Wrote lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner" (1814)

Francis Scott Key


Lawyer, author, poet

The author of America’s national anthem, Francis Scott Key, was born on August 1, 1779 on his parents’ plantation “Terra Rubra” in Frederick, Maryland.

He was schooled at home until the age of 10 when he was sent to St. John’s Grammar School in Annapolis. After attending St. John’s College where he graduated top of his class, he studied law in Annapolis with Judge Jeremiah Case. In 1800 he moved back to Frederick where he set up a law practice. In 1802, Key married Mary “Polly” Taylor Lloyd and moved to Washington, DC.

In 1814, Key joined the army in the War of 1812 against Great Britain. While in battle in Baltimore, Key and two soldiers were taken prisoner by the British. Locked in the cabin of their boat, Key would look out the porthole for the American flag flying over Fort McHenry. Seeing the flag there meant the Americans were still in control. While on the boat, Key began to write a poem about the impact of that vision. The next day the British surrendered and that night, Key finished the poem and set it to the melody of an English drinking song called “To Anacreon in Heaven”, by John Stafford Smith. The Baltimore American printed the poem right away calling it “The Defence of Fort McHenry”. Soon the song was known as “The Star Spangled Banner and was adopted by the US Army and Navy as their official song.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson declared the song should be played on all official occasions. And in 1931, “The Star Spangled Banner” was made the national anthem of the United States.

After the war, Key continued to work as a lawyer, becoming a district attorney. He and Polly had six sons and five daughters. Francis Scott Key died in his sleep on January 11, 1843 in Baltimore.

President Hoover made “The Star Spangled Banner” the official national anthem in 1931

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