Don’t fall for the 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 can 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.

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Please share that voodoo, as you do so well!

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16 Responses to Don’t fall for the star-spangled voodoo history

  1. Arvid says:

    What a great article. I have seen this same phony baloney posted and reposted on Facebook several times in the last couple of years. The first time, I refuted it by checking my remembrance of the facts through research but could have saved myself an infinity of effort (as Sherlock Holmes once said) by having known about this blog post. But it just keeps reappearing, like a bad Pfennig. Good work, you and several respondents here, who have ferreted out the facts and made them available in comfortable form.

    On another front entirely, I must take exception to sentiments I have seen in scanning some other blog posts and nick both Hillary and Trump as hopeless jerks, utterly unworthy to govern this country if for differing reasons. And I am glad that the president is liked by children. His wretched presidency ought to be approved by someone, and those most inclined to shower unqualified and uncritical love on creatures, however unworthy, are the ones to do the approving.

    But all still can play in the sandbox, I hope, without undue rancor.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] (Hey, Dear Reader; this post got an update many months later — you may want to check it out for better links and more information.) […]

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  3. Eric Neil Koenig says:

    Friends don’t let friends spread voodoo. Shared to my timeline. Thanks Ed.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. James Gamble says:

    Here is my detailed analysis of David C. Gibbs’ narration in the video:

    The problem with this ‘True Story’ of our National Anthem is it is VIRTUALLY ALL FALSE!
    THIS NARRATOR IS TOTALLY CLUELESS ABOUT AMERICAN HISTORY AND HAS FABRICATED AN INCREDIBLE FANTASY STORY – A FAIRY TALE AND A MYTH!!

    The only things he got right was::
    *Francis Scott Key was a lawyer (although he was from Georgetown, outside of Washington D.C., NOT Baltimore), and he talked to the Admiral of the British Fleet;
    *The British bombarded a fort, BUT it is Fort McHenry, NOT Fort Henry as he repeatedly calls it;
    *And Key wrote the words to what would become The Star Spangled Banner.
    VIRTUALLY EVERYTHING ELSE IS BLATANTLY FALSE!

    HERE ARE THE FACTS:

    First of all, the narrator (David C. Gibbs Jr., a preacher) has this set in the Revolutionary War with “the Colonies” against “the Mother Country, Britain”.
    The Revolutionary War ended in 1783. This battle took place during the War of 1812 (it started in 1812) in September of 1814, 31 years after the Revolutionary War ended, and 26 years after the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1788. This war was the United States against the invading British Army and Navel forces, BUT it was WE who had declared war on Great Britain.
    Francis Scott Key was born three years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and would have only been four years old at the end of the Revolution.
    Fort McHenry wasn’t even built until 1798 and finished in 1800 (17 years after the Revolutionary War had ended).

    Francis Scott Key had sailed out to the British fleet anchored in the Chesapeake Bay in a truce vessel (not in a ‘row boat’) NOT to negotiate the exchange of many prisoners of war, but, rather (with fellow lawyer John S. Skinner) to get the release of ONE INDIVIDUAL, the elderly Dr. William Beanes (who was his friend), a civilian non-combatant who was taken prisoner from Marlboro when the British departed Washington D.C. after they burned the White House, the Capitol and other government buildings.
    Aboard the British flagship HMS Tonnant they successfully pled their case with Vice Admiral George Cochrane and Major General Robert Ross. After they got the release of Beanes they were escorted back to their own American truce ship but not allowed to depart.

    During the 25 hour bombardment of Fort McHenry (which started early in the morning, NOT the evening of the first day, September 13) Key’s ship was tethered to a British vessel almost about 8 miles back from the battle and placed under guard to prevent Key and his companions from revealing the British attack plans to Baltimore’s defenders. It was from their own truce ship that Key witnessed the battle, not from a British ship. The British bombardment ships then closed in on Fort McHenry on the Patapsco River.
    There were NOT hundreds of British ships involved in the assault. There were 16 warships, and about 35 smaller vessels in the bay. The British ships present were just a small fraction of the ‘entire British fleet’. There were only 5 bomb ships and one rocket firing ship that actually did the the majority of the bombardment.
    There was no communication by Key with ‘prisoners’ in the hold of a British ship (there were no other prisoners and he wasn’t on a British ship during the battle). All of that is COMPLETELY MADE UP.

