Francis Scott Key

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Francis Scott Key
Francis Scott Key by Joseph Wood c1825.jpg
Francis Scott Key circa 1825
Born (1779-08-01)August 1, 1779
Carroll County, Maryland, U.S.
Died January 11, 1843(1843-01-11) (aged 63)
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Nationality American
Ethnicity English
Occupation Poet, lawyer, district attorney
Religion Episcopalian
Children Philip Barton Key II
Alice Key Pendleton
Relatives Philip Barton Key, uncle
Francis Key Howard, grandson

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".

Early life and family[edit]

Francis Scott Key was born to Ann Phoebe Penn Dagworthy (Charlton) and Captain John Ross Key at the family plantation Terra Rubra in what was Frederick County, Maryland (now Carroll County).[1] His father John Ross Key was a lawyer, a judge, and an officer in the Continental Army. His great-grandparents on his father's side were Philip Key and Susanna Barton Gardiner, both of whom were born in London and immigrated to Maryland in 1726.[2][better source needed]

He graduated from St. John's College, Annapolis, Maryland and also read law under his uncle Philip Barton Key.[3] He married Mary Tayloe Lloyd on January 1, 1802.[1]

"The Star-Spangled Banner"[edit]

During the War of 1812, Key, accompanied by the British Prisoner Exchange Agent Colonel John Stuart Skinner, dined aboard the British ship HMS Tonnant, as the guests of three British officers: Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane, Rear Admiral George Cockburn, and Major General Robert Ross. Skinner and Key were there to negotiate the release of prisoners, one of whom was Dr. William Beanes, a resident of Upper Marlboro, Maryland who had been arrested after jailing marauding British troops who were looting local farms. 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. As a result of this, Key was unable to do anything but watch the bombarding of the American forces at Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore on the night of September 13–14, 1814.[10]

Fort McHenry looking towards the position of the British ships (with the Francis Scott Key Bridge in the distance on the upper left)

At dawn, Key was able to see an American flag still waving and reported this to the prisoners below deck. Back in Baltimore and inspired, Key wrote a poem about his experience, "Defence of Fort M'Henry", which was soon published in the Patriot on September 20, 1814. He intended to fit it to the rhythms of composer John Stafford Smith's "To Anacreon in Heaven",[10] 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.)[11] It has become better known as "The Star-Spangled Banner". More than a century later, the song was adopted as the American national anthem, first by an Executive Order from President Woodrow Wilson in 1916 (which had little effect beyond requiring military bands to play it) and then by a Congressional resolution in 1931, signed by President Herbert Hoover.

Legal career[edit]

Key was a leading attorney in Frederick, Maryland and Washington, D.C. for many years, with an extensive real estate as well as trial practice.Although in 1802 Key contemplated moving his practice to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania not far north of the family's Terra Rubra farm, the family ultimately moved to Georgetown near the new national capital in 1805 or 1806, where young Key assisted his prominent lawyer uncle Philip Barton Key, including in the sensational conspiracy trial of Aaron Burr and the expulsion of Senator John Smith of Ohio. He made the first of his many arguments before the United States Supreme Court in 1807. In 1808 Key assisted President Thomas Jefferson's attorney general in United States v. Peters[12]

A supporter of Andrew Jackson, in 1829, Key helped prosecute Tobias Watkins, former U.S. Treasury auditor under former President John Quincy Adams for misappropriating public moneys, as well has handled the scandal concerning the new Secretary of War, John Henry Eaton who had married a widowed saloonkeeper.[13] In 1832, Key served as the attorney for Sam Houston during his trial in the U.S. House of Representatives for assaulting another Congressman.[14]

Later, Key received an appointment United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, serving from 1833 to 1841, while also handling private legal cases.[15] In 1835, Key prosecuted Richard Lawrence for his unsuccessful attempt to assassinate President of the United States Andrew Jackson.

Slavery[edit]

Key purchased his first slave in 1800 or 1801, and owned six slaves in 1820.[16] Mostly in the 1830s, Key manumitted seven enslaved persons, one of whom (Clem Johnson) continued to work for him for wages as his farm's foreman, supervising several other enslaved persons.[17]

Key throughout his career also represented several slaves seeking their freedom in court (for free), as well as several masters seeking return of their runaway human property.[18][19] Key, Judge William Leigh of Halifax and bishop William Meade as administrators of the will of their friend John Randolph of Roanoke beginning in 1833 fought for over a decade to enforce the will and thus freed more than four hundred slaves in his will and provided them land to support themselves.[20]

Key was considered a decent master, and was publicly critical of slavery's cruelties, so much that after his death a newspaper editorial stated "So actively hostile was he to the peculiar institution that he was called 'The Nigger Lawyer' .... because he often volunteered to defend the downtrodden sons and daughters of Africa. Mr. Key convinced me that slavery was wrong--radically wrong."[21]

Key was a founding member and active leader of the American Colonization Society, the primary goal of which was to send free African-Americans back to Africa.[18] However, he was from the board in 1833 as its policies shifted toward abolitionist.

