Lawyer from Fredrick, Maryland who wrote The Star Spangled Banner during the War of 1812. He had gone aboard a British ship in Baltimore harbor under a flag of truce--not as a captive--to negotiate for the release of an American who was being held captive. From the truce ship, he had an excellent view of the Battle of Baltimore being fought at Fort McHenry. As the sun rose, he saw that Old Glory still flew over the fort, and he was moved a few days later to jot down a few lines about it. The rest, as they say, is history.

Many things in and around Baltimore are named for Key. He also had a second cousin three times removed named after him, one Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, who later became famous under the shortened handle F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Francis Scott Key was born in 1779 on his family's 1,865 acre plantation, "Terra Rubra", near Keymar, in a part of Frederick County which is now Carroll County (between Baltimore and Frederick, Maryland). He was the son of John Ross Key, a justice of the peace and district judge, and Ann Pheobe Penn Dagworthy Charlton. His great-grandfather Philip Key emmigrated from England to to Maryland in 1726. Francis had one sister, Anne Phoebe Carlton Key.

In 1789, at the age of ten, he was sent off to school at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland. He lived in a Georgian mansion with his grandmother, Ann Ross Key, and his great-aunt and uncle, Dr. and Mrs. Upton Scott. Key's middle name was given to him as a tribute to his great-uncle, Dr. Scott (a Tory who, during the Revolution, had fled to Ireland).

Key's school was, in the manner of the times, both a grammar school and a liberal arts college; both an Episcopal school and, since 1783, the official chartered State College of Maryland's Western Shore. Key learned the rudiments of Latin and Greek in the "Grammar School", then progressed to the intermediate section, called the "French School." He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1796, and a Master of Arts in 1800. He then returned to Frederick, Maryland and "read the law" (a combination of indentured clerical servitude and law school) under Judge Jeremiah Townley Chase.

It was while reading the law with Judge Chase that Key met Roger Brooke Taney (1777-1864). Taney became key's close friend and married Key's sister Anne. Taney was later Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, from 1836 to 1864, and wrote the infamous Dred Scott decision which declared that free blacks were not citizens and asserted that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional.

In 1801, Key began practicing law in Frederick. On January 19, 1802, Francis married Mary Tayloe Lloyd, the daughter of Colonel Edward Lloyd, at his father-in-law's magnificent Georgian home in Annapolis (the still-extant "Chase-Lloyd" House, begun in 1769 by Samuel Chase, lawyer and signer of the Declaration of Independence). Francis and Mary had eleven children; six sons and five daughters. Following their marriage, Francis and Mary moved from Frederick to Georgetown, then a small village in the District of Columbia, and Key joined his uncle Philip Barton Key's firm in Washington, D.C..

When Congress declared war on Britain in 1812, Key became a lieutenant and quarter-master. In September, 1814, Dr. William Beanes, a physician from Upper Marlboro, Maryland, caused the arrest of a disorderly band of British soldiers. In retaliation, British troops broke into Dr. Beanes' house, dragged him from his bed and transported him to their ship in the Cheasapeake Bay, where he was thrown in irons. When British Admiral Cockburn threatened to hang Dr. Beanes from a yardarm, friends of Key insisted that he intervene. Under a flag of truce, Key boarded an American sloop with Colonel John S. Skinner, and approached the British fleet. Key brought letters from captured, wounded British soldiers, which described the excellent care they received from the Americans, including Dr. Beane. By the time Admiral Cockburn agreed to release the doctor, however, the British were preparing to bombard Fort McHenry, and Key, Skinner and Beane were detained.

Thus it was that on the evening of September 13th, 1814, Key watched the bombardment from the deck of Admiral Cockburn's flagship. Over the fort flew a 30 by 42 foot flag with fifteen alternate red and white stripes and fifteen stars (for the original 13 states, and Kentucky and Vermont). Key, an amateur poet, jotted down some notes on an envelope for a poem to be entitled The Defense of Fort McHenry. On the night of the 14th, at the Indian Queen Inn, a Baltimore hotel, Key wrote out the remainder of his poem. Key gave his copy to his brother-in-law, Judge J.H. Nicholson. Nicholson suggested the tune Anacreon in Heaven and had the poem printed. Published in the Baltimore Patriot on September 20, 1814, it became known as The Star-Spangled Banner. (On March 3, 1931, Congress adopted The Star-Spangled Banner as the "National Anthem" of the United States.)

Following the war, Key was very active in his church (St. John's Episcopal in Georgetown) and practiced law in the federal courts. In the 1830s, Key moved to Washington, D.C., and was appointed United States attorney for the District of Columbia from 1833 to 1841. In October 1833, President Andrew Jackson sent him to Alabama where he negotiated a settlement between the state and federal governments over the Creek Indian Lands.

On January 11, 1843, Francis Scott Key died of pleurisy at a relative's home in Baltimore.


I'm still trying to find out why there is a statute of Key in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

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