Key, Francis Scott

Key, Francis Scott (1780-1843) Writer, Lawyer: Francis Scott Key was born on August 9, 1780, in Frederick County, Maryland, the son of a Revolutionary War officer. Educated at St. John's College, young Key studied law in his uncle's office, then began to practice law in Maryland. Soon, however, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he became District Attorney of the District of Columbia. When the British invaded Washington in 1814, they set up their headquarters in the residence of Dr. William Beanes, whom they seized as a prisoner. Beanes was a friend of Key, and Key put forth his best efforts to have his friend released. With the help of President Madison, he succeeded in bringing about an agreement to discuss the issue with British General Ross. Key and John S. Skinner, agent for the exchange of prisoners, spoke to the British general, who consented to Beanes' release, on condition that the doctor had to be detained during the attack on Baltimore. Key and Skinner were placed on the frigate "Surprise," from which they could see the flag at Fort McHenry. As the battle raged on through day and night, it was unclear to the Americans on board the British ships who would win. Through the final night of the battle, Key and Skinner could see the American flag by the light of the explosions. Before dawn, however, the fighting stopped, and Key and Skinner could not see whether the American or British flag was raised, signalling which side had won. When the dawn came, they could see that the American flag was still raised, and that the Americans had won the battle. Key captured the patriotic joy he felt at that moment in a poem, "The Star-Spangled Banner," which he quickly wrote on the back of a letter and finished upon his return to Baltimore. Key gave the poem to Capt. Benjamin Eades, with instructions that it be printed and sung to the tune of "Anacreon in Heaven," a popular British drinking song. The printer read the poem aloud in Baltimore, and then Ferdinand Durang sang the song for the assembled crowd. The song was soon familiar throughout the United States. Key died in Baltimore, on January 11, 1843. A monument was built in Key's honor in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California, made by William W. Story in 1885-87. In 1931, Congress officially declared "The Star-Spangled Banner" the national anthem of the United States.