truce and endeavoring to procure the release of Dr. Beanes, before
the fleet sailed.

. . . Mr. Key readily agreed to undertake the mission in his favor, and the Presi-
dent [Madison] promptly gave his sanction to it. Orders were immediately issued
to the vessel usually employed as a cartel [the Minden] in the communications
with the fleet in the Chesapeake to be made ready without delay; and Mr. John S.
Skinner, who was agent for the government for flags of truce and exchange of pris-
oners, and who was well known as such to the officers of the fleet, was directed to
accompany Mr. Key. And as soon as the arrangements were made, he hastened to
Baltimore, where the vessel was, to embark; . . .

We heard nothing from him until the enemy retreated from Baltimore, which,
as well as I can now recollect, was a week or ten days after he left us; and we were
becoming uneasy about him, when, to our great joy, he made his appearance at my
house, on his way to join his family.

The Star-Spangled Banner. 9

He told me that he found the British fleet, at the mouth of the Potomac, prepar-
ing for the expedition against Baltimore. He was courteously received by Ad-
miral Cochrane, and the officers of the army, as well as the navy. But when he
made known his business, his application was received so coldly, that he feared he
would fail. General Ross and Admiral Cockburn who accompanied the expedi-
tion to Washington particularly the latter, spoke of Dr. Beanes, in very harsh
terms, and seemed at first not disposed' to release him. It, however, happened,
fortunately, that Mr. Skinner carried letters from the wounded British officers left
at Bladensburg; and in these letters to their friends on board the fleet, they all
spoke of the humanity and kindness with which they had been treated after they
had fallen into our hands. And after a good deal of conversation, and strong repre-
sentations from Mr. Key, as to the character and standing of Dr. Beanes, and of the
deep interest which the community in which he lived, took in his fate, General
Ross said that Dr. Beanes deserved much more punishment than he had received;
but that he felt himself bound to make a return for the kindness which had been
shown to his wounded officers, whom he had been compelled to leave at Bladens-
burg; and upon that ground, and that only, he would release him. But Mr. Key
was at the same time informed that neither he, nor any one else, would be per-
mitted to leave the fleet for some days; and must be detained until the attack on
Baltimore, which was then about to be made, was over. But he was assured that
they would make him and Mr. Skinner, as comfortable as possible, while they
detained him. Admiral Cochrane, with whom they dined on the day of their
arrival, apologized for not accommodating them on his own ship, saying that it was
crowded already with officers of the army; but that they would be well taken care
of in the frigate Surprise, commanded by his son, Sir Thomas Cochrane. And to
this frigate, they were accordingly transferred.

Mr. Key had an interview with Dr. Beanes, before General Ross consented to
release him. I do not recollect whether he was on board the admiral's ship, or the
Surprise, but I believe it was the former. He found him in the forward part of the
ship, among the sailors and soldiers ; he had not had a change of clothes from the time
he was seized; was constantly treated with indignity by those around him, and no
officer would speak to him . He was treated as a culprit, and not as a prisoner of war.
And this harsh and humiliating treatment continued until he was placed on board
the cartel . . .

Mr. Key and Mr. Skinner continued on board of the Surprise, where they were
very kindly treated by Sir Thomas Cochrane, until the fleet reached the Patapsco,
and preparations were making for landing the troops. Admiral Cochrane then
shifted his flags to the frigate, in order that he might be able to move further up
the river, and superintend in person, the attack by water, on the fort. And Mr.
Key and Mr. Skinner were then sent on board their own vessel, with a guard of
sailors, or marines, to prevent them from landing. They were permitted to take
Dr. Beanes with them and they thought themselves fortunate in being anchored
in a position which enabled them to see distinctly the flag of Fort M' Henry from
the deck of the vessel. He proceeded then with much animation to describe the
scene on the night of the bombardment. He and Mr. Skinner remained on deck
during the night, watching every shell, from the moment it was fired, until it fell,
listening with breathless interest to hear if an explosion followed. While the bom-
bardment continued, it was sufficient proof that the fort had not surrendered. But
it suddenly ceased some time before day; and as they had no communication with
any of the enemy's ships, they did not know whether the fort had surrendered, or
the attack upon it been abandoned. They paced the deck for the residue of the
night in painful suspense, watching with intense anxiety for the return of day, and
looking every few minutes at their watches, to see how long they must wait for it;
and as soon as it dawned, and before it was light enough to see objects at a distance,

10 The Star-Spangled Banner.

their glasses were turned to the fort, uncertain whether they should see there the
tan and stripes, or the flag of the enemy. At length the light came, and they saw
that " our flag was still there." And as the day advanced, they discovered, from
the movements of the boats between the shore and the fleet, that the troops had
been roughly handled, and that many wounded men were carried to the ships. At
length he was informed that the attack on Baltimore had failed, and the British
army was re-embarking, and that he* and Mr. Skinner, and Dr. Beanes would be
permitted to leave them, and go where they pleased, as soon as the troops were on
board, and the fleet, ready to sail.

