I remember singing our national hymn, My Country, 'Tis of Thee, when I was in grade school. Pride welled up in my heart that I was American and that my country belongs to "Thee." Many years later I lived on an old country road here in Maine where a little brick chapel boasts the sign, home of Rev. Samuel F. Smith, author of America, My Country, 'Tis of Thee Don't you just love the history that lies in our own back yards?
His was a generation proud of America, not far removed from the days that his forefathers, who came from England to Massachusetts in the 17th century, fought the War of Independence. Born in Boston in 1808, Samuel F. Smith graduated from Harvard and following, attended the Andover Theological Seminary. As a divinity student and master of languages he later went on to become pastor of the First Baptist Church in Waterville, Maine (which encompassed the town where I live) and Professor of Modern Languages at Colby in 1834 (Waterville, Maine the time was considered the University City of Maine.). Like most of those early pastors, Smith ministered to more than one church, and from 1838 to 1842 he regularly preached at Ten Lots Road as well as at his principal church in Waterville. For the rest of his life the Rev. Samuel F. Smith traveled the world over as a Baptist missionary and composed over 150 hymns.
In 1832, the seminarian penned these words (excerpt):
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Dr. Smith's account of how the hymn came to be:
"The hymn of My Country, 'Tis of Thee was written in February 1832 As I was turning over the leaves of several books of music chiefly music for churches and schools the words being in the German language the music which I found later to be God Save the King impressed me favorably I noticed at a glance that the German words were patriotic But without attempting to translate or imitate them I was led in the impulse of the moment to write the hymn now styled America which was the work of a brief period of time at the close of a dismal winter afternoon I did not design it for a national hymn nor did I think it would gain such notoriety I dropped the manuscript into my portfolio and thought no more of it for months I had however once seen it after writing it and gave a copy of it to Mr Lowell Mason with the music from the German pamphlet and much to my surprise on the succeeding Fourth of July he brought it out on the occasion of a Sunday school celebration in Park Street Church Boston."
The tune of God Save the King was first used in the American British colonies in a modified version, in 1761 as the melody for the hymn Whitefield's Tune. During the American Revolution, patriots turned the British national anthem, God Save the King, into God Save the United States. In 1789 Americans sang these words at George Washington's inauguration as the first president of the United States of America:
Hail, thou auspicious day!
For let America
Thy praise resound.
Joy to our native land!
Let every heart expand,
For Washington's at hand,
With glory crowned.
Thrice beloved Columbia, hail!
Behold before the gale
Your chief advance.
The matchless Hero's neigh;
Applaud him to the sky,
Who gave you liberty,
With gen'rous France.
From Library of Congress 1902 Victor recording:
A new generation rises up singing, "My Country, 'Tis of Thee"!
country's independence this weekend!