Key: author, born in Frederick county, Md., 9 Aug., 1780 died in
Baltimore, Md., 11 Jan., 1843, was the son of John Ross Key, a Revolutionary
officer. He was educated at St. John's college, studied law in the
office of his uncle, Philip Barton Key, and began to practice law
in Frederick City, Md., but subsequently moved to Washington, where
he was district attorney for the District of Columbia.
When the British invaded Washington
in 1814, Ross and Cockburn with their staff officers made their
headquarters in Upper Marlboro, Md., at the residence of a planter,
Dr. William Beanes, whom they subsequently seized as a prisoner.
Upon hearing of his friend's capture, Key resolved to release him,
and was aided by President Madison, who ordered that a vessel that
had been used as a cartel should be placed at his service, and that
John S. Skinner, agent for the exchange of prisoners, should accompany
him. Gen. Ross finally consented to Dr. Beanes's release, but said
that the party must be detained during the attack on Baltimore.
Key and Skinner were transferred
to the frigate "Surprise," commanded by the admiral's
son, Sir Thomas Cockburn, and soon afterward returned under guard
of British sailors to their own vessel, whence they witnessed the
engagement. Owing to their position the flag at Fort McHenry was
distinctly seen through the night by the glare of the battle, but
before dawn the firing ceased, and the prisoners anxiously watched
to see which colors floated on the ramparts. Key's feelings
when he found that the stars and stripes had not been hauled down
found expression in "The Star-Spangled Banner," which
gained for him a lasting reputation.
On arriving in Baltimore he
finished the lines which he had hastily written on the back of a
letter, and gave them to Capt. Benjamin Eades, of the 27th Baltimore
regiment, who had participated in the battle of North Point. Seizing
a copy from the press, Eades hastened to the old tavern next to
the Holliday Street Theatre, where the actors were accustomed to
assemble. Mr. Key had directed Eades to print above the poem the
direction that it was to be sung to the air "Anacreon in Heaven."
The verses were first read aloud by the printer, and then, on being
appealed to by the crowd, Ferdinand Durang mounted a chair and sang
them for the first time. In a short period they were familiar throughout
the United States.