He then told me that, under the excitement of the time, he had written a
song, and handed me a printed copy of "The Star Spangled Banner." When I
had read it, and expressed my admiration, I asked him how he found time, in
the scenes he had been passing through, to compose such a song? He said he
commenced it on the deck of their vessel, in the fervor of the moment, when he
saw the enemy hastily retreating to their ships, and looked at the flag he had
watched for so anxiously as the morning opened; that he had written some lines,
or brief notes that would aid him in calling them to mind, upon the back of a
letter which he happened to have in his pocket; and for some of the lines, as he
proceeded, he was obliged to rely altogether on his memory; and that he finished
it in the boat on his way to the shore, and wrote it out as it now stands, at the hotel ,
on the night he reached Baltimore, and immediately after he arrived. He said
that on the next morning, he took it to Judge Nicholson, to ask him what he
thought of it, that he was so much pleased with it, that he immediately sent it
to a printer, and directed copies to be struck off in hand-bill form; and that he,
Mr. Key, believed it to have been favorably received by the Baltimore public.

More than forty years had elapsed since Chief Justice Taney had
heard this story for the first time from Francis Scott Key, and
though it probably was modified or embellished in course of tune, yet
in substance it has the earmarks of authenticity. Exactly for this
reason, if for no other, Chief Justice Taney's account furnished the
foundation for all further accounts, but it should be noticed that the
Chief Justice does not tell us anything beyond how the words came
to be written, until struck off in handbill form. We do not learn
when and under what circumstances the broadside was printed,
how the poem was wedded to its music, or when and by whom the
song was first read or sung. If certain writers do include such state-
ments in their quotations from Taney's account, tfoey certainly did
not read Taney's introductory letter, but most probably copied
their quotations from Admiral Preble, who indeed but carelessly
attributes such statements to the Chief Justice. The data not con-
tamed in Taney's account had to be supplied by others, and it is
very curious that instantly this part of the history of "The Star-Span-
gled Banner" became confused, whereas Chief Justice Taney's
account remained unchallenged except in unimportant points, as
for instance, the reasons for Doctor Beanes's arrest. Under this
head Chief Justice Taney was rather vague; not so Mrs. Anna H.
Dorsey, who in the Washington Sunday Morning Chronicle added
some "lesser facts," which were reprinted hi Dawson's Historical

The Star-Spangled Banner. 11

Magazine, 1861, volume 5, pages 282-283. According to Mrs. Dor-
sey, Dr. William Beanes, the uncle of her mother, was celebrating
with copious libations a rumored British defeat at Washington when
"three foot-sore, dusty, and weary soldiers made their appearance
on the scene in quest of water." Somewhat under the influence of
the excellent punch, Doctor Beanes and his friends made them pris-
oners of war, and very naturally, the British resented this, to say the
least, indiscreet act. The Beanes-Dorsey family tradition is given
here for all it is worth, but if correct, then it would be a singular
coincidence that an English drinking song called "To Anacreon in
Heaven" furnished the melody for a poem which had its root in
an event inspired by Bacchus. Indeed Doctor Beanes and his friends
might have been voicing their sentiments "To Anacreon in Heaven."

Different is the account written by Mr. F. S. Key Smith for the
Republic Magazine, 1908, April, pages 10-20, on "Fort McHenry
and 'The Star-Spangled Banner.' " According to Mr. Smith, a party
of marauding stragglers came into the Doctor's garden and intruded
themselves upon him and his little company. "Elated over their
supposed victory of the day previous, of which the Doctor and his
friends had heard nothing," says Mr. Smith, "they were boisterous,
disorderly, and insolent, and upon being ordered to leave the prem-
ises became threatening. Whereupon, at the instance of Doctor
Beanes and his friends, they were arrested by the town authorities and
lodged in the Marlborough jail."

