1818 · New York
Early printing of The Star Spangled Banner.
Francis Scott Key's stirring verses were inspired by a shipboard vigil on the night of September 13-14, 1814, while British warships bombarded Fort McHenry, outside Baltimore. Key, a young lawyer, had boarded a British vessel ship to seek the release of an American physician held prisoner. During of the bombardment, Key was detained and spent the night on deck, watching the British rain shells onto the fort. During the British assault, a large stars and stripes flag flew over the fort but during the bombardment it was obscured by smoke. Key feared the fort had surrendered. When the smoke of battle died down and the flag could be clearly seen, Key's emotions were powerfully stirred. His first draft of what became the national anthem was written on the back of a letter to the tune of an English drinking tune "The Anacreontic Song," by John Stafford Smith. Broadside and newspaper printings of the verses appeared and it was widely performed by a traveling music company. The first sheet-music edition uniting Keys lyrics and Smith's music appeared no later than 19 October from the press of J. Carr in Baltimore; a Philadelphia printing from the press of A. Bacon followed. The anthem was next published in New York by the firm of Geib & Co. All are very rare. In 1816, American composer James Hewitt (1770-1827) set out to replace Key's original chosen tune, as The Anacreontic Song, composed by English composer John Stafford Smith for a London gentleman's club, was deemed by him to be decidedly too British. Hewitt took it upon himself to create an original American tune, first engraved by Birch and published by Nicolls; the present issue with Geib imprint, printed from the same plates, followed shortly thereafter. All early editions of The Star Spangled Banner are scarce.
J. Fuld, Book of World-Famous Music, pp.592-534; J. Muller, Star Spangled Banner, 1973, p.35; cf. Filby and Howard, Star-Spangled Books S10; Sabin 90498; Wolfe, Secular Music in America 3783A. (Inventory #: 37935)