An Early Draft of "The Star-Spangled Banner," With All Those Verses We Never Sing

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
June 10 2014 3:15 PM

An Early Draft of "The Star-Spangled Banner," With All Those Verses We Never Sing

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This year marks the bicentennial of Francis Scott Key’s “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and there will be commemorations galore (see the Smithsonian’s extensive plans here, and the Maryland Historical Society's here). Here’s one of Key’s first drafts of the song, including the unfamiliar second, third, and fourth verses.

Key, a Washington lawyer, witnessed the September 1814 Battle of Baltimore from a truce ship in the harbor, where he had been confined for the duration of the battle after negotiating for the release of an American prisoner. Key revised his initial on-the-spot draft of the song several times before publishing it as a broadside, titled “The Defence of Fort McHenry.” Various East Coast newspapers republished the song, which was renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner” by early November.

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Of the three less-familiar verses, the third is the most interesting. It taunts the British Army, referring to the invaders as the “band who so vauntingly swore/that the havoc of war & the battle’s confusion” would strip Americans of “a home & a Country.” By calling them a “band,” rather than an army, Key diminishes the status of the British forces, whose “blood has wash’d out their foul footsteps’ pollution.”

Key’s association of the British Army with “hirelings and slaves” was meant to be an insult. As historian Kevin Levin writes, the British Army liberated enslaved people in the Chesapeake region and recruited them as soldiers during the War of 1812. To Key, “freemen,” as he calls Americans, were to be lauded for their patriotic convictions, while slaves who enlisted to gain their personal liberation were to be disdained. 

Here’s a recorded version of all four verses of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as it might have been sung in late 1814. This version was produced by the Star Spangled Music Foundation, a group of scholars associated with the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre, and Dance.

Despite its consistent popularity, the song didn’t become the official national anthem until 1931

Click on the image to reach a zoomable version. My transcript follows. 

[54315] The Star Spangled Banner 1814 by Francis Scott Key
"The Star Spangled Banner," 1814. By Francis Scott Key.

The Maryland Historical Society.

My transcript:

Oh say can you see through by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming
Whose broad stripes & bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bomb 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 & 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 – O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free & the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war & the battle’s confusion
A home & a Country should leave us no more ?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling & 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 & the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever when freeman shall stand
Between their lov’d home & the war’s desolation
Blest with vict’ry & peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made & preserv’d us as 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 & the home of the brave. 

Rebecca Onion, who runs Slate’s history blog The Vault, is a writer and academic living in Ohio. Follow her on Twitter.

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