OUR FOREFATHERS’ COVENANTS
May 29, 2020
Let’s take a different course in today’s Coffee Break talking about the author of our national anthem, lawyer Francis Scott Key, and a brief picture of what he saw and experienced as he wrote The Star Spangled Banner.
We all know the name, Francis Scott Key, but few know much else about him other than his famous anthem. Born August 1, 1779 at the family plantation -- Terra Rubra -- near Keymar, Maryland, Francis Scott Key was both an American lawyer and an amateur poet.
A historian, writing for Wikipedia, notes that "During the War of 1812, Key, accompanied by the American Prisoner Exchange Agent Col. John Stuart Skinner, dined with Vice Admiral Cochrane, Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn and Major General Robert Ross, aboard the HMS Tonnant where they negotiated the release of a prisoner, Dr. William Beanes(a resident of Upper Marlboro, Maryland captured by the British after he placed rowdy stragglers under citizen's arrest, and a friend of Key’s).
After the release of Dr. Beanes, Skinner, Key and Beanes were allowed to return to their own sloop, but were not allowed to return to Baltimore because they had become familiar with the strength and position of the British units and of the British intention to attack Baltimore. As a result of this, Key witnessed the bombarding of Ft. McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore and was inspired to write a poem entitled "The Defence of Fort McHenry."
The Songwriters Hall of Fame says of him:
In 1814, Key joined the army in the War of 1812 against Great Britain. While in battle in Baltimore, Key and two soldiers were taken prisoner by the British. Locked in the cabin of their boat, Key would look out the porthole for the American flag flying over Fort McHenry. Seeing the flag there meant the Americans were still in control. While on the boat, Key began to write a poem about the impact of that vision. The next day the British surrendered and that night, Key finished the poem and set it to the melody of an English drinking song called “To Anacreon in Heaven”, by John Stafford Smith. The Baltimore American printed the poem right away calling it “The Defence of Fort McHenry”. Soon the song was known as “The Star Spangled Banner and was adopted by the US Army and Navy as their official song.
Those are the circumstances that surrounded him the night he wrote his poem. Francis Scott Key, himself, later wrote, "Then, in that hour of deliverance, my heart spoke. Does not such a country, and such defenders of their country, deserve a song?..."
Kenneth Copeland describes the event far more meticulously than the numerous epitaphs written by historians in the years since. Here's what he writes:
That night, detained by the British on a ship in the harbor, he witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry. As the battle raged and the sky filled with smoke from the shelling, Francis Key kept his eyes on the Stars and Stripes until the sun went down and it was no longer visible.
Oh, say can you see, by the dawn's early light, What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
All night, through this critical battle, he had his eyes fastened on the place where that standard flew. The question in his mind, as important as the battle itself, was:
Is the flag still there?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight, O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming? And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
and glow of the rockets interrupted the black of night to reveal welcome
glimpses of the Stars and Stripes.
Then in an instant, everything went quiet. Smoke hung in the air. The sun had not yet come up. Francis Scott Key didn't know if the flag was still there or not. He ends the first verse by asking God:
Oh say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
Are we still a nation? Are we still a free people?
There was not another free nation on the face of the earth. Some people even considered the establishment of this country to be an experiment that would fail. I imagine that throughout the night, these kinds of thoughts were rolling around in this lonely man's spirit and in his mind:
Oh God, if that flag is not still there when the sun comes up,
this thing is all over. There won't be a free nation anywhere. But it has to
be, Lord...it must stand as the home of the free and the brave.
Surely God would help this nation to stand strong as the ragtag army of courageous farmers and churchgoers dared to go up against the most powerful, best-equipped expeditionary force on the face of the earth.
These were people of faith who were not moved by the odds. They were not moved by what they could see. They were moved by what they believed—and they believed they were already free as of the day the Declaration of Independence of 1776 was signed.
They fought the fight of faith and praise as well as the fight of war. Throughout the war with Great Britain, Congress declared days of fasting and prayer and encouraged Americans to seek God's help in the battle for freedom. They were careful to declare days of thanksgiving and praise when God intervened and blessed them with victories.
Once more during the battle at Fort McHenry, God honored their faith and the colonists stood strong against the enemy. As the smoke cleared at dawn, Francis Key was thrilled to find the beloved American flag still flying high, proclaiming victory for all to see. Historians report that the sight of that majestic flag inspired the words which became "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Francis Scott Key was a man of faith, and I believe he learned something as he witnessed the fierce battle that was ultimately between freedom and oppression. I'm certain he meditated throughout the night about what the outcome of that fight would mean to our infant country. The words of the song give us insight into what was going through his mind. I believe Mr. Key began formulating these words during the night and that the last verse was the answer of his faith. He could not see the flag—except by faith. Spirit-inspired prophetic utterance came out of his mouth:
Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand Between their loved homes and the war's desolation! Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven-rescued land Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
As relevant as Francis Scott Key's words were then, they are even more so today. We must not forget to praise the One who has given us our nation. We must not forget to praise the One who has given us peace. We must not forget to praise the One who has given us the victory during wars to keep America free, to keep the glory alive, to keep the Word alive, to keep the Name of Jesus on the lips of its citizens throughout this whole North American continent!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto: "In God is our trust." And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Thank God, we're free and our trust is in God. He has preserved us as a nation and will continue to do so. If our cause is just, we will always triumph. And our most powerful symbol of freedom, the Star-Spangled Banner, will continue to wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave...forever!