    The story of the “ultimatum to the ‘Colonists'” that the flag be taken down, etc. is false.
    The claim that Fort McHenry was “filled with Women and Children” and “predominately NOT a military fort” is ABSOLUTE NONSENSE and TOTALLY FALSE!
    (In an extended version of this story told by the same narrator he claims that the Key said the fort had NO armaments.)
    The truth is it was a key military fort crucial to the defense of Baltimore and had been recently fortified to withstand this kind of assault. It had over 1,000 troops under the command of Major George Armistead and was fortified with 60 cannon. The British were trying to capture Baltimore and the fort was in their way.

    The ‘Quote’ of George Washington is spurious. Washington NEVER said that. The quote comes from José Martia a Cuban freedom fighter n in the 1890s and was popularized by EMILIANO ZAPATA in Mexico in 1910. (it wasn’t talking about “American Christians”).

    The British fleet did not, nor could have, trained ‘their guns on the flag’ (even if they wanted to).
    At the two mile distance they were forced to shot from to avoid the cannon fire from the fort, their heavy mortars and congreve rockets were very inaccurate (at the end of their maximum range). (They had pulled their ships back after the first few hours when they received a lot of damage from the fort’s cannon fire.) Many of the 1500 bombs overshot or undershot the fort. The goal wasn’t to ‘take out the flag’, it was to capture of the fort so they could proceed to overtake Baltimore. There were also a major land assault that started the day before with 5000 British troops landing at North Point and marching toward Baltimore which were repelled.

    The British goal was not to conquer and reclaim the United States but to force it to a negotiated truce most favorable to Britain.

    The U.S. had declared war on Great Britain in 1812 and both sides had grievances with each other. The British had captured American sailors from ships and impressed then into service for the Royal Navy in it’s war with Napoleon in Europe. They also oppressed our free trade. In 1812 and 1813 we tried to invade and conquer Canada and claim it’s territory for the U.S..

    The whole story of the flag being held up by solders who died ‘one after the other’ is TOTAL FICTION.
    OF THE 1,000 SOLDIERS DEFENDING THE FORT, ONLY FOUR WERE KILLED and 24 WOUNDED. The flagpole was not hit and listing at ‘a crazy angle’, and was not held in place by dead bodies piled up around it. The flagpole was a massive mast 90 feet high (the height of a nine story building).
    The smaller ‘storm flag’ that was flying during most of the battle (a severe thunder storm developed and lasted till the following morning) was 17 by 25 feet, made of wool and would have been drenched, heavy and probably not waving much. It was replaced in the morning by the oversized 30 ft x 42 ft garrison flag after the bombardment (and storm) had stopped. It could be seen by every ship on the river and the bay. That is the flag that Key saw flying though a spyglass from several miles away. The flag was NOT “completely nondescript, in shreds” (it wasn’t even flying during most of the battle).

    Inspired by what he witnessed Key started his draft of what would become The Star Spangled Banner on board his truce ship in the bay. Key’s ship was released when the British ships departed.
    Key did not go to Fort McHenry after “to see what had happened”. He arrived on land in Baltimore three days later, after the British left, and stayed at the Indian Queen Hotel where he completed the work on his poem/song. It was published the next day. At first it was called “Defense of Fort McHenry” and later changed to “The Star Spangled Banner”.

    BOTTOM LINE: VIRTUALLY THE ENTIRE STORY IN THIS VIDEO IS FICTITIOUS AND HAS NO BASIS IN FACT!
    The real story is a great one and much more complex, interesting and inspiring than the simplistic lies and distortions perpetrated here.
    We need to study and appreciate the real history, not ridiculous fabrications and ignorant embellishments.

