The Banner Yet Waved
by Karen Whiting
“Oh my dear Ruth, such an other night I never experienced, from one till three an incessant firing, we all thought it impossible that the Fort could hold out; the flashes from the bombs distinctly close in three different parts of my chamber; it was like continued flashes of lightning. . . I looked anxiously for day. I thought the hours would never roll around.”
Lydia Hollingsworth watched the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812 from a family home. In the morning, she shared the same relief as Francis Scott Key as she penned, “I dressed soon after day broke. We with great pleasure observed our Flags at each Fort still flying.”
This year is the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. One blessing from the war is our national anthem. On June 14, Flag Day, when we sing words to honor the banner that waved through a long night of battle, we should remember those who bravely fought to keep us free.
All of Baltimore, not just soldiers, spent weeks preparing to fend off the British. The massive effort enlisted young and old. Women cooked provisions and rolled bandages, soldiers drilled, old men and young boys erected barracks, doctors set up make-shift hospitals, and General Smith and the Baltimore Committee of Vigilance and Safety strategized a plan.
Francis Scott Key spent the day before the battle securing the release of Dr. William Beanes, an American who outraged the British when he caused the arrest of a disorderly band of British soldiers. Scott produced documents proving Dr. Beanes had treated wounded British soldiers. By the time Key won his case, the battle had begun and the British detained Key on the ship.
As Key observed the battle from the enemy ship, he wrote notes on an envelope and noted his joy that the banner yet waved. Later that night, free and staying in a Baltimore hotel, Key finished writing his poem that became our national anthem. The flag created quite a stir of emotions.
Lydia and her family had relocated before the battle, outside of Baltimore and yet still could see the flag due to its massive size. Colonel Armstead ordered a flag to fly over Fort McHenry to be sewn so large that ‘the British would have no difficulty seeing it.’ Indeed the whole city saw it waving in the breeze and found hope at seeing it the morning after battle.
Mary Young Pickersgill sewed the flag. She received permission to spread out the 400 yards of wool bunting on the floor of Clagett’s brewery to work on the massive banner. She completed the flag in August 1814, 30 feet by 42 feet with fifteen stars, and supervised fastening the flag securely so bombs could not tear it off the staff. The battle began on the morning of September 13, 1814 and continued for twenty-five hours.
The faith of the people of Maryland and Francis Scott Key is less known or written about in history books. His personal letters reveal a passion for evangelism. Key’s poetry reflected his faith, with phrases such as:
Who can look around him, with-out seeing that everything bears witness to him, and to his power, justice, and goodness? He that sees only this, cannot believe that death is the end of life.
Key conducted prayers in his home twice daily that included all the servants. He carried on a lengthy correspondence when his friend John Randolph expressed Voltaire’s writings had shaken his faith. He proclaimed that writings of such infidels strengthened his faith and stated his passion to debate, “Men may argue ingeniously against our faith, as indeed they may against anything—but what can they say in defense of their own—I would carry the war into their own territories, I would ask them what they believe.”
Even on his death bed, Key showed concern for others rather than himself. He reminded his wife of a leather bag of money to use for charity.
Lydia Hollingsworth also expressed her faith as well as her fear, “Some moments I feel very resolute, the next quite the reverse; God only know[s] what the event will be, I put my trust in Him; and I fervently trust He will protect us all.”
Journals, letters, and newspaper accounts reveal the faith of patriots like Lydia Hollingsworth and Francis Scott Key. They encouraged family and friends to hold fast to the fight for freedom and trust God. They challenge us to continue an American legacy of faith.
Karen Whiting, author of fourteen books, writes to encourage families. Her newest devotional book, Stories of Faith from the Home Front, co-authored with Jocelyn Green, shares 365 true, heartwarming stories of the faith and courage of women, children, and volunteers on the home front during American wars. The trials and triumphs represented in this book point us to timeless truths of how God’s Word strengthens faith and inspires courage. Karen’s website is karenwhiting.com. The book’s website is homefrontcourage.com.