Francis Scott Key

Lawyer / Poet

Born: 1 August 1779
Died: 11 January 1843 (pleurisy)
Birthplace: Terra Rubra (near Frederick), Maryland
Best known as: The attorney who wrote "The Star Spangled Banner"
Francis Scott Key wrote the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner," the national anthem of the United States of America. Key was born and raised in western Maryland. He became a lawyer, first in Frederick and then in what is now the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. During the War of 1812, when it seemed likely that British forces would overtake Baltimore, Key travelled to Fort McHenry in September of 1814 to negotiate the release of Dr. William Beanes, who was being held captive by the British. Key succeeded in getting Beanes released, but was unable to leave, due to the British bombardment of the fort. During the bombardment Key was aboard a ship, some eight miles away, watching as the British shelled Fort McHenry. When the smoke cleared the next morning, Key was able to see the U.S. flag still flying at the fort (the specially-made flag was 30 feet high and 42 feet wide). Inspired by the sight, Key scribbled down a few poetic lines, which he later enhanced at a hotel in Baltimore. The poem, titled "Defence of Fort M'Henry," was widely circulated in newspapers throughout the U.S., then sung to the tune of an English song, "To Anacreon in Heaven." Popularly called "The Star-Spangled Banner," it was adopted on 3 March 1931 as the U.S. national anthem. Key went on to have a successful legal career, serving as a district attorney for Washington, D.C. for many years.

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