The Star-Spangled Banner
A Children's Story About Francis Scott Key
Everybody in the United States has heard the song about
the star-spangled banner. Nearly everybody has sung it.
It was written by Francis Scott Key.
Key was a young lawyer, and in the War of 1812 he
fought with the American army. The British landed
soldiers in Maryland. At Bladensburg they fought and
beat the Americans, and Key was in this battle on the
After the battle the British army took Washington, and
burned the public buildings. Key had a friend who was
taken prisoner by the British. He was on one of the British
ships, and Key went to the ships with a flag of truce. A
flag of truce is a white flag, and it is carried in war when
one side sends a message to the other.
When Key got to the British ships, they were sailing to Baltimore. They were going to try to
take Baltimore, and the British commander would not let Key go back. He was afraid that he
would go back and let the Americans know where the ships were going.
Key was kept a kind of prisoner while the ships attacked Baltimore. The British ships tried to
take the city by firing at it from the water, and the British army tried to take the city on the
The ships did their worst firing at night. They tried to take the little fort near the city.
Key could see the battle. He watched the little fort, and he was afraid that the men in the fort
would give up. He was afraid that the fort would be broken down by all the cannon balls that
were fired from the ships.
The British fired bombshells and rockets at the fort. When these burst, they made a light. By
this light Key could see that the little fort was still standing. He could see the flag still waving
over it, and he tells this in his song in these words:--
"And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there."
But after many hours of fighting the British became discouraged. They found that they could
not take the city, so the ships were ordered to cease fire.
Key did not know whether the fort had been knocked down or not. He could not see whether
the flag was still flying or not. He thought that the Americans might have given up. He felt
what he wrote in the song:--
"Oh! say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?"
When the break of day came, Key looked toward the fort. It was still standing, and there was
a flag flying over it. It grew lighter. He could see that it was the American flag. His feelings are
told in two lines of the song:--
"Tis the star spangled banner, oh, long may it wave
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!"
Key was full of joy. He took an old letter from his pocket. The back of this letter had no
writing on it. Here he wrote the song about the star-spangled banner.
The British commander now let Key go ashore. When he got to Baltimore, he wrote out his
song, and he gave it to a friend. This friend took it to a printing office. But the printers were all
gone because they were out fighting the British to defend the city.
There was one boy left in the office, and he knew how to print. He took the verses and printed
them on a broad sheet of paper.
The printed song was soon in the hands of the soldiers around Baltimore. It was sung in the
streets. It was sung in the theaters. It traveled all over the country, and everybody learned to
"Then conquer we must, for 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."
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