The Defence of Ft. M'Henry
Published by John Gruber and Daniel May, Hagerstown, Maryland. The National Songster, Defense of Fort McHenry, 1814. Gift of William W. Baldwin, New York, 1978. Collection of the U. S. Naval Academy Museum .
The Mitchell Gallery at St. John's College opened its season on August 23 with an exhibition titled, Annapolis Collects: The Mitchell Gallery Celebrates 25 Years. Through the generosity of 27 lenders, the gallery is filled with art and artifacts in a full range of periods from private collectors and historic houses in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County. There are many interesting pieces with much to research and discuss, but I couldn't resist writing about the copy we have of "The Defence of Ft. M'Henry" we have on loan from the United States Naval Academy Museum. Francis Scott Key (1779-1843) was an alumnus of St. John's College and founded the college's alumni association. I won't go into the poem's history, as that is generally known, but there are some interesting less known factoids about the poem/song's publication and journey as the national anthem, now known as "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Key initially shared the poem with his brothers-in-law, the Honorable Roger B. Taney (later a Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court) and the Honorable Joseph H. Nicholson (of whom we have a miniature portrait in ivory also on display). Apparently Nicholson was so impressed that he had the poem printed on handbills and commercial advertising and eventually it was typeset and printed by the "Baltimore American" newspaper on September 21, 1814.
The small volume of The National Songster we have on view was printed in 1814 in Hagerstown, Maryland by John Gruber and his partner, son-in-law, Daniel May. Included in the volume is "The Defence of Ft. M'Henry and other songs dedicated primarily to American Naval Victories. This volume was the very first songster to include the song. It is also worth mentioning that Gruber was known for producing the Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack, [sic] the second oldest almanac in the country and still published by his descendants.
St. John's College welcomes its alumnae for homecoming weekend today--a perfect tribute to Key and all of our alumni. Be sure to see this special exhibition in the Mitchell Gallery, which is on view through October 12, 2014.
Lucinda Dukes Edinberg