John Stuart Skinner

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John Stuart Skinner
Born(1788-02-22)February 22, 1788
Died(1851-03-21)March 21, 1851(age 63)
Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Occupationlawyer, publisher, editor
Parent(s)Fredrick Skinner, Elizabeth Steward
By Dawn's Early Light 1912 painting by Edward Moran depicts the legendary moment of the morning of September 14th, 1814 when Francis Scott Key and his compatriots Colonel John Skinner and Dr. William Beanes see the American flag still waving above Baltimore's Fort Mc Henry. This inspired Key to write the work which became the American national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner.

John Stuart Skinner (22 February 1788 – 21 March 1851) was an American lawyer, publisher, and editor.[1]


Skinner began practicing law as an attorney at the age of twenty-one in 1809. On March 10, 1812, he married Elizabeth G. Davies, the step-daughter of Theodorick Bland.[2] Also in 1812, President James Madison made a special commission and selected Skinner to become a government agent "to receive and forward the ocean mails, to furnish the vessels with necessary supplies, and to see that nothing transpired prejudicial to the interests of the republic or offensive to enemies thus admitted under the guardianship of a flag of truce."[1]

Skinner soon obtained the duty of agent for prisoners-of-war and parole. In 1813, Skinner was ordered to move his offices from Annapolis to Baltimore. He then accepted a purser's commission in the navy for the duration of the war.[1]

On September 3, 1814, Skinner, as the prisoner-of-war exchange officer, was selected with Francis Scott Key, (1779–1843) by fourth President James Madison for a mission to release Dr. William Beanes, (1775–1824), who was being held prisoner by the British. Skinner and Key went on board General Ross's ship on September 7, HMS Tonnant that was anchored in the Chesapeake Bay.[3] [Robert Ross being a general in the British Army would not have "had" a ship. Tonnant was the flagship of the British Admiral in command, Alexander Cochrane and it would have been he, not Ross who would have made the determination to release Beanes.] They were carrying a flag of truce and a letter authorized by President Madison setting out the case that Dr. Beanes should not have been arrested and taken prisoner because he had been an unarmed civilian when he previously arrested some British soldiers.[4]

Skinner even had letters from these British soldiers that he presented to Ross praising the American doctors on how well the British soldiers were treated. This was an argument that Ross should release Dr. Beanes because of this excellent medical care.[3] It is not known for sure if Dr. Beanes, being a medical doctor, was among those that treated the wounded British soldiers. Skinner with Key negotiated with Ross for nearly a week on board his ship and finally Ross agreed to release Beanes.[5]

Upon the release of Beanes they were not allowed to return to Baltimore because of key information they had collected by being on board Ross's ship from September 7–13. They were transferred from the Tonnant to another British warship, the HMS Surprise and then to their own sloop. They were just allowed to watch the attack on Fort McHenry from their own sloop, known as a cartel or truce boat, under British guard. The sloop was tethered to a British ship about eight miles (13 km) from Fort McHenry and guarded by a number of British marines to prevent any escape.[5]

The morning of September 13 at seven o'clock the British bombardment of Baltimore began. The city was defended by Fort McHenry in the harbor. Skinner, Key, and Beanes initially watched a huge American flag made by Mary Pickersgill flying above Fort McHenry as a representation of the American resolve to defend Baltimore.[5] The bombarding of the American forces at Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore went into the night of September 13 with them not knowing how the battle was going.[4]

When the smoke cleared on the morning of September 14, Key along with Skinner and Beanes were able to see the American flag still waving—Fort McHenry had not been taken by the British. On their way back to Baltimore, Key was inspired to write a poem, "Defence of Fort M'Henry", that later became the American national anthem, "The Star Spangled Banner."[6] Francis Scott Key first showed his work to Skinner and had it published.[7][8]


Skinner established in 1819 the American Farmer, the first agricultural journal in the United States to attain prominence.[9] The first recognized agricultural periodical, however, was the Agricultural Museum that started publication in 1810.[10]

Skinner's periodical was warmly accepted by Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Timothy Pickering. In 1829, Skinner published the first American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine. His devotion to this work enticed him to dispose of the American Farmer the same year. Skinner sold this magazine after publishing it successfully for ten years.[1]

In 1845, Skinner began a new publication, the Farmer's Library and Monthly Journal of Agriculture. This was succeeded in 1848 by the Plough, the Loom, and the Anvil, which he published until his death. The periodicals that Skinner published gave a new stimulus to agricultural pursuits and added to the general popularity of outdoor sports.[1]


Skinner was postmaster of Baltimore from 1816 until 1849.[1]

Skinner served with Joshua Barney and became known as "Maryland's Paul Revere."[1]

Skinner was at one time chief of the agricultural bureau of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.[1]

In 1824, General Lafayette selected Skinner as agent to manage the 20,000-acre (81 km2) grant of land that he had received by Congress.[1]

Edited works[edit]

  • Guenon on Milch Cows (1841)
  • Letter on Nautical Education (1841)
  • Christmas Gift to Young Agriculturists (Washington, 1841)
  • Youatt on the Horse (1844)
  • Every Man his own Cattle Doctor (1844)
  • The Dog and Sportsman (1845)
  • Farmer's Library and Monthly Journal of Agriculture (New York, 1846)
  • Elements of Agricultural Chemistry from the French

Foreign works edited[edit]

  • Alexander Petzhold's Lectures on Agricultural Chemistry
  • Henry Stephens's Book of the Farm
  • Albrecht Daniel Thur's Principles of Agriculture


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Wilson, p. 545
  2. ^ Poore, Benjamin Perley (July 1854). "Biographical Notice of John S. Skinner". The Plough, the Loom, and the Anvil. VII (No.1). New York: Myron Finch. p. 2.
  3. ^ a b Sedeen, p. 20
  4. ^ a b Molotsky, p. 88
  5. ^ a b c Sedeen, p. 21
  6. ^ Wilson, p. 545 He was with Francis S. Key on the mission that suggested the latter's song, "The Star-Spangled Banner."
  7. ^ "Naval History Magazine — Issue: April 2008 Volume 22, Number 2 article: Where Naval Tradition Lives by Eric Mills". Retrieved 2008-11-20. "After the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, it was Skinner whom Francis Scott Key first showed his work known today as "The Star Spangled Banner." Documentation also exists that he was the one who had it published."
  8. ^ Molotsky, p. 109 "Others suggest that Key's companion, Skinner, was the one who got the copies printed."
  9. ^ Kane, p. 13
  10. ^ PHASE VI - MARYLAND document of Cornell University Archived 2010-06-26 at the Wayback Machine