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A Sailor’s Life for Me

This is good activity to review the important information of the War of 1812. Information is provided and students are required to answer the question correctly.

There are 3 options. A student can choose until he / she makes the correct choice. Here is the feedback that will be provided depending on the answer.

Collect the Stars: To complete the flag

Flash Version of Interactive Flag:

Correct! You’ve found another star. Find the next star.

Incorrect. Try again.

1. “Every American heart is bursting with shame and indignation at the catastrophe.”

– Baltimore resident describing the burning of Washington, 1814

Angered by British interference with American trade, the young United States was intent on reaffirming its recently won independence. Instead, a series of defeats left Americans anxious and demoralized. They were stunned when, on August 24, 1814, British troops marched into Washington, D.C., and set the Capitol building and White House ablaze.

Why was August 24, 1814 such a shocking day for the American people?

  • The American Navy won a great victory on Lake Erie

  • British troops burned down the Capitol building and the White House

  • President James Madison was assassinated


2. “The moment of suspense is awful.”

Editor of the National Intelligencer in Washington, D.C., awaiting news from Baltimore, 1814

America’s future seemed more uncertain than ever as the British set their sights on Baltimore, Maryland, a vital seaport. On September 13, 1814, British warships began firing bombs and rockets on Fort McHenry, which protected the city’s harbor. The bombardment continued for twenty-five hours while the nation awaited news of Baltimore’s fate.

Why did the British set their sites on Baltimore for attack?

  • Because it was one of America’s major seaports

  • Because it was the capitol of Maryland

  • Because President Madison moved there after the White House was burned down

“Then in that hour of deliverance and joyful triumph, my heart spoke.”

– Francis Scott Key recalling the morning of September 14, 1814

By the “dawn’s early light” of September 14, 1814, Francis Scott Key, who was aboard a ship several miles distant, could just make out an American flag waving above Fort McHenry. British ships were withdrawing from Baltimore, and Key realized that the United States had survived the battle and stopped the enemy advance. Moved by the sight, he wrote a song celebrating “that star-spangled banner” as a symbol of America’s triumph and endurance.

When did Francis Scott Key write the lyrics that became the National Anthem?

  • July 4, 1814

  • The morning after the battle, September 14, 1814

  • The night before the battle, September 13, 1814

Making the flag

In the summer of 1813, Mary Pickersgill (1776–1857) was contracted to sew two flags for Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. The one that became the Star-Spangled Banner was a 30 x 42–foot garrison flag; the other was a 17 x 25–foot storm flag for use in inclement weather. Pickersgill, a thirty-seven-year-old widow, was an experienced maker of ships’ colors and signal flags. She filled orders for many of the military and merchant ships that sailed into Baltimore’s busy port.

Helping Pickersgill make the flags were her thirteen-year-old daughter Caroline; nieces Eliza Young (thirteen) and Margaret Young (fifteen); and a thirteen-year-old African American indentured servant, Grace Wisher. Pickersgill’s elderly mother, Rebecca Young, from whom she had learned flagmaking, may have helped as well.

Pickersgill and her assistants spent about seven weeks making the two flags. They assembled the blue canton and the red and white stripes of the flag by piecing together strips of loosely woven English wool bunting that were only 12 or 18 inches wide.

Who sewed the flag now known as the Star-Spangled Banner?

  • Betsy Ross

  • A team of women President Madison hired

  • Mary Pickersgill with her daughter, two nieces, and an indentured servant

Family Keepsake

While Francis Scott Key’s song was known to most Americans by the end of the Civil War, the flag that inspired it remained an Armistead family keepsake. It was exhibited occasionally at patriotic gatherings in Baltimore but largely unknown outside of that city until the 1870s. The flag remained the private property of Lieutenant Colonel Armistead’s widow, Louisa Armistead, his daughter Georgiana Armistead Appleton, and his grandson Eben Appleton for 90 years. During that time, the increasing popularity of Key’s anthem and the American public’s developing sense of national heritage transformed the Star-Spangled Banner from a family keepsake into a national treasure.