Couldn't have said it better myself!
On our last trip to Washington, DC, Della and I took a fair amount of time to walk through the National Mall which includes monuments and memorials to our nation's history. One of the places we stopped to look at was a bronze memorial of George Mason, dedicated as recently as April 2, 2002 by President George W. Bush. With that statue was a series of references to our Bill of Rights and George Mason's authorship and craftsmanship of some of the most important wording we have enshrined in our Constitution.
Seeing that memorial made me really aware of George Mason for the first time, and provoked my research into his life. Reading the Virginia Bill of Rights, which are posted at the memorial, made me realize just how much input he provided into the wording and shaping of our Constitution.
Most of us know of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and their efforts to craft the Bill of Rights as an addendum to our Constitution. (The Bill of Rights actually consists of the first ten amendments to our U.S. Constitution). What is far less known is that the principal architect of the Bill of Rights was George Mason. All three of these founders were not coincidentally Virginians.
Gunston Hall Plantation's introduction to the history of George Mason (Gunston Hall Plantation was George Mason's home) notes that "George Mason (1725-1792), by contrast, has received neither the credit nor the attention given his more famous contemporaries for his unwavering devotion to the cause of religious rights. He was the principal draftsman of Article XVI of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, a seminal, post-colonial statement on the rights of conscience.
“In legislative chambers and behind the scenes, Mason was a deft, untiring strategist in the bitter contests to guarantee religious freedom and to end the legal favors enjoyed by the established church in Virginia. Few among the founding generation have had such an enduring impact on the rights of conscience and yet, received so little public recognition as George Mason. He was a towering figure in the struggle to craft a distinctively American doctrine of religious liberty and church-state relations for both the Commonwealth and the nation."
George Mason was born on the Mason family plantation in Fairfax County, Virginia on December 11, 1725. Mason's father died when he was only ten years old, and his upbringing was delegated to his uncle, John Mercer. Mercer had a rather voluminous library with some 1500-plus books, more than one-third of which were law books. Young George had become an avid reader and literally devoured his uncle's library -- in the process gaining both a respect for the law and a desire to practice law, as well as developing a deep interest in politics.
The Mason family was already among the richest families in Virginia, but by the time George Mason became a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1786 (he had already served with Virginia's state Constitutional Convention ten years earlier) he was easily the richest man in Virginia and among the richest in America. With 15,000 acres in Virginia alone -- not counting another 80,000 acres in Ohio -- and more than 300 slaves working Gunston Hall Plantation (which he had completed in 1753), he wielded more than a little influence.
At age 25, he married 16-year old Ann Eilbeck, whose parents also owned a plantation in Charles County, Maryland. They had 12 children together, the last two being twins who only survived for about six weeks. Complications set in with the birth of the twins and Ann died three months later on March 9, 1773. The third of their twelve children, William Mason, died in infancy, barely reaching his first birthday. The nine remaining children all reached maturity, married, and gave their father some 56 grandchildren, many of whom became major contributors to the growth and development of America's establishment as a prosperous nation. During the 23 years George Mason and Ann Eilbeck were married, his practice of law and interest in politics brought him to the bench in Fairfax County as a justice.
It was in 1752 that he acquired a large interest in the Ohio Land Company, an organization that speculated in western lands. In 1773, the British Crown revoked the company's rights; and Mason, the company's treasurer at the time, penned his first major state paper, Extracts from the Virginia Charters, with Some Remarks upon Them. His writings and legal arguments had already brought him to the attention of his fellow-Virginians, and in 1774, he was called upon to assist in drawing up the Halifax Resolves,a document that outlined the colonists' constitutional grounds for their objections to the Boston Port Act.
In Jeroen Daanen's biography of George Mason in the National Archives, he writes that, "The years between 1776 and 1780 were filled with great legislative activity. The establishment of a government independent of Great Britain required the abilities of persons such as George Mason. He supported the disestablishment of the Church of England as the church of state, and was active in the organization of military affairs, especially in the West. The influence of his early work, Extracts from the Virginia Charters, is seen in the 1783 peace treaty with Great Britain, which fixed the Anglo-American boundary at the Great Lakes instead of the Ohio River. After independence, Mason drew up the plan for Virginia's cession of its western lands to the United States."
Let me finish up with George Mason next week.
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Blessings on you!
Regner A. Capener
RIVER WORSHIP CENTER
Temple, Texas 76502
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