The Star-Spangled Banner and Its Missing Star

by Janelle Pavao

The original Star-Spangled Banner, seen by Francis Scott Key streaming over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 and now hanging in the Smithsonian Institution, is missing a star. What happened to it?

When you look at the famous flag, the first place your eyes go is to the large hole where there should be a fifteenth star; the first place your mind goes is to forming the question, "Where is the star?"

The original Star-Spangled BannerThe original Star-Spangled Banner
Public domain image

Unfortunately, we do not know where it is now, but we do know what happened to it.

I once heard a story that someone unknown cut it out as the flag was being transported, and it has been missing ever since. This is a myth.

We know exactly where it went. The flag belonged to the family of Major George Armistead for many years.

Major Armistead and the Star-Spangled Banner

Not everyone knows that the Star-Spangled Banner story actually belongs to the War of 1812, not the Revolutionary War. The British wanted Baltimore, and Fort McHenry stood in the way. The British navy bombarded it with "the rockets' red glare" and "bombs bursting in air" for about 24 hours, not just the night.

In preparation for the assault he knew was coming, Maj. Armistead, commander of Ft. McHenry, commissioned Mary Pickersgill, a flagmaker in Baltimore, to make a huge 30'x42' flag, plus another smaller and stronger one for stormy days.

Bravely, Maj. Armistead and his men bore the British barrage—about 133 tons of shells—while the "bright stars and broad stripes" continued "so gallantly streaming."

Major Armistead well deserved the flag as a keepsake.

When this gift was first bestowed upon them, shortly after the War of 1812, the flag itself did not have the special significance that it has today. Many people asked to borrow it for patriotic events, and this request was usually granted. The family also allowed specific people, on numerous occasions, to cut small bits from the Star-Spangled Banner.</p>

<p>In fact, so much was cut from the end that it is now <b><em>8 feet shorter</em></b> than it was originally.</p>

<p>The fifteenth star itself was cut out by  Mrs. Louisa Armistead to give as a very honored gift to someone very special.</p>

<p>I am sure they were very honored by that gift, but, unfortunately, we know not who that lucky person was.</p>

<p>Thus the star was lost forever.</p>

The Importance of the Flag

But as Francis Scott Key's song became famous, the flag began to serve as an inspiration to the nation. Due to this, the Star-Spangled Banner—as it was named after the song—became very popular and more and more of a legend. 

Eventually the flag was donated to the museum in Washington, D.C., and there its old worn-out stars and stripes rest to this day.

The large flag that brought so much inspiration to so many will still provide inspiration for the generations to come.

Betsy Ross

Betsy Ross

Paul Revere's Ride

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

Return to Revolutionary War Women


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