The Life and Times of the Star-Spangled Banner

When the Warrior Returns

In 1805, the new United States faced extortion by the Barbary pirates operating in the Mediterranean sea. These pirates lived by capturing ships, stealing their cargo, and holding the crew and passengers for ransom. If the ransom was not paid, the prisoners were made into slaves. As long as the American colonies were part of the British empire they were under its protection. Once they gained their independence, they lost this protection.

The new nation could not afford to get a reputation for being willing to pay ransom. In one of its first military actions beyond its shores, the U.S. sent troops to fight the pirates. The words of the Marine anthem, "to the shores of Tripoli" commemorates this battle. When American troops returned home in 1805 victorious, Francis Scott Key wrote a song to celebrate.

Not only is it written to the same tune as the Star Spangled Banner, the third verse even uses the phrase "the star-spangled flag." It mentions "the war's desolation,", "the flaming star gleam'd," and there is a "terrible glare." And, of course, "the brow of the brave" in this song echoes "the home of the brave." This song was almost a first draft of the song that would make him famous.

Stephen Decatur battles the Barbary Pirates

When the Warrior Returns


When the warrior returns, from the battle afar,

To the home and the country he has nobly defended,

Oh! warm the welcome to gladden his ear,

And loud be the joy that his perils are ended!

In the full tide of song, let his fame roll along,

To the feast-flowing-board let us gratefully throng.

Where mix't with the olive the laurel shall wave,

And form a bright wreath for the brow of the brave.

Columbians! a band of thy brothers behold!

Who claim their reward in thy heart's warm emotion:

When thy cause, when thy honor urg'd onward the bold

In vain frowned the desert, in vain raged the ocean.

To a far distant shore — to the battle's wild roar,

They rush'd thy fair fame and thy rights to secure,

Then mix'd with the olive the laurel shall wave

And form a bright wreath for the brow of the brave.

In the conflict resistless each toil they endur'd

Till their foes shrunk dismay'd from the war's desolation:

And pale beam'd the Crescent, its splendour obscured

By the light of the star spangled flag of our nation.

Where each flaming star gleam'd a meteor of war

And the turban'd heads bow'd to the terrible glare,

Then mix'd with the olive the laurel shall wave

And form a bright wreath for the brow of the brave.

Our fathers, who stand on the summit of fame,

Shall exultingly hear of the sons, the proud story,

How their young bosoms glowed with the patriot flame,

How they fought, how they fell, in the blaze of their glory.

How triumphant they rode o'er the wandering flood

And stained the blue waters with infidel blood;

How mix't with the olive the laurel did wave,

And form'd a bright wreath for the brow of the brave.