A large 15-star American flag is one of the Museum’s

most valued treasures. Donated in 1995 by John E. Craver, it had been passed 
down in his family for generations. Makers sewed this flag, which measures ap-
proximately 11 feet by 12¾ feet, to fly over a military fort (or garrison) or on a 
vessel, marking them as U.S. property. Unfortunately, we do not know who made 
it or where it flew.

The Museum’s 15-star flag is made of wool bunting, a lightweight, mildew- 
resistant, coarsely woven fabric. The blue section, called the canton, is colored 
with indigo. This dye, common during the late 1700s and early 1800s, provided  
a deep, permanent color that rarely faded. The red stripes are dyed with an un-
known colorant. The stars are made out of linen. In 1996 and 1997, conservators 
worked 500 hours to stabilize the flag and prepare it for display. First, they vacu-
umed it and then gently washed it to remove as many stains as possible. They 
next stabilized areas of fabric loss with patches, using material dyed as closely  
as possible to the flag’s colors. They also carefully removed old repairs that were 
pulling on the fabric. Finally, a supportive backing was sewn to the flag. A slightly 
angled backboard supports the flag in its specially constructed case, and the low 
lighting helps preserve it for generations to come. 

Congress approved the first official U.S. flag in 1777,

resolving that it have “13 stripes alternate red and white” and that there be  
“13 stars in a blue field representing a new constellation.” On January 13, 1794, 
President George Washington (1732–1799) signed the Second Flag Act. It man-
dated 15 stars and 15 stripes—the number of American states at the time—but 
did not specify design details like the arrangement of the stars. You may notice 
that the Museum’s flag has only 14 stripes. One was removed before we received 
it, probably due to deterioration, or possibly by a souvenir seeker. The 15-star, 
15-stripe design remained official until 1818, when legislators adopted the 20-star 
flag, choosing to add one star for each new state, while keeping the number of 
stripes at 13 to represent the original number of states. This same basic design  
is still used today.

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library’s 15-star flag 

is one of only a handful still in existence known to have been made between 1794  
and 1818, based on their design, materials, and construction. The most famous 
15-star flag is the Star-Spangled Banner, which flew at Fort McHenry during  
the War of 1812 and inspired Francis Scott Key (1779–1843) to write the words  
to what is now the National Anthem. Initially made as a garrison flag to mark 
Fort McHenry as American property, the Star-Spangled Banner was stitched  
by Mrs. Mary Pickersgill (1776–1857) in 1813. A descendant of Fort McHenry’s 
commanding officer gave that flag to the Smithsonian Institution in 1912. It is 
now on view in Washington, D.C. 

London composer John Stafford Smith (1750–1836) wrote the melody we know 
as our National Anthem in 1775 or 1776. Called “Anacreon in Heaven,” the  
British tune was popular in the United States. The first printing of Key’s poem 
noted that it should be sung to this tune. Despite its popularity as a patriotic song, 
“The Star-Spangled Banner” did not become the National Anthem until 1931. 
Prior to this, the United States did not have a national anthem. 

Sometimes called the Second War of Independence, the

War of 1812 began after the British tried to prevent American ships from trading 
with France. At the time, Baltimore was the third largest U.S. city and an impor-
tant port. In the summer of 1814, the British launched a campaign to destroy the 
nation’s capital and disrupt nearby Baltimore’s port activity. On August 24, 1814, 
the British burned Washington, D.C., setting fire to the White House and the 
Capitol, among other buildings. 

The British commander, Sir Alexander Cochrane (1758–1832), wanted to  
silence the guns of Fort McHenry so he could bring his ships into Baltimore  
Harbor and bombard the Americans on land. British bombs began falling on  
the fort on September 13, 1814, at 6:30 a.m., and continued throughout the  
day, sometimes at a rate of nearly one per minute. According to Major George 
Armistead (1780–1818), Fort McHenry’s commander, 1,500 to 1,800 bombs  
were fired at the fort, but only 400 fell within its walls. The British finally gave  
up and retreated around 7 a.m. on September 14, ending almost 25 hours of 
bombardment. Only four Americans were killed, with an additional 24 wounded.

A peace treaty signed in Ghent, Belgium, ended the War of 1812 on December 
24, 1814, but word of this treaty did not reach North America until February 1815.

Maryland attorney Francis Scott Key is best known as

the author of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Shortly before the Battle of Balti-
more began, Key met with the British to negotiate the release of his acquain-
tance, prisoner Dr. William Beanes (1749–1828). Although Key secured Beanes’s 
release prior to the battle, the British held the men for several days because they 
had learned of the British plan for an imminent attack. 

Anchored on a vessel eight miles down the Patapsco River from Fort McHenry, 
the men watched the battle with a spyglass. Early on September 14, 1814, after 
the bombardment ended, Key looked for the flag at the fort. When he saw it, he 
began to write his poem on the back of a letter in his pocket. He later finished it 
in Baltimore and, in doing so, created the much-loved anthem we know today.

Star-Spangled Banner. Courtesy of Military History, Smithsonian Institution.

Portrait of Francis Scott Key, about 1825. Attributed  
to Joseph Wood. Courtesy of Walters Art Gallery.

A View of the Bombardment of Fort McHenry, 1816. Print by J. Bower, Philadelphia.  
Courtesy of Military History, Smithsonian Institution.

On the cover: Fifteen- 
Star Flag, 1794–1818.  
Scottish Rite Masonic  
Museum & Library, gift  
of John E. Craver, 95.021. 
Photo by David Bohl. Left: 
The flag in the Museum’s  
Farr Conference Center.

At dawn . . . our morning gun was fired, the flag hoisted, Yankee 
Doodle played, and we all appeared in full view of a formidable 
and mortified enemy, who calculated upon our surrender in 
20 minutes after the commencement of the action.

                  American private Isaac Munroe, September 17, 1814

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library’s 15-Star Flag

The Star-Spangled Banner

The War of 1812’s Battle of Baltimore

Francis Scott Key (1779–1843)