Star-spangled voodoo history

Star-spangled Banner and the War of 1812 - The original Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the song that would become our national anthem, is among the most treasured artifacts in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Star-spangled Banner and the War of 1812 – The original Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the song that would become our national anthem, is among the most treasured artifacts in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Every school kid learns the story of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” or should.

During the War of 1812, Georgetown lawyer Francis Scott Key, stood aboard a British ship in Baltimore Harbor to negotiate the release of his friend, Dr. William Beanes, who had been taken prisoner while the British stormed through Bladensburg, Maryland, after burning Washington, D.C.  Key witnessed the British shelling of Fort McHenry, the guardian of Baltimore’s harbor.  Inspired when he saw the U.S. flag still waving at dawn after a night of constant shelling, Key wrote a poem.

Key published the poem, suggested it might be put to the tune of “Anachreon in Heaven” (a tavern tune popular at the time) — and the popularity of the song grew until Congress designated it the national anthem in 1931.  In telling the story of the latest restoration of that garrison flag now housed at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, Smithsonian Magazine repeated the story in the July 2000 issue:  “Our Flag Was Still There.”

It’s a wonderful history with lots of splendid, interesting details (Dolley Madison fleeing the Executive Mansion clutching the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, the guy who had introduced Dolley to James Madison and then snubbed them after they were married; the British troops eating the White House dinner the Madisons left in their haste; the gigantic, 42 by 30 foot flag sewn by Mary Pickersgill, a Baltimore widow trying to support her family; the rag-tag Baltimore militia stopping cold “Wellington’s Invicibles;” the British massing of 50 boats and gunships; and much more).

It’s a grand and glorious history that stirs the patriotic embers of the most cynical Americans.

And it’s all true.

So it doesn’t deserve the voodoo history version, the bogus history created by some person preaching in a church (I gather from the “amens”) that is making the rounds of the internet, stripped of attribution so we cannot hunt down the fool who is at fault.

We got this in an e-mail yesterday; patriots save us, there must be a hundred repetitions that turn up on Google, not one correcting this horrible distortion of American history.

Horrible distortion of American history

(The full version is a mind-numbing 11 minutes plus.  Some people have put it on other sites. )

Why do I complain?

  1. It was the War of 1812, not the Revolutionary War — there were 15 states, not 13 colonies.
  2. There was no ultimatum to to Baltimore, nor to the U.S., as this fellow describes it.
  3. Key negotiated for the release of one man, Dr. Beanes.  There was no brig full of U.S. prisoners.
  4. It’s Fort McHenry, not “Henry.”  The fort was named after James McHenry, a physician who was one of the foreign-born signers of the Constitution, who had assisted Generals Washington and Lafayette during the American Revolution, and who had served as Secretary of War to Presidents Washington and Adams.
  5. Fort McHenry was a military institution, a fort defending Baltimore Harbor.  It was not a refuge for women and children.
  6. The nation would not have reverted to British rule had Fort McHenry fallen.
  7. There were 50 ships, not hundreds.  Most of them were rafts with guns on them.  Baltimore Harbor is an arm of Chesapeake Bay; Fort McHenry is not on the ocean.
  8. The battle started in daylight.
  9. Bogus quote:  George Washington never said “What sets the American Christian apart from all other people in this world is he will die on his feet before he will live on his knees.”  Tough words.  Spanish Civil War.  Not George Washington.  I particularly hate it when people make up stuff to put in the mouths of great men.  Washington left his diaries and considerably more — we don’t have to make up inspiring stuff, and when we do, we get it wrong.
  10. The battle was not over the flag; the British were trying to take Baltimore, one of America’s great ports.  At this point, they rather needed to since the Baltimore militia had stunned and stopped the ground troops east of the city.  There’s enough American bravery and pluck in this part of the story to merit no exaggerations.
  11. To the best of our knowledge, the British did not specifically target the flag.
  12. There were about 25 American casualties.  Bodies of the dead were not used to hold up the flag pole — a 42 by 30 foot flag has to be on a well-anchored pole, not held up by a few dead bodies stacked around it.

You can probably find even more inaccuracies (please note them in comments if you do).

The entire enterprise is voodoo history.  The name of Key is right; the flag is right; almost everything else is wrong.

Please help:  Can you find who wrote this piece of crap?  Can you learn who the narrator is, and where it was recorded?

I keep finding troubling notes with this on the internet: ‘My school kids are going to see this to get the real story.’  ‘Why are the libs suppressing the truth?’  ‘I didn’t know this true story before, and now I wonder why my teachers wouldn’t tell it.’

It’s voodoo history, folks.  It’s a hoax.  The real story is much better.

If Peter Marshall and David Barton gave a gosh darn about American history, they would muster their mighty “ministries” to correct the inaccuracies in this piece.  But they are silent.

Clearly, it’s not the glorious history of this nation they love.