    We don’t need to make up childish fantasies as told in this elaborately contrived ‘sermon’ riddled with lies and miss-information. This only detracts from the true story and makes people ignorant and confused about our rich real history.
    To me that is offensive and portrays right wing “Christians” in a very bad light as stupid, gullible, or worse, liars who can’t be trusted to tell the truth. It rightfully opens them up to ridicule.
    ———————————

    By the way, the link in my previous post to the longer 20 version of this sermon got mangled.
    Hopefully It will come out right here:

    If not, it was also posted by sbh on this blog.

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  5. Ed Darrell says:

    Thanks for the additional history of the false history!

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  6. James Gamble says:

    The narrator is David C. Gibbs Jr., a preacher and attorney, and the founder and president of the Christian Law Association. He is known for making up false and twisted stories of history for propaganda purposes.
    In another longer version of this story (20 Minutes) of this speech/sermon he got the name of the fort right (Fort McHenry) but he further elaborated false information. He claimed ‘the fort had NO armaments’ and that when Francis Scott Key ‘got to the fort’ he said ‘all that huge amount of armaments (of the British) had literally torn that fort apart’,
    Here’s the link to that longer version.

    v=hgePDkYbDHMDudley

    Rutherford (a pastor of a church in California) did his own video, speaking before the camera, that was based on a word-for-word transcription of this ‘sermon’ by Gibbs.
    Here is that version:

    When it was pointed out to Rutherford that it was totally false information, he issued an apology and made a new video that he titled “The accurate story behind the Star Spangled Banner”.
    Here is his revised version:

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  7. Ed Darrell says:

    Why? Is there a hoax story about Millard Fillmore and toilets in the White House?

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  8. RandyLeanear says:

    You should change the name of your blog from Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub TO Millard Fillmore’s TOILET!

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  9. sbh says:

    Well, here’s what Jan Mickelson said in a broadcast of 3 July 2009: “…I will replay for you a chunk of audio that has gotten an incredible amount of response. I recorded this a long long long time ago from a lecture I was listening to and I put music behind it and put some sound effects behind it a little bit and I just put it on the air and I expected to play it maybe one or two times. It got an amazing response and it’s gotten rebroadcast.” What follows is the audio of the clip posted above, with a bit more at the beginning at any rate.

    Mickelson does not give his source–the name of the lecturer (or preacher, it sounds like) or the date, though it would presumably be before 4 July 2004 when the earliest internet version of the text seems to have been posted.

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  10. sbh says:

    Sorry for the many postings; I keep thinking I’m going to drop this and then keep coming back to it. Anyway, somebody who posts as Ed Abbey at this site:

    http://riverbendjournal.blogspot.com/2009/07/story-behind-national-anthem.html

    wrote that “I would very much like to find the author of this but to date have been unable to locate the person. The audio version that floats around the web was created by Jan Mickelson of WHO radio who taped the speech and added the patriotic melodies in the background. It is from him that I first heard this and later found the transcript above.”

    Jan Mickelson does have a morning show on WHO radio in Des Moines, but the voice on the recording doesn’t sound like his, and the shouts of amen sound like a church reading rather than a morning show. I’m skeptical–but there it is, for what it’s worth.

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  11. sbh says:

    And here is a link to a copy of the text posted Independence Day 2004, fairly obviously transcribed from this recitation:

    http://forums.seriouszone.com/showthread.php?t=39112

    The poster says it is not his and gives the impression that he’d had it long enough to lose track of its origin.

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  12. sbh says:

    I couldn’t find any live link to Dudley Rutherford’s original video–apparently from an Independence Day sermon–but enough of his words are quoted from it to make me feel fairly confident that the text of this video is his, at any rate.

