Francis Scott Key (August 1, 1779 – January 11, 1843) was an American lawyer, author, and amateur poet, from Georgetown, who wrote the lyrics to the United States’ national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner”.
During the War of 1812, one of Key’s friends, Dr. William Beanes, was taken prisoner by the British. Key went to Baltimore with British Prisoner Exchange Agent Colonel John Stuart Skinner, and on a British ship negotiated the release of several prisoners. Skinner, Key, and Beanes were not allowed to return to their own sloop because they had become familiar with the strength and position of the British units and with the British intent to attack Baltimore.
From aboard a British ship located about eight miles away, Key watched the bombarding of the American forces at Fort McHenry on the night of September 13–14, 1814. After a day, the British were unable to destroy the fort and gave up. Key was relieved to see the enormous American flag still flying proudly over Fort McHenry and reported this to the prisoners below deck. The 30 x 42 feet flag had been pieced together on the floor of a Baltimore brewery, and has been preserved in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.
Back in Baltimore and inspired, Key wrote a poem about his experience, “Defence of Fort M’Henry”. The poem was printed in newspapers and eventually set to the music of a popular English drinking tune called “To Anacreon in Heaven” by composer John Stafford Smith. It was a popular tune Key had already used as a setting for his 1805 song “When the Warrior Returns,” celebrating U.S. heroes of the First Barbary War. (Key used the “star spangled” flag imagery in the earlier song.)
People began referring to the song as “The Star-Spangled Banner” and it became increasingly popular, competing with “Hail, Colombia” (1796) as the de facto national anthem by the Mexican-American War and American Civil War. In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson announced that it should be played at all official events. It was adopted as the national anthem on March 3, 1931.
Francis Scott Key died of pleurisy on January 11, 1843. Today, the flag that flew over Fort McHenry in 1914 is housed at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
PREVIOUS A TO Z POSTS:
A is for Anishinaabe ~ B is for Brock ~ C is for Coloured Corps ~ D is for Detroit ~ E is for Erie ~ F is for First Nations ~ G is for Ghent ~ H is for Harrison ~ I is for Impressment ~ J is for Jackson
The brainchild of Arlee Bird, at Tossing it Out, the A to Z Challenge is posting every day in April except Sundays (we get those off for good behaviour.) And since there are 26 days, that matches the 26 letters of the alphabet. On April 1, we blog about something that begins with the letter “A.” April 2 is “B,” April 3 is “C,” and so on. Please visit other challenge writers.
My theme is ‘The War of 1812’, a military conflict, lasting for two-and-a-half years, fought by the United States of America against the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, its North American colonies, and its American Indian allies. The Memoirs of a British naval officer from the war is central to my novel “Seeking A Knife” – part of the Snowdon Shadows series.
Further reading on The War of 1812: