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Francis Scott Key Biography | Poet

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Francis Scott Key (August 1, 1779 – January 11, 1843) was an American lawyer and amateur poet who wrote the words to the United States national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner".


He was born to Ann Louis Penn Dagworthy (Charlton) and Capt John Ross Key at the family plantation Terra Rubra near Keymar, Maryland. He was an alumnus of St. John's College, Annapolis, Maryland.

During the War of 1812, Key, accompanied by the American Prisoner Exchange Agent Col. John Stuart Skinner, dined aboard the British ship HMS Tonnant, as the guests of Vice Adm. Cochrane, RAdm. Sir George Cockburn and Major General Robert Ross. They were there to negotiate the release of a prisoner, Dr. William Beanes. A resident of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, Beanes had been captured by the British after he placed rowdy stragglers under citizen's arrest. Skinner, Key and Beanes were allowed to return to their own sloop, but were not allowed to return to Baltimore because they had become familiar with the strength and position of the British units and of the British intention to attack Baltimore. As a result of this, Key was unable to do anything but watch the bombarding of Ft. McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore, and was inspired to write a poem describing the experience. Entitled "The Defence of Fort McHenry", intended to fit the rhythms of composer John Stafford Smith's "To Anacreon in Heaven", it has become better known as "The Star Spangled Banner". Under this name, the song was adopted as the American national anthem by a Congressional resolution in 1931, signed by President Herbert Hoover.

In 1832, Key served as the attorney for Sam Houston during his trial in the US House of Representatives for assaulting another Congressman [1].

In 1835 Key prosecuted Richard Lawrence for his unsuccessful attempt to assassinate President of the United States Andrew Jackson.

Key was a distant cousin and the namesake of F. Scott Fitzgerald whose full name was Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald. His direct descendants include geneticist Thomas Hunt Morgan, guitarist Dana Key, and the American fashion designer and socialite Pauline de Rothschild.

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