In 1813 the commander of Ft. McHenry asked for a flag so big that "the British have no trouble seeing it from a distance." He asked Mary Young Pickersgill to make the flag for him. Her thirteen year old daughter Caroline helped her. She used 400 yards of fine wool. They cut 15 stars that were two feet across. There were
8 red and 7 white
stripes. The stripes were each two feet wide. When it was finished
it measured 30 by 42 feet and cost $405.90.
During this time Francis Scott Key was a lawyer in Georgetown,
just a few miles from
Washington D.C. He and his wife Mary had 6 sons and 5 daughters.
In 1814, the British captured Washington and set the
Capitol on fire. President James Madison and his wife Dolley had to
leave the White House and run to a safer place.
After this attack, the Americans knew that Baltimore would be attacked
next. The British had captured Mr. Key's friend. His name was William
Beanes and he was a doctor. Key and another man set out to try to save
Dr. Beanes' life. They told the British the doctor had helped to save
British soldiers who had been wounded. They agreed to free him, but they
wouldn't let them leave because the three men had overheard the British
making plans to attack. So they were placed under guard on a British
It was from this ship Francis Scott Key watched the bombing of
Ft. McHenry. There was a lot of smoke and haze, but when daylight came,
he could see the flag was still waving.
He was so inspired he
began to write a poem on the back of a letter he had in his pocket.
He later finished the poem and showed it to his brother-in-law who took
it to a printer and had copies made of it. Two of these copies survive
Newspapers started printing it and people began singing it to
a familiar tune.
The Star Spangled Banner was adopted as our national anthem on March 3, 1931.
The flag which flew over Ft. McHenry is now at the Smithsonian in the
Museum of American History. The flag is very fragile and they keep a
curtain in front of it to protect it from the light and dust. They show
the flag for a few moments once every hour when the museum is open to the
This biography by Patsy Stevens, a retired teacher, was written in 2001.