By Dawn’s Early Light

american-flag“So you will release Dr. William Beanes?” said Francis Scott Key, the American lawyer and soldier in the Georgetown Light Field Artillery.  Key had come to Baltimore to negotiate the release of Dr. Beanes, his friend and colleague from before the war.

“Yes, we will release Dr. Beanes as requested,” said Major General Robert Ross, as he took another sip of his brandy. Maj. Gen. Ross was the commander of the Tonnant, flagship of the British fleet in Chesapeake Bay. “Your letters of his aid to British officers that he helped in the past, help us forgive his more recent grievances towards His Majesties royal forces.”

“Thank you,” said John Skinner, American prisoner-of-exchange officer who also accompanied Key on this mission. “We appreciate your time and understanding. We will be on our way with Dr. Beanes, if you please.”

“I am afraid that won’t be happening now,” said Maj. Gen. Ross, a half-smile on his face. “You are familiar with our position, strength and a small part of our plans. We are on the verge of a major offensive to rival the destruction of your capital, Washington D.C., from a few weeks ago. I’m afraid you all will have to wait until we are finished leveling Baltimore.

Angered and anxious by the news they heard, Key, Skinner and Dr. Beanes were escorted by three marines out to the deck to watch in the rain as Fort McHenry got shelled by more than 1,500 rockets and cannon balls.

“Heaven help us,” said Key to his companions an hour into the bombardment, where more than 100 shots had been fired in steady succession.  “It’s as if mother earth has opened and is vomiting shot and shell in a sheet of fire and brimstone. How can the fort sustain such an assault?”

The three waited anxiously during the rainy night for morning to come and show whether the British objective of destroying the fort and conquering the bay had come to pass. In the light of dawn, Key and his friends saw a huge 30’x42′ American flag flying above the fort. In jubilation, Key, Skinner and Beanes hugged and praised God for saving the fort as well as Baltimore for one more day.

Key felt inspired by the sight he saw at the beginning of day, September 14, 1814. He wrote down the beginning of a poem on the back of a letter he had in his pocket.

After they were freed to return to land, Key continued to work on his poem that day and into the next day at an inn in Baltimore. He polished the poem into four verses, which he shared with his brother-in-law Joseph Nicholson, a commander of a militia at Fort McHenry. The poem was published and shared throughout Baltimore and eventually in New York and across the country.

For You:

Had Francis Scott Key not gone onto an enemy vessel to negotiate his friend and fellow country man’s release, he never would have been in Baltimore to witness that fateful victory. Key lived in Washington DC and was opposed to the war initially, but he acted to save a friend and then continued to act on the inspiring feelings he felt to finish his poem. He wasn’t trying to create a national anthem at first, but as he proactively moved forward, he was given the words that are now recognized around the world as the national anthem for the United States of America.

What will you do this week, not to react, but to act for good? What positive motion can you create that will help others?

Here are the original verses of the poem Francis Scott Key wrote.

O! say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
’Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: ’In God is our trust.’
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!


I started writing short stories in elementary school, starting with a short story about twin track athletes. In college, I wrote for the college newspaper and studied communications. My first job out of college was with a magazine as an assistant editor, where I started a comic strip called City Boy. My first published work, was a short essay entitled, Dream with Me, published in “The Art of Service” booklet put out by the Thayne Center for Service and Learning. I also published a three part series for families called “Family Parables – Wise Man Foolish Man.” This set is designed to be used by families to create discussion and learning as a family. I soon will publish my first novel, Love Like Alzheimer’s, a story of a family that is learning to love deeper as their beloved grandmother struggles with Alzheimer’s disease.

One thought on “By Dawn’s Early Light
  1. Bradley says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. These stories need to be told and retold to remind us how blessed we are to live in a free God fearing country, that sees all men as equals. At least that is the goal. Remembering our past is a great way to remind us of what we are fighting for or fighting to preserve and the sacrifices that have been made to create what we have. Thank you!

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