WHERE, AS A BOY, THE AUTHOR OF “THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER” WAS A FREQUENT VISITOR
When Colonel James Wolfe was campaigning in Scotland in 1748 to 1753, one of the surgeons in his command was Upton Scott, a young Irishman from County Antrim. At that time began a friendship between the two men that continued through life.
Another friend made at this time by the young surgeon was Horatio Sharpe. In 1753, when Sharpe planned to go to America, Dr. Scott decided to go with him, though it was not easy to think of resigning his commission, for this would mean the severance of pleas-ant relations with his colonel. When Wolfe said good-bye to his comrade he gave him a pair of pistols as a remembrance. These are still treasured by descendants of the surgeon.
From 1754 to 1769 Horatio Sharpe was Proprietary Governor of Maryland, and Dr. Scott was his companion and physician. The young surgeon was popular among the young people whom he met at Annapolis, the colonial capital.
In 1760, when he persuaded Elizabeth Ross, the daughter of John Ross, the Register of the Land Office of Maryland, to become his bride, he built for her the stately house in Annapolis, Maryland, which is now occupied by the Sisters of Notre Dame. The new house, with its charming doorway and wonderful hall carvings, was well worth the attention even of one who had spent her girlhood at Belvoir, a quaint mansion of great beauty, six miles from Annapolis.
Governor Sharpe was a welcome visitor at the Scott house until the time of his death in 1789, when he appointed his friend, the owner, one of his executors. Governor Robert Eden, the last of the Proprietary Governors, who served from 1769 to 1774, was at times almost a member of the Scott household.
Governor Eden was looked upon with favor by the patriots in Maryland because he was always moderate and advised the repeal of the tax on tea. In 1776 he went to England, but in 1784 he returned to Maryland to look after the estate of Mrs. Eden, who was Caroline Calvert, sister of Lord Baltimore; by the terms of the treaty of 1783 he was entitled to this property. While in Annapolis he was the guest of Dr. Scott. There, in the room now used by the Sisters of Notre Dame as a chapel, he died.
But probably the most famous visitor to the Scott mansion was Francis Scott Key, who was the grandson of Mrs. Scott’s sister, Ann Arnold Ross Key of Belvoir. When he was a boy he was often in Annapolis. His college training was received at St. John’s in the old town, and in later life he frequently turned his steps to the house of his great-aunt and listened to the stories of Dr. Scott that helped to train him in the patriotism that was responsible, a few years later, for the composition of the ” Star-Spangled Banner.”
Many garbled stories have been told of the circumstances that led to the writing of this song that has stirred the hearts of millions. The true story, and in many respects the simplest, was told by Key himself to his brother-in-law, R. R. Taney, who was later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In 1865, when the ” Poems of the Late Francis Scott Key, Esq., ” were published, the volume contained the story as related by Judge Taney.
In 1814, the main body of the British invaders passed through Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Many of the officers made their headquarters at the home of Dr. William Beanes, a physician whom the whole town loved. When some of the stragglers from the army began to plunder the house, Dr. Beanes put himself at the head of a small body of citizens and pursued these stragglers. When the British officers heard of this, Dr. Beanes was seized and treated, not with kindness as a prisoner of war, but with great indignity. Key, as an intimate friend of the doctor, and a lawyer, was asked by the townsmen to intercede for the prisoner. When application was made to President Madison for help, he arranged to send Key to the British fleet, under a flag of truce, on a government vessel, in company with John S. Skinner, a government agent.
For a week or ten days no word came from the expedition. The people were alarmed for the safety of Key and his companion.
The bearers of the flag of truce found the fleet at the mouth of the Potomac. They were received courteously until they told their business. The British commander spoke harshly of Dr. Beanes, but fortunately Mr. Skinner had letters from the British officers who had received kindness at the doctor’s hands. General Ross finally agreed that, solely as a recognition of this kindness, the prisoner would be released. But he told the Americans that they could not leave the fleet for some days. They were therefore taken to the frigate Sur-prise, where they were under guard. They understood that an immediate attack on Baltimore was contemplated, and that they were being restrained that they might not warn the city of the plans of the enemy.
That night Fort McHenry was attacked. The Admiral had boasted that the works would be carried in a few hours, and that the city would then fall. So, from the deck of the Surprise, Key and his companion watched and listened anxiously all night. Every time a shell was fired, they waited breathlessly for the explosion they feared might follow. ” While the bombardment continued, it was sufficient proof that the fort had not surrendered. But it suddenly ceased some time before day. . . They paced the deck for the remainder of the night in fearful suspense. . . As soon as it dawned, and before it was light enough to see objects at a distance, their glances were turned to the fort, uncertain what they should see there, the Stars and Stripes, or the flag of the enemy. At length the light came, and they saw that ‘ our flag was still there.’ ”
A little later they saw the approach of boats loaded with wounded British soldiers. Then Key took an envelope and wrote many of the lines of the song, and while he was on the boat that carried him to shore he completed the first rough draft. That night, at the hotel, he rewrote the poem. Next day he showed it to Judge Nicholson, who was so delighted with it that the author was encouraged to send it to a printer, by the hand of Captain Benjamin Eades. Captain Eades took the first handbill that came from the press and carried it to the old tavern next the Holliday Street Theatre. There the words were sung for the first time, to the tune ” Anacreon in Heaven,” the tune Key had indicated on his copy.
Long before the author’s death in 1843 the song had won its place in the affections of the people. He wrote many other poems, and some of them have become popular hymns. At the memorial service conducted for him in Christ Church, Cincinnati, by his friend and former pastor, Rev. J. T. Brooke, the congregation was asked to sing Key’s own hymn, beginning :
” Lord, with glowing heart I’d praise thee, For the bliss thy love bestows; For the pardoning grace that saves me, And the peace that from it flows. Help, 0 Lord, my weak endeavor; This dull soul to rapture raise; Thou must light the flame, or never Can my love be warmed to praise.”
Dr. Scott, in whose Annapolis home Key had spent so many happy days, died in 1814, the year of the composition of ” The Star-Spangled Banner.” Mrs. Scott lived until 1819.