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Casebook: The War of 1812
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Francis Scott Key
Francis Scott Key
 Francis Scott Key 
Key, Francis Scott
b. August 9th, 1780 - d. January 11, 1843

Nationality: American

Allegiance: American

Category: Citizen

Summary:

   Francis Scott Key was born on August 9, 1780 at Terra Rubra in present-day Frederick County, Maryland. The son of a well-known Maryland family, he would become a prominent Georgetown lawyer.

After the American defeat at Bladensburg and the British occupation and retreat from Washington, D.C., in late August 1814, Key was given the mission along with American Agent for Prisoner Exchange Colonel John Stuart Skinner to secure the release of Dr. William Beanes of Upper Marlboro, who was being held under arrest by the enemy. Beanes had been detained by the British on board HMS Tonnant, flagship of Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, after he had detained some British stragglers during the Redcoats' retreat back to their shipping on the Patuxent.

Key and Skinner sailed from Baltimore on September 3 south down the Bay to try to locate the British fleet, finding it on September 7 near the British base of Tangier Island, Virginia. Skinner successfully negotiated the release of Beanes but the three men were kept on board their truce boat while the enemy fleet sailed up the Bay to attack Baltimore.

Forced to witness the bombardment of Fort McHenry on September 13-14, Key was moved to write on the back of an envelope, a poem that he titled, "Defence of Fort McHenry." On returning to Baltimore on September 14, Key's brother-in-law, Judge Joseph Nicholson, sent the poem to be set in print at the offices of the Baltimore American by a young printer's apprentice, Samuel Sands. Days later, the poem was set to the music of a British drinking song, "To Anacreon in Heaven" and sung for the first time at the Holliday Street Theatre in Baltimore by an actor named Hardinge. In March 1931, this same song would become the National Anthem of the United States under an act signed into law by President Herbert Hoover.

After the War of 1812, Key pursued his career in the legal profession, sharing offices in Frederick, Maryland, with brother-in-law future Supreme Court Justice Roger Brooke Taney. In his later years, Key served as U.S. District Attorney for Washington, D.C., arguing a number of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Key died in Baltimore at a house owned by his wife Mary's family, the Howards, in Mount Vernon Place, Baltimore, on January 11, 1843. In all, Key and his wife Mary had their six sons and five daughters.

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Related pages:
  Baltimore, Battle of
       Battles: Battle of Baltimore 
       Dissertations: 'Chastising Jonathan': British Views of the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake 
       Dissertations: 'The Hour of Peril ... is not yet past': Fall 1814 Baltimore Defense Plans 
       Documents: Brig. Gen. John Stricker to Maj. Gen. Samuel Smith: Report on the Battle of North Point 
       People: Brig. Gen. William H. Winder 
       People: Lt. George R. Gleig 
       People: Rear Adm. George Cockburn 
  Star-Spangled Banner
       Documents: The Star-Spangled Banner 
       People: Mary Young Pickersgill 

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Copyright © Christopher T. George, 2012