this post was updated June 13, 2020
When I originally wrote this post, I wanted to highlight the role that two physicians played in United States history. Part of that history includes the role of a lawyer who is better known than they are but has a dreadful legacy. The man credited with writing our national anthem was a slave owner.
So I have updated this post with links where you can explore more about this side of his character. As we continue to learn more about the conflicting character of many figures from the past, let’s re-examine and re-explore how their actions brought us here, to help us choose where we go next. We can create a new history from lessons we learn from the old.
June 14, Flag Day
While we consider July 4 to be the birthday of the United States, June 14 is the birthday of the United States flag. Although June 14 is observed as National Flag Day it is not an official holiday, so banks don’t close and no one gets a day off work.
But we enjoy it anyway, wearing red, white, and blue, and displaying the flag at homes and businesses. Some patriotic organizations pass out small flags or flag pins to wear.
The United States flag is often called the “Star-Spangled Banner”, after our national anthem, which is more about the flag than about the nation. I don’t know if this is true in other countries, but we tend to closely identify our flag with our national identity; maybe that’s one reason there has been such heated debate about the way people acknowledge the flag publicly.
A lawyer and a doctor
So that brings us to a true story involving a doctor and a lawyer that almost sounds like the opening line of a joke. Today doctors and lawyers sometimes bear the brunt of jokes or criticism, but in this story they played a pivotal role in American history. It’s a story that most people know, but maybe not the whole story.
The lawyer, Francis Scott Key
Francis Scott Key’s role in our national anthem is well known-he wrote it. A lawyer, he was on a rescue mission during the War of 1812, and spent a harrowing night watching the British assault Ft. McHenry near Baltimore Maryland.
The next morning, when he saw the red, white, and blue flag still flying over the fort, he was moved to write a poem. That poem became “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The doctor, William Beanes, M.D.
Dr. Beanes’ role is less well known. Dr. Beanes was the object of Mr. Key’s rescue mission. Dr. Beanes had been captured by British soldiers and imprisoned on a ship. Local citizens arranged for Francis Key to go to the ship and negotiate his release. It is believed the British were persuaded to do so because Dr. Beanes had previously treated injured British soldiers. Whatever the reason, the “elderly” (age 65!) doctor was freed and he, Key, and John Skinner, watched and waited out the battle on a near-by truce ship.
An anthem is born
“Interestingly, he( Key) made no effort to promote this composition. In fact, he did not even sign it. He merely showed his lyrics to a few friends, who then circulated the work. For several decades, Key’s name rarely appeared alongside these lyrics, which — by the time of the Civil War — had become arguably America’s most beloved song.
It wasn’t until 1931 that a congressional resolution signed by President Herbert Hoover made “The Star-Spangled Banner” the U.S. national anthem — an anthem that never would’ve existed had a lawyer not been asked to help out a doctor.” TIME.ORG
the immigrant, James McHenry, M.D.
Even Ft. McHenry has a medical connection- it was named for a physician, James McHenry.
James McHenry emigrated from Ireland to the American colonies in 1771. He studied medicine with Dr. Benjamin Rush in Philadelphia and immediately volunteered as an Army surgeon when the Revolutionary War began. After serving in the medical department in Massachusetts, New York and at Valley Forge, he became an aide to General George Washington and subsequently an aide to the Marquis de Lafayette.
President Washington appointed McHenry Secretary of War and he continued in that post under President John Adams. Baltimore’s Fort Whetstone was renamed Fort McHenry in his honor. (source-PubMed.gov)
sharing the HEART of history
I hope you’ve enjoyed this bit of medical history trivia and that it prompts you to do some history exploring on your own. You may also find this related link interesting