Special Collections Department/Maryland Historical Society
"The Star-Spangled Banner" handwritten manuscript by Francis Scott Key, 1814.
"The Star-Spangled Banner" handwritten manuscript by Francis Scott Key, 1814. Special Collections Department/Maryland Historical Society
Monday is the 200th anniversary of the start of the War of 1812. Americans may not know much about that war, but they do know a song the war inspired: "The Star-Spangled Banner." The first scratches of those phrases are on display at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore.
The original quill-and-ink manuscript was written by Francis Scott Key. He wrote the lyrics while being held aboard a British ship. Trying to work out a prisoner release, he watched the bombardment of Fort McHenry — the rocket's red glare, bombs bursting in air.
The first draft has his edits in heavy, black ink.
"There are two corrections in it," says Burt Kummerow, president and CEO of the Historical Society. "The first one was in the very first line."
Where the song now says, "Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light," it originally had, "through the dawn's early light." The second edit is in the third stanza — today, usually only the first stanza is sung.
America's national anthem may have sounded familiar to some across the pond: It began as a British drinking song.
"Now, this is a polite drinking song," Kummerow says. "It's not one of these bawdy, everybody jumping on tables and stuff like that to sing."
Key was eventually set free after about two days with the British fleet. He finally penned "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the Indian Queen Tavern, deep in the Maryland countryside.