Francis Scott Key (August 1, 1779 – January 11, 1843) was an American lawyer, author, and amateur poet, from Georgetown, who wrote the words to the United States' national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner".
Francis Scott Key was born to Ann Louis Penn Dagworthy (Charlton) and Captain John Ross Key
at the family plantation Terra Rubra in what was Frederick County
and is now Carroll County, Maryland
. His father John Ross Key
was a lawyer, a judge and an officer in the Continental Army
He studied law at St. John's College, Annapolis, Maryland and also learned under his uncle Philip Barton Key.
"The Star-Spangled Banner"
During the War of 1812
, Key, accompanied by the American Prisoner Exchange Agent Colonel John Stuart Skinner, dined aboard the British ship HMS Tonnant
, as the guests of three British officers: Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane
, Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn
, and Major General Robert Ross
. Skinner and Key were there to negotiate the release of a prisoner, Dr. William Beanes. Beanes was a resident of Upper Marlboro, Maryland
and had been captured by the British after he placed rowdy stragglers under citizen's arrest with a group of men. Skinner, Key, and Beanes were allowed to return to their own sloop
, but were not allowed to return to Baltimore because they had become familiar with the strength and position of the British units and with the British intent to attack Baltimore. As a result of this, Key was unable to do anything but watch the bombarding of the American forces at Fort McHenry
during the Battle of Baltimore
on the night of September 13
When the smoke cleared, Key was able to see an American flag still waving. On the way back to Baltimore, he was inspired to write a poem describing his experience, "The Defence of Fort McHenry", which he published in the Patriot on September 20, 1814. He intended to fit the rhythms of composer John Stafford Smith's "To Anacreon in Heaven". It has become better known as "The Star Spangled Banner". Under this name, the song was adopted as the American national anthem, first by an Executive Order from President Woodrow Wilson in 1916 (which had little effect beyond requiring military bands to play it) and then by a Congressional resolution in 1931, signed by President Herbert Hoover.
In 1832, Key served as the attorney for Sam Houston
during his trial in the U.S. House of Representatives
for assaulting another Congressman. He published a prose work called The Power of Literature, and Its Connection with Religion
In 1835, Key prosecuted Richard Lawrence for his unsuccessful attempt to assassinate President of the United States Andrew Jackson.
In 1843, Key died at the home of his daughter Elizabeth Howard in Baltimore from pleurisy and was initially interred in Old Saint Paul's Cemetery in the vault of John Eager Howard. In 1866, his body was moved to his family plot in Frederick at Mount Olivet Cemetery. Though Key had written poetry from time to time, often with heavily religious themes, these works were not collected and published until 14 years after his death.
The Key Monument Association erected a memorial in 1898 and the remains of both Francis Scott Key and his wife were placed in a crypt in the base of the monument.
Other related items
In 1861, Key's grandson was imprisoned in Fort McHenry
with the Mayor of Baltimore
, George William Brown
, and other locals deemed to be pro-South.
Key was a distant cousin and the namesake of F. Scott Fitzgerald whose full name was Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald. His direct descendants include geneticist Thomas Hunt Morgan, guitarist Dana Key, and the American fashion designer and socialite Pauline de Rothschild.
His sister, Anne Phoebe Charlton Key, married Roger B. Taney, future Chief Justice of the United States and author of the Court's Dred Scott decision.
Robert Altman credited Key with the "title song" of Brewster McCloud, though it contained only John Stafford Smith's instrumentals.
Monuments and memorials
- Two bridges are named in his honor. The first is the Francis Scott Key Bridge between the Rosslyn section of Arlington County, Virginia, and Georgetown in Washington, D.C.. Scott's Georgetown home, which was demolished in 1947 (as part of construction for the Whitehurst Freeway), was located where the bridge intersects with M St., the location is now the Francis Scott Key park.
- The other bridge is the Francis Scott Key Bridge, part of the Baltimore Beltway crossing the outer harbor of Baltimore, Maryland. Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge is located at the approximate point where the British anchored to shell Fort McHenry.
- St. John's College, Annapolis, which Key graduated from in 1796, has an auditorium named in his honor.
- Francis Scott Key was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.
- He is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Frederick. His family plot is next to Thomas Johnson, the first governor of Maryland, and friend Barbara Fritchie, who allegedly waved the American flag out of her home in defiance of Stonewall Jackson's march through the city during the Civil War.
- Francis Scott Key Hall at the University of Maryland, College Park is named in his honor. It is on the longest mall of any university in the United States. The George Washington University also has a residence hall in Key's honor at the corner of 19th and F Streets.
- Francis Scott Key also has a school named after him in Brooklyn, New York. I.S 117 is a junior high school located in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn on Willoughby Avenue. It houses 6th, 7th, and 8th grade classrooms as well as a District 75 Special Education unit. The Special Education classes include children who are emotionally disturbed. For more information on the school and its programs please visit the schools main site, P369k, located in Downtown Brooklyn.
- Francis Scott Key High School in rural Carroll County, Maryland.
- Francis Scott Key Middle School (at least three)
- Francis Scott Key Mall in Frederick County, Maryland.
- A monument to Key was commissioned by San Francisco businessman James Lick, who donated some $60,000 for a sculpture of Key to be raised in Golden Gate Park. The travertine monument was executed by sculptor William W. Story in Rome in 1885-87. The current budget of the city of San Francisco allocates some $140,000 to renovate the Key monument, which the city notes is about to be lost to environmental degradation if repairs are not made. (Restoration of the monument recently began and is slated to be finished by September 2008, according to the city.)
- The US Navy named a submarine in his honor, the USS Francis Scott Key