Why is the flag so much shorter today than it was when Mary Pickersgill sewed it?

  • The end of the flag was burned in the Battle of Baltimore

  • Samples have been removed for conservation testing

  • The Armistead family gave snippings of the flag away as souvenirs and gifts over time

National Treasure

New York stockbroker Eben Appleton inherited the Star-Spangled Banner upon his mother’s death in 1878. The publicity that it had received in the 1870s had transformed it into a national treasure, and Appleton received many requests to lend it for patriotic occasions. He permitted it to go to Baltimore for that city’s sesquicentennial celebration in 1880. After that his concern for the flag’s deteriorating condition led him to keep it in a safe-deposit vault in New York. In 1907 he lent the Star-Spangled Banner to the Smithsonian Institution, and in 1912 he converted the loan to a gift.

Appleton donated the flag with the wish that it would always be on view to the public. Museums constantly balance the desire to display an object with the need to protect it from the damage created by light, dust, and other environmental factors. The Smithsonian has had to balance its effort to fulfill his wishes with the need to care for the fragile and damaged object.

What did Amelia Fowler do to the flag when the Smithsonian first received it?

  • She designed a glass case for the flag

  • She sewed a linen lining to the back of the flag to support it for display

  • She cleaned the flag so it would look better once it was on permanent display

The Preservation Project

Why were certain mends and patches removed from the flag during the conservation process?

  • To relieve stress on the flag and allow the fabric to regain its natural shape

  • The patches were unsightly

  • Conservators wanted to study the fabrics used to patch the flag

Attorney Francis Scott Key witnessed the twenty-five hour bombardment of Fort McHenry from a British troopship anchored some four miles away. He had boarded the ship to negotiate the release of an American civilian imprisoned by the British, and had been detained aboard as the bombardment began. On September 14, 1814, as the dawn’s early light revealed a flag flying over the fort, Key exultantly began jotting down the lines of the song that became our national anthem.

After the war, Key continued to practice law in the District of Columbia.

Why was Francis Scott Key on a British ship for the Battle of Baltimore?

  • He was a spy

  • The British had stopped his ship and captured everyone aboard as they entered the harbor

  • He had been sent to negotiate the release of an American prisoner

During the 19th century, “The Star-Spangled Banner” became one of the nation’s best-loved patriotic songs. It gained special significance during the Civil War, a time when many Americans turned to music to express their feelings for the flag and the ideals and values it represented. By the 1890s, the military had adopted the song for ceremonial purposes, requiring it to be played at the raising and lowering of the colors. Despite its widespread popularity, “The Star-Spangled Banner” did not become the National Anthem until 1931.

When did “The Star-Spangled Banner” officially become the United States’s national anthem?

  • 1931

  • 1917

  • 1814

The American flag did not play a major role in the War of Independence. Most of the myths about the flag’s importance during the Revolution—including the famous tale of Betsy Ross sewing the first flag for General Washington—emerged much later, after the Star-Spangled Banner had become the nation’s most significant and cherished icon. At the time the American flag was created, it did not attract much attention from the general public; its primary function was to identify ships and forts. Ordinary Americans in the Revolutionary era turned to a variety of other symbols—the eagle, Lady liberty, George Washington— to express their patriotism and define their national identity.

This would start to change during the War of 1812. Often referred to as the “Second War of Independence,” the conflict inspired a fresh wave of patriotism in a generation too young to remember the Revolution. When Key declared that “our flag was still there,” he fused the physical symbol of the nation with universal feelings of patriotism, courage, and resilience. By giving the flag a starring role in one of the most celebrated victories of the war, Francis Scott Key’s song established a new prominence for the flag as an expression of national identity, unity, and pride. And by giving it a name—that Star-Spangled Banner—Key transformed the official emblem into something familiar and evocative, a symbol that Americans could connect with and claim as their own. The flag was no longer just an emblem of the nation; it became a representation of the country’s values and the ideals for which it stands.

In the years since 1814, in times of celebration and crisis, pride and protest, people have raised the flag to express their ideas about what it means to be American.

How was the American flag used before the War of 1812?

  • There was no American flag before the War of 1812

  • As a symbol of the British Empire

  • To identify ships and forts

To contemporary Americans, the Armistead family’s treatment of the Star-Spangled Banner—marking up the stars and stripes with signatures, cutting off pieces to give away as souvenirs—might seem strange or inappropriate, even though it was customary at the time. Today an extensive set of rules, known as the U.S. Flag Code, defines the proper way to treat the American flag. But in fact, these rules and customs surrounding the flag date back only to the late 19th century.

Led by Civil War veterans who wanted to uphold the sacred character of the national emblem they had fought to defend, the first efforts to restrict uses of the flag were targeted at commercial and political advertisements. While the federal government did not pass any flag desecration legislation until the 1960s, by the early 1900s most states had adopted such laws, and in 1907 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Nebraska statute in a case against a manufacturer of “Stars and Stripes” beer.

The flag-protection movement regained national momentum during World War I, and on June 14, 1923, the first National Flag Conference was held in Washington, D.C., to establish a set of rules for civilian flag use. The U.S. Flag Code, first published in 1923 and adopted by Congress in 1942, is based on the belief that the American flag “represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing.” It proscribes any use of the flag that could be construed as disrespectful, including using it for advertising and to decorate clothing and other goods. While the U.S. Supreme Court struck down flag-protection laws as violations of free speech in 1989, the Flag Code is still maintained as a code of etiquette, enforced not by law but by tradition.

True or False, the rules and codes of etiquette spelled out in the Flag Code can be legally enforced.

  • True

  • False

In July 1969, images of Apollo 11 astronauts planting the American flag on the Moon signaled a profound achievement for the nation and the world. Back on Earth, however, the Star-Spangled Banner was struggling to stay aloft in a strained and highly charged political atmosphere. During this decade of intense social divisions, the flag became a contested symbol of pride and protest in struggles over civil rights, foreign policy, and cultural values. Civil rights activists carried the American flag to pressure the nation to live up to its ideals of freedom and equality, while white segregationists flew Confederate flags to oppose the intervention of the federal government in their communities and to defend “the Southern way of life.” In the home front battle over Vietnam, both sides used the flag to express their views about the morality and necessity of the war, sometimes with violent results.

Perhaps no issue epitomized the controversial nature of the American flag during the 1960s more than flag burning. When some burned the flag to protest government policies, others rushed to defend the flag from attack. State laws against flag desecration originally passed in the late 1800s were revived and enforced. In 1968, Congress passed the Federal Flag Desecration Law, making it a federal crime to “knowingly cast contempt upon any flag of the United States by publicly mutilating, defacing, defiling, burning, or trampling upon it.”

After peaking in the late 1960s, the issue of flag desecration receded from the public spotlight. It would be revived twenty years later by the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Texas v. Johnson, which struck down all state and federal flag protection laws as violating the First Amendment right to free speech. Since then, politicians have made repeated efforts to amend the Constitution to prohibit flag burning, a move opposed by those who believe it would curtail essential civil liberties. As the debates over flag protection continue, memories of the turbulent 1960s continue to challenge and inspire Americans to contemplate the meaning of patriotism and the value of protest.

What did the court case Texas v. Johnson decide?

  • The flag should be protected from harm or desecration

  • The flag may be used in protest but not destroyed

  • Federal and state flag-protection laws violate the right of free speech

Explore the flag that inspired the National Anthem to discover stories about its creation, history, and preservation. Open the hotspots to learn what makes this flag special to so many Americans and how the National Museum of American history is working to preserve it for future generations.

What is the red upside-down “v” shape on the flag?

  • It stands for “V” for victory in the War of 1812

  • It is an “A” sewn onto the flag by Louisa Armistead, widow of the commander of Ft. McHenry

  • It is a patch

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