Please share that voodoo, as you do so well:

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20 Responses to Star-spangled voodoo history

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    The treaty was signed, IIRC, at the end of November. War was not over — but the Battle of New Orleans, in early January 1815, WAS fought after the war was officially concluded.

    I trust some historians and some others to get history right, mostly. I’ve never found an error in David McCullough’s work (I’m sure there are some), nor in the work of Joseph Ellis — perhaps ironic in the latter case.

    But, you’re right about being skeptical of history. Too much of what we “know” is not factual, and our knowledge of things that are not, harms our ability to make decisions in the here and now.

    See Will Rogers and Kin Hubbard:


  2. chamblee54 says:
    Here is a post I wrote about this historian skirmish, about the story of a battle. I have a few more comments.
    1- How can you tell if someone is telling you false history? His lips are moving.
    2- Mr. Key was not a nice person. He was an attorney. He was involved in pro slavery litigation.
    3- The British and Americans knew, when this battle was fought, that the war was a folly. They were negotiating the treaty to end the war, with the zesty conclusion “status quo ante bellum.” Since it took the boats a couple of weeks to bring any news to the new republic, there is a good chance that the war was already over when this battle was fought.


  3. Nick K says:

    Barton tells a true story? Since when? Barton is a sociopathic liar and a right wing extremeist charlatan. He wouldn’t know how to tell the truth if his soul depended on it.

    Oh wait…he claims to be Christian. His soul DOES depend on it.


  4. Ed Darrell says:

    Please reread. I didn’t say Barton got this story wrong — though he makes a few minor errors along the way (the British were not taking hostages; Beanes was accused of actions against the British; Key was from Georgetown, and was the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, not Baltimore; etc.).

    At the time I wrote this, Barton was engaged in his attack on U.S. history standards in Texas, arguing to take Thomas Jefferson out, arguing for an expanded focus, falsely, on John Calvin instead, and other atrocities. What I criticized Barton and Marshall for was not speaking to correct the errors in this piece. That criticism still stands.

    David Barton tells such fantastic, hateful lies about America and American heroes that it would be impossible to take a cheap shot at him.

    A man who would lie about what James Madison said, the Father of the Constitution, is not to be trusted in anything else he claims. A man who denies the Constitution is to be pitied, perhaps. But a “cheap shot” would be absolutely impossible in his case.


  5. Lori Lewis says:

    Thank you for clarifying the inaccuracies of the story presented in the video. However, it was a cheap shot against David Barton. If you took the time to go to his Website, he does tell the true story.


  6. Joan Perkins says:

    Dolley Madison did not carry the 97.5″ x 62.5″ painted canvas of George Washington under her arm and out the door. She did, though, supervise its being removed from the White House.


  7. David Allred says:

    Thanks for setting the story straight! Someone played it in church today. My “crap detector” went off when it was clear that he thought the event was the revolutionary war. People need to be more discerning. Why do people want to propagate lies when the truth is so much better? (As you pointed out.) Blatant falsehoods feed cynicism.

    Another lie in the false history.

    1. That the same flag was there the whole time. The flag was switched between night and morning. It went from the “storm flag” to the 30 by 42 foot one after the bombardment.

    Wikipedia articles also discuss the small number of casualties.

    I would like to see bad stuff like this story ashcanned, but the web keeps it alive. Someone needs to send an alert to


  8. […] are too many myths about the Star Spangled Banner (which are in good company with the scores of other myths and distortions about the birth of the […]


  9. Tsu Dho Nimh says:

    Point #9 – that quote is from a prominent Communist labor organizer, agitator, and outspoken woman, Dolores Ibárruri Gómez.

    She makes Cesar Chavez look moderate.


  10. Tsu Dho Nimh says:

    AHAH! By David C. Gibbs Jr.

    He is a lawyer, prominent in defending homeschooling, was on the Terry Schiavo case working to prolong her death …

    No wonder he’s lying about the song’s composition.


  11. Tsu Dho Nimh says:

    A really long version (~20 Min) uploaded by BereanBeacon May 25, 2008:

    Elaboration of the shorter version?

    Wonder if they’ve ever read Keyes’ diary. Or a history book.


  12. Tsu Dho Nimh says:

    Closer to the source: October 23, 2007

    And the real thing –


  13. Tsu Dho Nimh says:

    WTF? Where did he larn his history? The same place he larned his biology, chemistry and geology?


  14. j a higginbotham says:

    Barton’s version?:


  15. mark says:

    Sorry–I got lost.
    Maryland State workers used to get the day off to celebrate “Defenders Day,” September 12th. I guess the holiday actually celebrated the larger actions in the vicinity of Baltimore, including the Battle of North Point.


  16. fab50kate says:

    shoot… logged in under the wrong account. It’s me, Dorid


  17. fab50kate says:

    “He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.” ~George Orwell, 1984

    I hate to say it, but the home topic this week has been “rewriting history to shape political and religious agendas. I dare say this situation is not unique.


  18. barbara says:

    Thanks for setting the story straight!


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