Anti-Abolitionist[edit]

A slave-owner himself,[22] used his position as U.S. Attorney to suppress abolitionists. In 1833, Key caused a grand jury to indict Benjamin Lundy, editor of the anti-slavery publication, the Genius of Universal Emancipation, and his printer, William Greer, for libel after Lundy publishing an article that declared, "There is neither mercy nor justice for colored people in this district," referring to the District of Columbia. Lundy's article, Key said in the indictment, "was intended to injure, oppress, aggrieve, and vilify the good name, fame, credit & reputation of the Magistrates and constables" of Washington. Lundy left town rather than face trial; Greer was acquitted.[23]

In August 1836, Key agreed to prosecute botanist and doctor Reuben Crandall, brother of controversial Connecticut school teacher Prudence Crandall and who had recently moved to the national capitol, for "seditious libel" for possessing a trunk full of anti-slavery publications in his Georgetown residence, five days after a riot caused by rumors that a mentally ill enslaved man had attempted to kill an elderly white woman. In an April 1837 trial that attracted nationwide attention, Key charged that Crandall's actions instigated enslaved people to rebel. Crandall's attorneys acknowledged he opposed slavery, but denied any intent or actions to encourage rebellion. Key, in his final address to the jury said:

"Are you willing, gentlemen, to abandon your country, to permit it to be taken from you, and occupied by the abolitionist, according to whose taste it is to associate and amalgamate with the negro? Or, gentlemen, on the other hand, are there laws in this community to defend you from the immediate abolitionist, who would open upon you the floodgates of such extensive wickedness and mischief?"

A jury acquitted Crandall.[24][25]

Religion[edit]

Key was a devout Episcopalian, and in his youth almost became an Episcopal priest rather than a lawyer. He was active in All Saints Parish in Frederick, Maryland, near his family's home, as well as helped found or financially supported several parishes in the new national capital, including St. John's Church in Georgetown, Trinity Church in Washington, D.C. and Christ Church in Alexandria.

From 1818 until his death in 1843, Key was associated with the American Bible Society.[26] Circa 1838, he successfully opposed an abolitionist resolution presented to that group.

Key also helped found two Episcopal seminaries, one in Baltimore, as well as the Virginia Theological Seminary across the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia. Key published a prose work called The Power of Literature, and Its Connection with Religion in 1834.[3]

Death and legacy[edit]

In 1843, Key died at the home of his daughter Elizabeth Howard in Baltimore from pleurisy[27] and was initially interred in Old Saint Paul's Cemetery in the vault of John Eager Howard. In 1866, his body was moved to his family plot in Frederick at Mount Olivet Cemetery.

The Howard family vault at Saint Paul's Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland.

The Key Monument Association erected a memorial in 1898 and the remains of both Francis Scott Key and his wife, Mary Tayloe Lloyd, were placed in a crypt in the base of the monument.

Despite several efforts to preserve it, the Francis Scott Key residence was ultimately dismantled in 1947. The residence had been located at 3516–18 M Street in Georgetown.[28]

Though Key had written poetry from time to time, often with heavily religious themes, these works were not collected and published until 14 years after his death.[3] Two of Key's religious poems used as Christian hymns include "Before the Lord We Bow" and "Lord, with Glowing Heart I'd Praise Thee".[29]

In 1806, Key's sister, Anne Phoebe Charlton Key, married Roger B. Taney, who would later become Chief Justice of the United States. In 1846 his daughter Alice married U.S. Senator George H. Pendleton.[30] In 1859 Key's son Philip Barton Key II was shot and killed by Daniel Sickles – a U.S. Congressman who would serve as a general in the American Civil War – after he discovered that Philip Barton Key was having an affair with his wife.[31] Sickles was acquitted in the first use of the temporary insanity defense.[32] In 1861 Key's grandson Francis Key Howard was imprisoned in Fort McHenry with the Mayor of Baltimore George William Brown and other locals deemed pro-South.

