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Francis Scott Key: Francis Scott Key. ... View the Star Spangled Banner Manuscript signed, Francis Scott Key Stan Klos Biography

Francis Scott Key


Author of "The Star-Spangled Banner"

KEY, Francis Scott, author, born in Frederick county, Md., 1 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 removed 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.

A collection of Key's poems was published with an introductory letter by Roger B. Taney (New York, 1857). James Lick bequeathed the sum of 860,000 for a monument to Key, to be placed in Golden Gate park, San Francisco, Cal., and it was executed by William W. Story in Rome in 1885-'7. The height of this monument is fifty-one feet. It consists of a double arch, under which a bronze figure of Key is seated. It is surmounted by a bronze statue of America with an unfolded flag. The material is travertine, a calcareous stone of a reddish yellow hue, extremely porous, but of great durability.

Francis Scott's grandson, John Ross, artist, born in Baltimore, Md., 16 July, 1837, studied art in Munich and Paris for several years, after which he removed to Chicago, and then to Boston, where he exhibited about one hundred of his pictures, including "Marblehead Beach," "Ochre Point, New­port,," "Morning Stroll," and a view of "The Golden Gate, San Francisco," for which he received a medal at the Centennial exhibition of 1876. His "Cloudy Morning, Mount Lafayette," was at the National academy, New York, in 1878. He has been successful in his works in black and white. - Edited Appleton's American Biography Copyright© 2001 by VirtualologyTM

On Sept. 14, 1814, Francis Scott Key peered through clearing smoke to see an enormous flag flying proudly after a 25-hour British bombardment of Baltimore's Fort McHenry. Key was inspired to write a poem, which was later set to music. Even before "The Star-Spangled Banner" became our national anthem, it helped transform the garrison flag with the same name into a major national symbol of patriotism and identity. The flag has had a colorful history, from its origins in a government contract through its sojourn with several generations of a Baltimore family to its eventual donation to the Smithsonian Institution.

View the Star Spangled Banner Manuscript signed, Francis Scott Key
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

 
The Star-Spangled Banner

Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?


On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner!  Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!


And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!


Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto:  "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Research Links

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