The Story of the American Flag Through Stamps

Francis Scott Key

3-cent Francis Scott Key stamp
The stamp depicting Francis Scott Key, Fort McHenry and the Old Key Home was released August 9, 1948 to honor Key’s contribution of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Key is flanked by draped American flags of 1814 and 1948.

Reverence for the American flag developed soon after its creation. One of the most patriotic stories regarding the flag centers on the events that led to the composition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” by Francis Scott Key. By August 24, 1814, the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the United States seemed lost, as the British had invaded and captured Washington, DC. As the capital city burned, the British returned to their ships anchored in Chesapeake Bay, and American forces readied themselves for the imminent attack on Baltimore, Maryland.

Francis Scott Key, a respected lawyer and resident of Georgetown, rushed to Baltimore when word reached him that respected physician Dr. William Beanes had been taken captive by the British. Key and Colonel John Skinner sailed under the flag of truce to the ship, Tonnant, where the doctor was being held prisoner, to negotiate the release of Dr. Beanes.

Though the British agreed to release Dr. Beanes, they would not allow the three men to return to Baltimore. Instead, they were taken prisoner and placed under guard, as they had learned too much of the British plans of attack on Baltimore. The men were subsequently forced to watch the Battle of Baltimore and the bombardment of Fort McHenry from behind enemy lines. It is from this position that Key drew inspiration from a large American flag.