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 American fashion designer and socialite Pauline de Rothschild.[citation needed]

Monuments and memorials[edit]

Plaque commemorating the death of Francis Scott Key placed by the DAR in Baltimore.
Maryland Historical Society plaque marking the birthplace of Francis Scott Key

Media[edit]

Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians sing The Star-Spangled Banner in 1942

A 1915 recording of the Star-Spangled Banner as sung by Margaret Woodrow Wilson, daughter of Woodrow Wilson

Problems playing these files? See media help.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Francis Scott Key". Find A Grave. Retrieved April 7, 2014. 
  2. ^ Spangled Banner – The Story of Francis Scott Key By Victor Weybright
  3. ^ a b c Hubbell, Jay B. The South in American Literature: 1607–1900. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1954: 300.
  4. ^ a b Ancestors of Francis Scott Key. Ronulrich.com (2011-05-18). Retrieved on 2011-09-11.
  5. ^ Ancestry/Richard Key. Ronulrich.com. Retrieved on 2011-09-11.
  6. ^ John Ross. Donsherrill.com (1968-02-16). Retrieved on 2011-09-11.
  7. ^ Alicia Arnold. Donsherrill.com (1968-02-16). Retrieved on 2011-09-11.
  8. ^ Michael Arnold Jr. Donsherrill.com (1968-02-16). Retrieved on 2011-09-11.
  9. ^ Anne Knipe. Donsherrill.com (1968-02-16). Retrieved on 2011-09-11.
  10. ^ a b Hubbell, Jay B. The South in American Literature: 1607–1900. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1954: 301.
  11. ^ When the Warrior Returns – Key. Potw.org. Retrieved on 2011-09-11.
  12. ^ Leepson, Marc, What so Proudly We Hailed: Francis Scott Key, a life (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) pp. 16, 20-24
  13. ^ Leepson, pp. 116-122
  14. ^ Sam Houston. Handbook of Texas Online.
  15. ^ "Francis Scott Key | Biography". Encyclopedia of World Biography. Retrieved 9 July 2012. 
  16. ^ Leepson p. 25
  17. ^ Leepson pp. 130-131 post-Turner's rebellion emancipations of Romeo, William Ridout, Elizabeth Hicks, Clem Johnson.
  18. ^ a b Morley, Jefferson. "'Land of the Free?' Francis Scott Key, Composer of National Anthem, Was Defender of Slavery". The Huffington Post. 
  19. ^ Leepson pp. 125 (successful in freeing Harry Quando),
  20. ^ Leepson, p. 144
  21. ^ Leepson p. 26 citing Cincinnati Daily Gazette July 11, 1870
  22. ^ WYPR News. "Francis Scott Key: A Profile (Part 1)". WYPR. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  23. ^ Morley, Jefferson, Snow-Storm In August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835 (Nan Talese/Doubleday, New York, 2012), 81
  24. ^ Morley, Jefferson, Snow-Storm In August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835 (Nan Talese/Doubleday, New York, 2012), 211–220
  25. ^ Leepson, pp. 169-72, 181-85
  26. ^ http://www.americanbible.org/about/history
  27. ^ Jason, Philip K.; Graves, Mark A. (2001). Encyclopedia of American war literature. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. p. 197. 
  28. ^ Francis Scott Key Park Marker. Hmdb.org. Retrieved on 2011-09-11.
  29. ^ "The Cyber Hymnal". Retrieved 2011-05-26. 
  30. ^ "George Hunt Pendleton". Ohio Civil War Central. March 2012. Retrieved 26 June 2012. 
  31. ^ "Assassination of Philip Barton Key, by Daniel E. Sickles of New York". Hartford Daily Courant. March 1, 1959. Retrieved 2010-11-30. "For more than a year there have been floating rumors of improper intimacy between Mr. Key and Mrs. Sickles They have from time to time attended parties, the opera, and rode out together. Mr. Sickles has heard of these reports, but would never credit them until Thursday evening last. On that evening, just as a party was about breaking up at his house, Mr Sickles received among his papers..." 
  32. ^ Twain, Mark (2010). The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume One. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. p. 566. ISBN 978-0-520-26719-0. 
  33. ^ "Francis Scott Key Park". Historical Marker Database. 2006-02-23. Retrieved 2008-02-06. 
  34. ^ "Francis Scott Key Elementary School, San Francisco, CA". 
  35. ^ a b "Francis Scott Key". New York Times. March 14, 1897. Retrieved 2008-02-17. "Francis Scott Key, the author of "The Star-Spangled Banner," is to have a monument erected to his memory by the citizens of Baltimore, Md., the city in which he died. The monument will be in the form of a bronze statue of heroic size, with a suitable pedestal – the work of Alexander Doyle, a sculptor of this city. ... There is a monument to Key in Golden Gate Park. It was executed by William W. Story ..." 
  36. ^ "San Francisco Landmark 96: Francis Scott Key Monument, Golden Gate Park". Noehill in San Francisco. Retrieved 2008-02-17. 

External links[edit]