This is a nice story, but rather false, and obviously so. The actual story is quite grand enough; there is no need to make stuff up.
Francis Scott Key's words commemorate precise details of a specific event during the War of 1812. The actual star-spangled banner was 30' by 42'--the largest battle flag ever flown. It had been commissioned by Major George Armistead, the commander of Fort McHenry at the entrance to Baltimore Harbor, who wanted a flag large enough to be seen by the British at a distance. Flag-maker Mary Young Pickersgill, assisted by her 13-year-old daughter Caroline, assembled the flag with fifteen stars and fifteen stripes, laying out yards of woolen bunting at night by candlelight on the spacious floor of a brewery.
British forces had burned Washington in August of 1814, and captured a beloved elderly physician named William Beanes. Francis Scott Key, a successful Washington lawyer, had permission from President James Madison to try to negotiate Beanes' release. Negotiations took place over dinner--while the British officers also planned their attack on Baltimore. Beanes was freed, but he and Key were not permitted to return to Baltimore until after the battle whose plans they had overheard. They spent the night on their own sloop under a flag of truce, listening and watching for signs of the battle's outcome.
The British fired 1500 bombshells at Fort McHenry, including specialized Congreve rockets that left red tails of flame ("the rockets' red glare") and bombs with burning fuses that were supposed to explode when they reached their target but often blew up in midair instead ("the bombs bursting in air").
Watching from eight miles downstream, Key was able to see the huge battle flag hoisted at dawn to replace the storm flag that had flown through the rainy night. An amateur poet and hymn-writer (his hymns include Before the Lord We Bow and Lord With Glowing Heart I'd Praise Thee), he began a commemorative poem, which he called The Defence of Fort M'Henry, on the back of an old letter.
Finishing the four stanzas of the poem in a Baltimore hotel, he gave it to his brother-in-law to take to a printer who produced handbills of it. Two Baltimore newspapers, the Patriot and the American, published The Defence of Fort M'Henry anonymously on September 20, noting that the words fit the tune To Anacreon in Heaven. Soon it appeared in other newspapers around the country, with its new title, The Star-Spangled Banner . Ferdinand Durang, a Baltimore actor, sang the song publicly at Captain McCauley's tavern that October. Carr's Music Store of Baltimore was able to offer The Star-Spangled Banner in their 1814 catalog.
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