The star-spangled buoy

Francis Scott Key buoy drop

Post written by PA1 Pamela J. Boehland

The stars and stripes of the American flag are painted on the “Francis Scott Key” buoy, which is now bobbing up and down in the Patapsco River. It marks the spot, where 200 years ago, Key was inspired to pen, what was later to become, the national anthem. The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter James Rankin, homeported at the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore, ceremoniously set the buoy there to continue a tradition that dates back to 1914.

The buoy doesn’t serve any navigational purposes, but rather, it is a reminder of an important moment in the nation’s collective history.

“The Star-Spangled Banner is America’s pride,” said Scott Sheads, a National Park Service Ranger and historian at Fort McHenry. “It was the first time anyone wrote down what the flag represented to the country.”

On Sept. 14, 1814, Key was a prominent Georgetown attorney, and he was aboard a flag-of-truce vessel, trying to secure the release of William Beanes, a Maryland doctor imprisoned by the British for arresting English soldiers near his home. It was then that 25 British ships began their bombardment of the port of Baltimore and Fort McHenry. Through the night, Key witnessed cannon and gunfire pummeling the fort, and, when he saw the flag still flying at dawn in an unbeaten defiance, he immortalized the scene in a four-verse poem.

Originally titled “Defence of Fort M’Henry” by Key’s brother-in-law, a commander of a militia at Fort McHenry, the Star-Spangled Banner was printed and distributed to Fort McHenry soldiers, and later published in Baltimore newspapers.

Sheads said, by the end of 1814, the song had reached every newspaper throughout the country.

Key set the words to the tune of an old English song written by John Stafford Smith called “To Anacreon in Heaven,” and in 1931, it officially became the national anthem.

“From then, on the flag became a treasure,” said Sheads.

“The buoy is a landmark for many sailors and recreational boaters in the summer and fall months,” said Lt. Ashley Crouch, commanding officer of the James Rankin. “Many harbor cruise tourist companies use the buoy as one of their attractions.”

Francis Scott Key buoy drop

The buoy drop is just one of several events to commemorate the anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner and the end of the War of 1812, which Sheads said was the real end of the American Revolution.

The Coast Guard will remove the buoy in the fall to protect it from the ice and winds of the harsh Northeast winter and set it again the following spring.

“I am honored to be part of this long tradition of commemorating the spirit of Baltimore’s fighting citizens and our National Anthem with the Francis Scott Key Buoy, and I hope the Coast Guard continues to be involved in this historic event for the next 100 years, too,” said Crouch.

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