It is widely known Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag. Unfortunately, that is inaccurate. Her grandson used his imagination and turned her in to an icon. We do know who the lovely woman that sewed the Star Spangled Banner is.
The War of 1812 was a gruesome conflict. The Capitol and White House were both burned and the port in Baltimore was next on the list. Francis Scott Key and Colonel John Skinner were aboard a British ship to negotiate the release of Dr. William Beanes on September 7, 1814. Beanes release was granted. However, Key and Skinner weren’t allowed to leave until after the attack was over.
The actual battle on Fort McHenry began on September 12, 1814. The major attack took place the following morning in the rain. The British fired 1500 bombshells at Fort McHenry, including specialized Congreve rockets that left red tails of flame and bombs with burning fuses that were supposed to explode when they reached their target but often blew up in midair instead. From eight miles away, Key witnessed it all, including the replacement of a stormy flag with a huge battle one.
Major George Armistead, commander of Fort McHenry, acquired the services of a flag maker named Mary Pickersgill. She was paid $405.90 for a flag 30ft x 42ft or about one quarter the size of a basketball court as well as $168.54 for a smaller flag. Her 13-year old daughter, Caroline and two nieces, Eliza and Margaret Young to make the unusually large flag, assisted her. The delivery was made on August 19, 1814.
Upon seeing this, he began a commemorative poem called The Defence of Fort M’Henry on the back of an old letter. He finished the four stanzas of the poem in a Baltimore hotel. Then, his brother-in-law took it to the printers. As it circulated in the press, this poem was given a new name, Star Spangled Banner and some music. It became a well known patriotic tune during the war. President Woodrow Wilson ordered the song to become our National Anthem in 1916. Congress made it official on March 3, 1931.
The Star Spangled Banner remained in Major Armistead’s family for several decades. His grandson Eben succumbed to requests and finally entrusted this keepsake to the Smithsonian where it is being restored in full view of the public.