Francis Scott Key wrote what we now know as our national anthem during the Battle of Baltimore, which began on 13 September 1814 and ended the following morning. Key was a lawyer by vocation. He had boarded the British ship Tonnant with an American colonel to negotiate the release of prisoners, including a prominent citizen named Beale.
Unfortunately, dinner on the Tonnant had left Key and his companion with knowledge of the British fleet, as well as the fact that they planned to attack Baltimore. So Key and a few other Americans had to watch the assault on Baltimore’s Fort McHenry from the deck of an enemy vessel! In the early morning hours of 14 September, he saw that the American flag still flew, and as Key was a poet by avocation, he wrote four stanzas describing the attack.
“Defence of Fort McHenry” was published on 20 September 1814, but later became known as “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The Baltimore Patriot listed the tune as “Anacreon in Heaven,” which was written by John Stafford Smith of the Anacreontic Society, which was a gentlemen’s club in London for amateur musicians of good social status. The name comes from the Greek court poet Anacreon, who was quite the entertainer in his day. The Anacreontic Society itself regularly presented concerts of music for the public.
Woodrow Wilson declared by executive order in 1916 that it should be played at government occasions, but it wasn’t until 1931 that Iowa’s own Herbert Hoover signed legislation declaring it our national anthem.
In short…it was an Iowan who gave our nation its first (and thus far only) official anthem, and the tune was written by a group dedicated to free public concerts! And we are very happy to play the anthem at every one of our concerts for you.