This version, too, is quoted here for all it is worth; but it should
be noted that throughout this article, dealing elaborately only with
the political history of Key's poem, Mr. Smith is conspicuously silent
about his authorities, thus preventing critical readers from accepting
his statements without skepticism. A case in point is his continua-
tion of Chief Justice Taney's narrative :

He [Judge Nicholson, also Key's brother-in-law] took it [the draft of the song]
to the printing office of Captain Benjamin Edes on North Street near the corner
of Baltimore street, but the Captain not having returned from duty with the
Twenty-Sixth Maryland Regiment, his office was closed, and Judge Nicholson
proceeded to the newspaper office of the Baltimore American and Commercial
Daily Advertiser, where the words were set in type by Samuel Sands, an appren-
tice at the time. . . . Copies of the song were struck off in handbill form, and
promiscuously distributed on the street. Catching with popular favor like
prairie fire it spread in every direction, was read and discussed, until, in less
than an hour, the news was all over the city. Picked up by a crowd assembled
about Captain McCauley's tavern, next to the Holiday Street Theater, where
two brothers Charles and Ferdinand Durang, musicians and actors, were stop-
ping, the latter mounted a chair, and rendered it in fine style to a large assemblage.

On the evening of the same day that Mr. Charles [!!] Durang first sang "The
Star Spangled Banner," it was again rendered upon the stage of the Holliday
Street Theater by an actress, and the theater is said to have gained thereby a
national reputation. In less than a week it had reached New Orleans [!]...

12 The Star-Spangled Banner.

This is merely the hastily concocted and uncritically diluted essence
of previous articles, including that by Taney. It will be more profit-
able to turn to the very few original accounts than to dissect or even
pay much attention to the second-hand compilations from these
original sources, no matter how spirited or otherwise attractive
they may be.

One C. D., in the Historical Magazine of 1864, volume 8, pages 347-
348, has this to say:

One of your correspondents inquires in what form the song of the Star Spangled
Banner was first printed? I think that in the History of the Philadelphia Stage
you will find that subject clearly explained. The song was first printed and put
upon the press by Captain Edes, of Baltimore, who belonged to Colonel Long's
Twenty-Seventh Regiment of militia. He kept his printing office at the corner
of Baltimore and Gay Streets. It was given him by the author, Mr. Key, of
Washington, in its amended form, after the battle of North Point, about the
latter end of September 1814. The original draft, with its interlineations and
amendatory erasures, etc. was purchased by the late Gen. George Keim, of
Reading, and I suppose his heirs have it now. It was printed on a small piece
of paper in the style of our old ballads that were wont to be hawked about the
streets in days of yore. It was first sung by about twenty volunteer soldiers in
front of the Holliday Street Theater, who used to congregate at the adjoining
tavern to get their early mint juleps. Ben. Edes brought it round to them on
one of those libating mornings or matinees. I was one of the group. My brother
sang it. We all formed the chorus. This is its history . . .

The reference to the "History of the Philadelphia Stage" and to
"My brother" immediately implies the identity of this C. D. with
Charles Durang, brother of Ferdinand Durang (both actors), and
joint author, or, rather, editor of his father John's, "History of the
Philadelphia Stage," published serially in the Philadelphia Sunday
Dispatch, 1854-55. Consequently we have here the testimony of a
contemporary earwitness. A few years later, in 1867, Col. John L.
Warner read before the Pennsylvania Historical Society a paper on
"The Origin of the American National Anthem called 'The Star-
Spangled Banner/" and this paper was printed in the Historical
Magazine, 1867, Volume II, pages 279-280. As will be seen from
the following quotation, it does not contradict Charles Durang's
account, but merely supplements it. Says Colonel Warner:

It was first sung when fresh from his [Captain Benjamin Edes'] press, at a small
frame one-story house, occupied as a tavern next to the Holiday Street Theatre.

This tavern had long been kept by the widow Berling, and then by a Colonel
MacConkey, a house where the players "most did congregate," with the quid
nuncs of that day, to do honor to, and to prepare for, the daily military drills in
Gay Street, (for every able man was then a soldier;) and here came, also, Captain
Benjamin Edes, of the Twenty-seventh Regiment; Captain Long and Captain
Thomas Warner, of the Thirty-ninth Regiment, and Major Frailey. Warner
was a silversmith of good repute in that neighborhood.

It was the latter end of September, 1814, when a lot of the young volunteer
defenders of the Monumental City was thus assembled. Captain Edes and Cap-

The Star-Spangled Banner. 13

tain Thomas Warner came early along one morning and forthwith called the
group (quite merry with the British defeat) to order, to listen to a patriotic song
which the former had just struck off at his press. He then read it to all the young
volunteers there assembled, who greeted each verse with hearty shouts. It was
then suggested that it should be sung; but who was able to sing it? Ferdinand
Durang, who was a soldier in the cause and known to be a vocalist, being among

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Online LibraryOscar George Theodore SonneckReport on The Star-Spangled Banner, Hail Columbia, America, Yankee Doodle; → online text (page 1 of 19)