THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

03 March 2012

3 March 1931: O! Say Can You See. The Star Spangled Banner

O! Say Can You See. The Star Spangled Banner 9kb

O! Say Can You See. The Star Spangled Banner. New York: Geib & Co., 1817. H.1860.ww.(38)

During the night of 3 September 1814, while on a mission approved by U.S. President Monroe, Francis Scott Key witnessed the massive British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. As dawn broke Key was astounded to see the American flag still flying. To commemorate this stunning victory he immediately wrote a 4-stanza poem entitled "Defence of Fort McHenry". Recognising that the poem perfectly fit the popular British drinking song "Anacreon in Heaven", Key's brother-in-law had the poem published and it soon began gaining popularity as "The Star-Spangled Banner". On 3 March 1931, nearly 120 years after it was first penned, it became the national anthem of the United States. This edition, published in New York in 1817, is one of the earliest examples of American sheet music held by the British Library.

From the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library online exhibition, Singing the Dream.

Read more about the Star-Spangled Banner on the Library of Congress's Treasures pages, and we've also briefly posted on the origins of the tune here.

[JP/MJS]

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