    While I was poking around the web looking for anything that connected the current video to Rutherford’s, I stumbled on something that could be a source–or at any rate a parallel. In a Youtube video uploaded 25 May 2008 David C. Gibbs gives a dramatic retelling of the events at Fort McHenry (and he gets the name right) that is similar in a number of key respects–it takes place during the Revolutionary War, the British fill the ocean with too many ships to count, they give the fort an ultimatum to lower the flag or the fort (and the entire country) will be destroyed, the flagpole is kept up by the bodies of the dead, the fort is a refuge for women and children, there is a brig full of prisoners…

    Anyway, here’s a link to that one:

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  13. sbh says:

    Here is a link to Dudley Rutherford’s apology, or what’s left of it–the video that explained things is now gone:

    http://dudleyrutherford.blogspot.com/2011/01/story-behind-wrong-story.html

    Here is a link to his current video:

    http://flagrespect.com/

    This one at least has the war right. And the name of the fort. And the prisoner situation. And it doesn’t have the fake Washington quotation.

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  14. Ed Darrell says:

    If this is Rutherford’s video, and he retracted it, I wish it would stay retracted.

    It bugs me how crap and disinformation seems easier to find on the internet than the facts.

    The quote about “dying on our knees”: I’ve traced it back to the Spanish Civil War, and to a speech by FDR later (in a file that I can’t find on this computer); but WikiQuote has a pretty good analysis of it, with regard to attributions to Zapata:

    Prefiero morir de pie que vivir de rodillas.

    I’d rather die on my feet, than live on my knees.

    As quoted in Liberation Theologies in North America and Europe‎ (1979) by Gerald H. Anderson and Thomas F. Stransky, p. 281; this is sometimes misattributed to the more modern revolutionary, Che Guevara, and to “La Pasionaria” Dolores Ibárruri, especially in Spain, where she popularized it in her famous speeches during the Spanish Civil War, to José Martí, and to Aeschylus who is credited with a similar declaration in Prometheus Bound: “For it would be better to die once and for all than to suffer pain for all one’s life.” The phrase “better that we should die on our feet rather than live on our knees” was spoken by François-Noël Gracchus Babeuf in his defence of the Conspiracy of Equals in April 1797. In French it read, ‘Ne vaut-il pas mieux emporter la glorie de n’avoir pas survecu a la servitude?’ but transliterated this bears no resemblance whatever to the quote under discussion. see: The Defense of Gracchus Babeuf Before the High Court of Vendome (1967), edited and translated by John Anthony Scott, p. 88 and p. 90, n. 12.

    See links to those people at the WikiQuote site.

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  15. sbh says:

    Here is a link to a critique by Brad Hart of Dudley Rutherford’s video:

    http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2010/12/story-behind-star-spangled-banner.html

    The line quoted in it as from the beginning of Dudley Rutherford’s video (“the colonies were engaged in vicious conflict with the mother country, Britain”) is found here, as is the fake Washington quotation “The thing that separates the American Christian from every other person on earth is the fact that he would rather die on his feet, than live on his knees”. (Tom Van Dyke says “The quote comes from that great American Christian, the late The Notorious B.I.G.”, and in fact the lyrics of “Biggie” include the line “I’d rather die on my feet, than live on my knees”.)

    According to Brad Hart “Rutherford is the Pastor of the Shepherd of the Hills Church in California.”

    The link to Rutherford’s original video is dead there too (it’s the same link I have).

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  16. sbh says:

    I believe this may be a piece by Dudley Rutherford that circulated a couple of years back. At least it tells the same story with the same mistakes (wrong war, wrong numbers of prisoners and ships, 13 colonies for 15 states and so on). Dudley Rutherford apologized and withdrew the piece, saying that his researcher had got the facts wrong. If I recall correctly this piece was apparently an early version not meant for circulation that somehow escaped. I didn’t keep a copy of the Rutherford piece and the links to it are now dead, but it matches my memory of it fairly well.

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