Mary Armistead Bradford ~ Big Lake’s Own Link To The Star Spangled Banner

I’m one of those crazy people who like to wander through cemeteries. There’s just something about them that makes me feel so peaceful. To me, each person resting there has a story that should have been told. Winding trails, old towns, and empty ruins intrigue me. Each wall, each stone, has seen a millions stories and if only they could speak, what tales would be told? A person should not be forgotten just because this chapter of their life has been closed.

We have a very pretty little cemetery in Big Lake. One day I was wandering through it and reading the old headstones. I came across a very distinguished looking one and as I began to read I realized that here in our little town there once lived a lady with a very interesting heritage. Her name was Mary Armistead Bradford. She was born Dec. 24, 1812 and she was the daughter of Colonial General George Armistead.

Mary Armistead Bradford
BORN Dec. 24, 1812
DIED Feb. 2, 1884

As a child, I had studied all about Francis Scott Key and the Star Spangled Banner. I knew that the song was written in the heat of a great battle for the freedom of this country, but I had never really studied the exact facts of the battle or who the great men were who fought so bravely for us all. It was time to do some research!

According to Wikipedia, and I pretty much copied this entirely from them, “George Armistead was born April 10, 1780 and died April 25, 1818. He was an American military officer who served as the commander of Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812.

Armistead was born in Newmarket, Caroline County, Virginia. He was one of five brothers who served in the War of 1812, either in the regular army or militia. He distinguished himself at the capture of Fort George from the British, near the mouth of Niagara River in Canada on May 27, 1813 while serving as an artillery officer at Fort Niagara. He would later carry the captured British flags to President James Madison. Upon his arrival in Washington, Armistead was ordered to “take command of Fort McHenry.”

When he arrived at Fort McHenry, located in the outer harbor of Baltimore, Maryland, Armistead ordered “a flag so large that the British would have no difficulty seeing it from a distance”. That flag, known as the Star Spangled Banner Flag, measured 42′ x 30′, and was made by Baltimore resident Mary Pickersgill, her daughter, and seven seamstresses, and would be later memorialized by Francis Scott Key in the poem “The Star Spangled Banner”, which later became our American national anthem.
During the nearly 25-hour bombardment of Fort McHenry, beginning before dawn on September 13th until the morning of September 14, 1814, Armistead alone knew the fort’s magazine was not bombproof. When a shell crashed through the roof of the magazine but failed to explode, Armistead ordered the powder barrels cleared out and placed under the rear walls of the fort. Remarkably, only four men were killed, when two shells smashed into the fort’s southwest bastion, despite a deadly rain of some 2,000 mortar shells that the British bombardment fleet fired at the fort.

Because the Royal Navy proved unable to capture or reduce the fort in order to enter Baltimore harbor to bombard the main American defense line east of the city, British commander-in-chief Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane wrote to British Army commander Colonel Arthur Brooke that it was up to him whether to decide to attack or withdraw. Brooke, who had taken over from Major-General Robert Ross, who was mortally wounded just before the Battle of North Point on September 12, decided to withdraw.

Following the battle, Armistead was soon promoted to lieutenant colonel. Much weakened by the arduous preparations for the battle, he died at age 38, only three years after.”

Mary would have been only 6 years old when her daddy died a hero. I wonder if she was old enough to understand what an impact he’d made on the world or if she just wished to have him come back and play with her one more time. I am sure that by the time she passed away at the age of 72 she knew what a lot of the world already took for granted. That freedom isn’t free, it’s paid for with a high price, that should never be taken for granted.

The flag that Gen. Armistead had commissioned and later brought home to his family is hanging in the Smithsonian Institute. You can read about it at this link:

The words that Francis Scott Key wrote were originally a poem titled “Defense of Fort McHenry”. On March 3, 1931, “The Star-Spangled Banner” was made the official national anthem of the United States Of America by a congressional resolution signed by President Hoover.

Star-Spangled Banner
Oh, say can you see
By the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed
By the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars
Through the perilous flight
O’er the ramparts we watched
Were so gallantly streaming
And the rocket’s red glare,
The bombs bursting in air
Gave proof through the night
That our flag was still there.
Oh, 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! Oh long may it wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band
That 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 washed out
Their foul footsteps’ 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 free men shall stand
Between their loved homes
And the war’s desolation;
Blest with victory and peace,
May the Heav’n 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 out motto:
“In God is our trust!”
And the Star-Spangled banner in triumph doth wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.


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