Francis Scott Key was born in Frederick County, Maryland on August 1, 1779. He studied law at St. John's College in Annapolis and began his practice in Frederick Maryland, later moving it to the District of Columbia in 1802. During that year he married Marie Tayloe Lloyd. They had 11 children.
At the onset of the War of 1812, Key had a successful practice in Georgetown. His famous poem, “The Star-Spangled Banner” was written following the British attack in Chesapeake Bay in the summer of 1814. When the British withdrew after their temporary occupation of Washington, D.C., they took an American physician, Dr. William Beanes, of Upper Marlboro, Maryland with them. Key was asked to obtain the release of Dr. Beanes and traveled with a U.S. agent for prisoners to the British fleet in Chesapeake Bay to arrange for Beanes' freedom.
While Key was with the fleet, the British began their attack on Baltimore by bombarding Fort McHenry on the night of September 13, 1814. The fort successfully resisted the British attack, and the following morning when Key saw the U.S. flag still flying over the fort, he wrote a poem that would become known as "The Star-Spangled Banner." When he was released from the British fleet, his poem was printed in the form of a handbill entitled "Defense of Fort M'Henry." It quickly became popular and was set to the music of the British drinking song, "To Anacreon in Heaven." Key’s battle anthem spread throughout the nation and was later adopted by Congress as the official U.S. national anthem in 1931.
Key wrote several other poems; a collection of which was published in 1857, but his fame rests on the poem he wrote while watching the British bombardment of Fort McHenry. He continued a successful career as a lawyer, serving near the end of his life as district attorney in Washington, D.C. He died in Baltimore on January 11, 1843.
Excerpt from Horsman, Reginald. “Encyclopedia of the War of 1812.” Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1997, pp 278-279.
Fort McHenry National Monument
Maryland Historical Society
Star-Spangled Banner Flag House
Francis Scott Key embodies the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission's theme of Inspiration: Maryland is a special American place that excels in inspiring invention and creativity. Learn more about the Commission and its mission, goals, and themes.