A Moment of Triumph

Then in that hour of deliverance and joyful triumph, my heart spoke.

—Francis Scott Key recalling the morning of September 14, 1814

By the “dawn’s early light” of September 14, 1814, Francis Scott Key, who was aboard a ship several miles distant, could just make out an American flag waving above Fort McHenry. British ships were withdrawing from Baltimore, and Key realized that the United States had survived the battle and stopped the enemy advance. Moved by the sight, he wrote a song celebrating “that star-spangled banner” as a symbol of America’s triumph and endurance.

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When did Francis Scott Key write the lyrics that became the National Anthem?

  • July 4, 1814
  • The morning after the battle, September 14, 1814
  • The night before the battle, September 13, 1814


How to Use This Resource in Your Classroom

  • Francis Scott Key

    Francis Scott Key

    Portrait of Francis Scott Key, attributed to Joseph Wood, about 1825. Courtesy Walters Art Gallery.

  • Spyglass


    Spyglass, early 1800s, of the type Key might have used to see the flag flying over Fort McHenry from the British ship on which he was being held.

  • Handwritten Draft of the Lyrics

    Handwritten Draft of the Lyrics

    Inspired by the sight of the American flag flying over Fort McHenry, Key scribbled the opening lyrics for his song on the back of a letter. Later he completed the four verses (PDF) on a sheet of paper, probably making more than one copy. Courtesy Maryland Historical Society.

Francis Scott Key Spyglass Handwritten Draft of the Lyrics