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Francis Scott Key

(1 August 1779 – 11 January 1843 / Carroll County, Maryland)

Biography of Francis Scott Key

Francis Scott Key poet

Francis Scott Key was an American lawyer, author, and amateur poet, from Georgetown, who wrote the lyrics to the United States' national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner".

Life

Francis Scott Key was born to Ann Phoebe 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. His great-grandparents were Philip Key and Susanna Barton Gardiner, both born in London, England, immigrated to Maryland in 1726.

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 prisoners, one being 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 not allowed to return to their own sloop: 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 13–14, 1814.

At dawn, Key was able to see an American flag still waving and reported this to the prisoners below deck. On the way back to Baltimore, he was inspired to write a poem describing his experience, "Defence of Fort McHenry", which he published in the Patriot on September 20, 1814. He intended to fit it to the rhythms of composer John Stafford Smith's "To Anacreon in Heaven", a popular tune Key had already used as a setting for his 1805 song "When the Warrior Returns," celebrating U.S. heroes of the First Barbary War. (Key used the "star spangled" flag imagery in the earlier song.) 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 the fourth stanza Key urged the adoption of "In God is our Trust" as the national motto. The United States adopted the motto "In God We Trust" by law in 1956.

Later Life

From 1818 until his death in 1843, Key was associated with the American Bible Society.

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 1834.

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 Francis Key Howard, 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.

Key's daughter, Alice, married U.S. Senator George H. Pendleton.

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.

Key's son, Philip Barton Key II was shot and killed by then-congressman and future Civil War general Daniel Sickles in 1859 after Sickles discovered that his wife was having an affair with Philip Barton Key. Sickles was acquitted in the first use of the temporary insanity defense.

Two of Key's religious poems used as Christian hymns include "Before the Lord We Bow" and "Lord, with Glowing Heart I'd Praise Thee."

While there were three efforts to save the Francis Scott Key residence, it was dismantled in 1947. The residence was located at 3516–18 M Street in Georgetown.

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 dismantled in 1947 (as part of construction for the Whitehurst Freeway), was located on M Street NW, in the area between the Key Bridge and the intersection of M Street and Whitehurst Freeway. The location is illustrated on a sign in 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. Fritchie's resistance was memorialized in a poem by Poet Laureate John Greenleaf Whittier.

Francis Scott Key Hall at the University of Maryland, College Park is named in his honor. The George Washington University also has a residence hall in Key's honor at the corner of 20th 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.

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 city of San Francisco recently allocated some $140,000 to renovate the Key monument, which was about to be lost to environmental degradation if repairs weren't made. Repairs were recently finished on the monument located in the music concourse outside the de Young Museum.

The US Navy named a submarine in his honor, the USS Francis Scott Key

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PoemHunter.com Updates

Before The Lord We Bow

Before the Lord we bow, the God Who reigns above,
And rules the world below, boundless in power and love.
Our thanks we bring in joy and praise, our hearts we raise
To Heaven's high King.

The nation Thou hast blest may well Thy love declare,
From foes and fears at rest, protected by Thy care.
For this fair land, for this bright day, our thanks we pay,
Gifts of Thy hand.

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