Singing the Dream: American Sheet Music at the British Library: Part 1
The War of 1812
On 18 June 1812, less than forty years after the Declaration of Independence, the United States declared war upon Great Britain and its colonies.
The causes of the war have been debated by historians ever since, but
invariably included in the mix are: American frustration at British
restraints on neutral trade during the Napoleonic wars; the forced conscription
of thousands of American sailors into the British navy; alleged British
military support for American Indians defending their tribal lands from
American settlers; and, to a lesser extent, American territorial ambition
in Canada. The war was fought on land and sea and lasted for more than
two years; both nations lost approximately two thousand troops.
The Star Spangled Banner
Copyright © The British Library
During the night of 3 September 1814, while on a mission approved by U.S. President Monroe, Francis Scott Key witnessed the massive British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. As dawn broke Key was astounded to see the American flag still flying. To commemorate this stunning victory he immediately wrote a 4-stanza poem entitled "Defence of Fort McHenry". Recognising that the poem perfectly fit the popular British drinking song "Anacreon in Heaven", Key's brother-in-law had the poem published and it soon began gaining popularity as "The Star-Spangled Banner". On 3 March 1931, nearly 120 years after it was first penned, it became the national anthem of the United States. This edition, published in New York in 1817, is one of the earliest examples of American sheet music held by the British Library.