Memorial Day Message from the Past

Discussion in 'American Flag History' started by Peter Ansoff, May 23, 2009.

  1. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Joseph Plumb Martin was a solider in the Revolutionary War, and wrote a splendid account of his experiences. He did not whitewash the misery and suffering, but he also had a wry sense of humor and a genuine pride in the cause that he and his mates were fighting for. His memoir has been published in several editions, and it's available from under the title "Private Yankee Doodle."

    Martin was present at the siege of Yorktown in 1781. This is how he described the initial bombardment of the British lines by American and French artillery:

    "The whole number, American and French, was ninety-two cannon, mortars and howitzers. Our flagstaff was in the ten-gun battery, upon the right of the whole. I was in the trenches the day that the batteries were to be opened. All were upon the tiptoe of expectation and impatience to see the signal given to open the whole line of batteries, which was to be the hoisting of the American flag in the ten-gun battery. About noon the much-wished-for signal went up. I confess I felt secret pride swell my heart when I saw the "star-spangled banner" waving majestically in the faces of our implacable adversaries. It appeared like an omen of success to our enterprise, and so it proved in reality. A simultaneous discharge of all the guns in the line followed, the French troops accompanying it with 'Huzza for the Americans!'"

    Fly your flag proudly on Memorial Day!

    Peter Ansoff
  2. NAVA1974

    NAVA1974 Active Member

    When did J.P. Martin write his account? He includes the term "star spangled banner," a name for the flag that I though was original to F.S. Key?
  3. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    I wondered about that too. Martin's memoir was not published until 1830, well after Key wrote about the "rockets' red glare." However, most historians seem to think that Martin must have kept some sort of diary that he used as a basis for the memoir, because the latter seems to be very detailed and accurate. Martin settled in Maine after the Revolution, and lived until 1850.

    A more general question is: did Key invent the phrase "star-spangled banner," or was it around before he wrote his poem in 1814? Another problem for aspiring vexillologists!

    Peter Ansoff
  4. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    A more general question is: did Key invent the phrase "star-spangled banner," or was it around before he wrote his poem in 1814?

    I still don't know the answer to the first part of my question, but the answer to the second part appears to be "sort of." In 1805, Key himself wrote a song about the American victory over the Barbary pirates, which contained the following stanza:

    In the conflict resistless, each toil they endured,
    'Till their foes fled dismayed from the war's desolation:
    And pale beamed the Crescent, its splendor obscured
    By the light of the Star Spangled flag of our nation.
    Where each radiant star gleamed a meteor of war,
    And the turbaned heads bowed to its terrible glare,
    Now, mixed with the olive, the laurel shall wave,
    And form a bright wreath for the brows of the brave

    I think it's safe to say that he had this song in mind when he wrote the SSB. It is obviously intended to be sung to the same tune, and it contains many words and phrases that he used in his later work.

    Peter Ansoff

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