Francis Scott Key


Francis Scott 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.

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