Thursday, July 28, 2005

British Tall Ships

When I came upon this picture, only one thing flashed into my mind, the words and melody of "The Star Spangled Banner."

". . . And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.

'O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave, o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?"

Frances Scott Key, the author of those haunting words, found himself detained by the British, on one of their ships in the Chesapeake Bay in September of 1814.

The British had already burned Washington, DC, and were now shelling Fort McHenry near Baltimore, Maryland. As the darkness of night enveloped them, Mr. Key would have only been able to see the flashes of gunpowder, and firey arcs crossing the blackened sky; not knowing if the British cannons were on target, he was left to his own imagination. Surely Fort McHenry would not be able to withstand the constant barrage.

He had been opposed to this war, (later to be known as the War of 1812), and yet here he was captive on this British vessel, a victim of circumstances. He had come to negotiate the release of a friend with a prisoner exchange.

In the hour just before dawn when distant shadows should have been visible, Fort McHenry was still obscured from view by low dense clouds of fog and smoke. Finally, as the clouds of war lifted, and the flag of these United States could be seen, these words spilled from Key's heart into American history.

"Oh, say can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O'ver 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.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!"

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines on the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! O long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wiped out their foul footstep's pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

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.
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!"

Francis Scott Key was born in America, into a well established Scots-Irish (Ulter-Irish) family, on August 1, 1779, in Frederick, Maryland.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Bonnie Blue Flag

West Florida and The Bonnie Blue Flag

When someone mentions "The Lone Star" flag, you most likely think of Texas, because it has been called the lone star state. There are even a few of you, who will try to order a Lone Star long neck beer, now that I have reminded you of that famous Texas brew.

A lone star flag was used to lead the Texas Revolution in 1836, but it was chosen then, because a lone star flag had already led another revolution, that of the Republic of West Florida in 1810.

The region known as West Florida included land in Louisiana on the east side of the Mississippi River, and southern gulf portions of states that are now known as Mississippi and Alabama.

This region had been ceded back and forth between Spain, France, and England/Canada, depending on who had won the last battle, or made the last land sale, and each had given land grants in the area.

In 1763 the French lost this land to England, and the Louisiana lands west of the Mississippi to Spain. In the years prior to the American Revolution, English speaking peoples populated the area, and it was King George who named it West Florida.

During the American Revolution, Spain as an American ally had routed the British, and taken control of West Florida. The Spanish then told the people of West Florida that they could continue to live there, if they swore allegiance to Spain, and converted to Catholicism.

Most of the people of West Florida were not pleased about the assertions of the Spanish, since a good many of them had been loyal to Great Britain through the Revolutionary War years, and they had no intention of becoming Catholics.

However, the Spanish did not enact any laws or set up any courts, so the issue of loyalty to Spain and a change in religion was never enforced. But, West Florida now became a haven for all manner of men seeking to escape justice; pirates, Pierre and Jean Laffite for example, run away slaves, and army deserters, along with the usual criminal element, that would harass the planters as they tried to move their crops and goods to market.

In 1800 there was a secret treaty between Spain and France, by which the French had regained control of the entire Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi River. Napoleon Bonaparte had designs of a French empire with the Mississippi River to be the thoroughfare for goods being shipped to and from the island of Hispaniola (Haiti).

By April of 1803, Bonaparte had lost thousands of soldiers in Haiti to Yellow Fever, he was at war again with Great Britain, and he needed funds. President Thomas Jefferson was quick to make the Louisiana Purchase which he thought included the territory known as West Florida. But, Spain said that France could not sell what it didn't own, leaving the West Floridians greatly disappointed, because they had been eager to belong to the United States, rather than to continue to live in this lawless Spanish held territory.

Spain continued to thwart every effort of the people to get out from under their control, and when the people tried to set up a system of laws and government that would have come under the auspices of Spain, the Spanish governor in Baton Rouge called in troops from Spanish East Florida.

Upon learning of the governor's actions, the people voted to take maters into their own hands. On September 23, 1810, the troops of the West Florida Rebellion imprisoned the Spanish governor, and raised the Bonnie Blue flag over Fort San Carlos of Baton Rouge. Three days later on the 26th, a Declaration of Independence from Spain was signed, and the Bonnie Blue Flag became the official flag of the Republic of West Florida.

President Madison declared the U.S. claim on West Florida, and immediately sent negotiators to the region. He had previously been contacted by a number of the citizens in that area, requesting annexation before the French or Spanish could return.

On December 7, 1810, the national flag of independent West Florida, the lone star Bonnie Blue flag was lowered, and the United States flag of that day was raised over Fort Baton Rouge, formerly Fort San Carlos, the American flag had fifteen stars and fifteen stripes.

West Florida had been an independent nation for 74 days.

The Lone Star flag of the Rebellion would next be the flag of the Texas Revolution in 1836, and then again when the Confederate States secession crisis intensified. The Bonnie Blue Flag gradually became the unofficial banner of independence and self-government for the Southern states. It waved prominently at political rallies and parades, and flew in Montgomery, Ala., while the first Confederate Congress was in session.

In 1904 The St. Louis World's Fair would celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase with "The Louisiana Purchase Exposition," the most beautiful World's Fair ever.

If you can not wait until 1904, here is a peak into the future The Louisiana Purchase Exposition