The National Anthem’s Path to Fame Began With Little Fanfare


One of the most important articles ever published by a 19th-century newspaper called The Baltimore Patriot & Evening Advertiser didn’t even make the front page. It appeared on Page 2.

The article was about a new song, “The Defence of Fort M’Henry.” The title was anything but catchy or enduring, but the newspaper said the song itself was “destined long to outlast the occasion, and outlive the impulse, which produced it.”

For once, a prediction in a newspaper proved correct. The song caught on, and its author, Francis Scott Key, became famous for it after it was retitled “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Still, that issue of The Patriot took on historical significance, because it was the first printing of Key’s lyrics with a date — Sept. 20, 1814, three days after Key had completed the lines he had begun scribbling on the back of a letter he was carrying.

The issue was important enough to end up in the collection of the American Antiquarian Society, which concentrates on 18th- and 19th-century documents and memorabilia, especially newspapers. Its goal is to have one copy of every newspaper printed between 1640 and 1876 in the American colonies or, after the Declaration of Independence, the United States. It has two million newspapers on hand.

James Barron

2020-05-29 00:50:37

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