Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Largest Living Flag Ever for the Bicentennial Celebration of the “Star Spangled Banner”

Editor’s Note: Upon hearing that Angela Packer McGhie and her son were involved in the record breaking living flag as part of the ongoing celebrations at Fort McHenry for the Star Spangled 200th, we invited her to write this guest post on her experiences. 

By Angela Packer McGhie

I was sitting at home the last week of August and wishing I was at the FGS Conference in Texas. My friends were posting messages on Facebook about the conference, and the competition between four genealogy celebrities to raise money for the War of 1812 “Preserve the Pensions” Fund. I had done my part and donated money to the cause, but still felt a little left out. When my son came home from school that day, he told me that his 4th grade class was invited to a “once-in-a-lifetime” historic event. They would be taking a field trip to Fort McHenry in Baltimore to be part of a “living flag” commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812, the Battle of Baltimore, and the writing of the Star Spangled Banner. I thought that chaperoning this field trip would be a great way for me to honor my ancestor, George Augustus Neal, who served in the War of 1812.

On the morning of September 9th we drove to the school early so that we would be ready to join all the other 4th and 5th grade students on the field trip. The kids were so excited! They knew this was an historic day and they were eager to participate. The 100th anniversary celebration in 1914 had included a living flag, and this event was going to set a world record with over 6,600 people participating.

War of 1812, Star Spangled 200th, For McHenry, Living flag, history

Watching the educational program on the jumbotron while waiting to be placed in the living flag. Courtesy Angela Packer McGhie.

The excitement continued as we arrived at Fort McHenry and watched the educational program on the jumbotron.  They had a historic re-enactor portraying Francis Scott Key and telling the story of the writing of what would become the Star Spangled Banner from a ship in the Baltimore harbor. Another told the story of Mary Pickersgill who was commissioned to sew the giant 30 by 42 foot garrison flag that flew over Fort McHenry in 1814. This was followed by a War of 1812 fife and drum corps that played for the students, and other education and entertainment while we waited our turn to join in the living flag.

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View from the center of the “living flag” where Angela and her son were sitting. Courtesy Angela Packer McGhie.

They called one school at a time to gather on the grass in front of the Fort and gave every student a shiny red, white, or blue poncho to wear as they filled in their section of the flag. We were toward the end of the procession, and were given red ponchos to wear as we became the second red stripe under the stars. Once everyone was in place, we had several pictures taken from the helicopters hovering above us, and the photographer on top of the visitors’ center. The official program (which was broadcast live on YouTube) included speeches from the mayor of Baltimore, a local congressman and the governor of Maryland. The students were excited that the governor was there to address them.

Fort McHenry, War of 1812, Star Spangled 200th, history, War of 1812

The living flag as seen from above. Photo courtesy Friends of Fort McHenry.

To me there were two highlights of the day. The first was learning that Myrtle Sanders was in the front row, and she had been part of the human flag in 1914! She was just a baby in her mother’s arms at the time, and now at age 100 she was participating again with us (you can see her the video link below). The second highlight was when they invited all 6,600+ students, teachers and chaperones to join in singing the “Star Spangled Banner” while we were in the flag formation. It brought the significance of the event to life.

You can see a brief news report of the event here:

Fort McHenry’s Star-Spangled Banner Living Flag is one of a weeklong series of events celebrating the 200th anniversary of our National Anthem. For additional information on other events, visit


The team at Preserve the Pensions War of 1812 would like to thank Angela for her gift of time and for sharing her day at Fort McHenry. Please donate today to save the fragile documents that make up the War of 1812 Pension Files; preserving them digitally forever.


The 200th Anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner

September 14, 2014 is the 200th anniversary of the writing of our national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key. In honor of this 200th anniversary, the War of 1812 Pension Digitization Project has obtained copies of Key’s War of 1812 military service record and his bounty land application file from the National Archives in Washington, D.C.. Together, both of his files help document the military service for Francis Scott Key in the War of 1812.


Francis Scott Key was born on 1 August 1779, the son of John Ross Key and Ann Phoebe Penn Dagworthy Charlton. Key was educated at Annapolis, studied law, became a lawyer, and eventually appointed the United States District Attorney. Key was also an author and amateur poet.


Francis Scott Key and Mary T. Lloyd were married at Annapolis, Maryland in January 1801. In 1813 Key volunteered for service in the War of 1812 at Georgetown, Washington D.C. He served as Private in Major George Peters’ Georgetown Light Field Artillery, 1st Regiment District of Columbia Militia from 15 July 1813 to 26 July 1813 and as a Lieutenant and Quarter Master from 19 June 1814 to 1 July 1814.


