Written by taxi tour guide Frank
What is known as The War of 1812 started off the back of the ongoing battles between Britain and France. Both sides imposed restrictions on the ‘neutral’ shipping of goods to and from the ports of the opposing country, as well as to the colonies of that country, which in turn put economic pressure on the US as both Britain and France had colonies in North America at the time.
By the time the 4th President of the United States, James Madison, signed the declaration of war on the 18th June 1812, the conflict was between the US and Britain. Although this had come to an end by early 1815, one of the major turning points was the failed bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore on the 13th September 1814. During this siege by the British, Fort McHenry underwent 25 hours of shelling, to no avail. This was a major success for the US.
During preparation for the impending attack, Major George Armistead proclaimed “It is my desire to have a flag so large that the British will have no difficulty seeing it from a distance.” The order was placed with Mary Young Pickersgill who was asked to produce a flag which measured 32ft x 40ft: the star-spangled banner was born.
An American lawyer called Francis Scott Key, who witnessed the night of terror, had boarded one of the British ships before the operation. He wanted to persuade the British to release his friend, who they had captured. Both were released but not allowed back to shore. Witnessing the bombing throughout the night, Francis Scott Key was convinced that the British had succeeded – this event came just weeks after they had successively attacked Washington DC and set fire to the White House.
In the morning, when the smoke had cleared and the dust had settled, Francis Scott Key was amazed to see the star-spangled banner flying. This one moment in time prompted him to pen a poem about the events of the night and the significance of the flag.
The poem, called The Star-Spangled Banner, was later put to music. In 1931, it was made the official national anthem of the United States of America. The music originated as an old English drinking song called To Anacreon in Heaven. The song was sung with great pride by The Anacreontic Society at their fortnightly meetings – they were a group of hard-drinking literature types celebrating the 6th century Greek poet Anacreon, who wrote about love, wine and the beauty of life. The society met in a pub on the Strand, London, in the mid-1700s and it was a select group with no women allowed (except barmaids).
The pub where they met was called The Crown and Anchor, which incidentally is steeped in history and legend. It has been used as the backdrop for political satire and has been the meeting place of other associations and societies – also heavily linked to it was the poet and author Samuel Johnson. The pub housed a large room that the society hired to hold their meetings, as it was a ‘secret’ society and they tried to keep it as private and selective as they could. Intrigue once got the better of the Duchess of Devonshire and she snuck into a meeting, where she was caught hiding under a stage. After this episode the society disbanded, never to be heard of again.
Even though the national anthem, and the famous stars and stripes, came from conflict with the British in the early days of the United States of America, it seems it’s not only our language and cultural habits that link us!