On 5 September 1814 Key and Colonel John Skinner boarded the British flagship, HMS Tonnant to finalize the negotiations for the exchange of prisoners. The discussions continued for days. On the 13th of September 1814, Key, Skinner, and the released prisoner Dr. William Beanes were “detained for several days on board the British Fleet during the War of 1812 – the object of the detention being to prevent their giving information to the Government of the United State of certain military movements in contemplation by the enemy”. [1] The men were prevented from returning to shore until after the 25 hour bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British had ended. When the skies began to clear Francis Scott Key was relieved to see that the flag that had flown at Fort McHenry was still there. A triumphal moment, seeing the flag had survived the 25 hour bombardment filled Key with a sense of relief. The thoughts flowed and Key penned the words of a poem that expressed what he saw that day. This poem eventually became the lyrics to our national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner. [2]


The military service file for Francis Scott Key is relatively small, an envelope and five cards indexing his status as recorded in the muster rolls. Key’s rank at the time of entry into service was a “Mattross” which is a gunner’s assistant in the Artillery Unit he was assigned to. On the Muster Roll of “Staff Officers attached to detachment of Volunteer Troops under command of Major George Peter” for June 19 to July 1, 1814 is recorded that Francis S. Key held the rank of Lieutenant and Quarter Master. [3]


Francis Scott Key died at age 63 on 11 January 1843. Twelve years later, on 18 May 1855 his widow Mary Key applied for bounty land. In the application for bounty land, Mary “further states that between the 5th and 15th of September A. D. 1814 her said husband Francis S. Key was detained and kept in durance on boards [sic] of the British Fleet as a prisoner…” [4] For her husband’s service in the War of 1812, she was awarded 160 acres of land.


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Francis Scott Key

The Federation of Genealogical Societies and the Preserve the Pensions of the War of 1812 Project recognize and honor the service given by all those who have served our country in the military. Key’s Bounty Land application was not found among the Pension Files that are being digitized by the Preserve the Pensions project. Instead, the application was located in the collection known as the Unindexed Bounty Land Application Files at the National Archives. If you are unable to find a War of 1812 pension record for your ancestor, be sure to search the other War of 1812 collections at the National Archives that are not yet digitized.


  1. Sworn Statement of T. G. Skinner, son of John Skinner, soldier Francis S. Key, (1st Leut., 1st Regt., District of Columbia, Maj. G. Peter’s Georgetown Field Artillery, War of 1812); Case Files of Bounty-Land Warrant Applications Based on Service Between 1812 – 1855, Unindexed Applications,Records of the Veteran’s Administration, RG 15, National Archives.
  2. National Park Service, “Francis Scott Key,” Fort McHenry ( : accessed 12 Sep 2014).
  3. Francis S. Key, Compiled Military Service Record, War of 1812, 1stRegt., District of Columbia, Maj. G. Peter’s Georgetown Field Artillery; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, RG 94, National Archives.
  4. Declaration for Widow, Mary T. Key, soldier Francis S. Key, (1stLeut., 1stRegt., District of Columbia, Maj. G. Peter’s Georgetown Field Artillery, War of 1812); Case Files of Bounty-Land Warrant Applications Based on Service Between 1812 – 1855. Unindexed Applications,Records of the Veteran’s Administration, RG 15, National Archives.
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FGS2014 Celebrity Fun Walk Success

No question about it! The FGS 2014 Celebrity Fun Walk was a resounding success. We here at the Preserve the Pensions committee are proud and humbled by your generosity. The power of the community and the power of compounding were both on display.

We can’t thank Judy Russell of The Legal Genealogist enough for lending her voice to our cause.  She was the clear winner of our challenge, bringing in over $11,000 in online donations alone.  We also thank our other Celebrity Walkers – D. Joshua Taylor, Kenyatta Berry and Ed Donakey – who split the remaining donations pretty evenly. Each of these individuals, spreading the word within their respective communities, contributed to the success of this event.

Before we get to the numbers, here are a few photos for those folks who haven’t joined us at our Facebook page. (Which you can do here.)

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It turns out, Judy wasn’t kidding about the Walk being at “oh dark thirty”! The sun was just barely coming up by the time the Walkers returned to the convention center. However, their efforts on your behalf were well rewarded:

FGS2014 Celebrity Fun Walk Donations


Plus Federation of Genealogical Societies Match


Plus Match


Equals Funding to Digitize

362,206 pages

$20,000 in direct donations for a single event is nothing to scoff at. But being able to convert that into an $80,000 contribution with our matching partners turns a great fundraising drive into a phenomenal one. And this same success can be duplicated across the country with society matching campaigns taking advantage of the compounding offered by the Stern-NARA fund and

In the coming weeks, we look forward to sharing with you the efforts of two such societies who have already committed to matching campaigns for Preserve the Pensions. Several more societies are in the process of submitting campaigns to their board members for consideration.  We hope to be able to lend our voice to their efforts very soon as well.

Working together, we will see this amazing project to preserve an invaluable record collection through. Our deepest appreciation goes out to our Celebrity Walkers, Matching Partners and the hundreds of individual donors like you who made this event such a success.

A big round of applause to you all!