Saturday, August 1, 2009

And the Flag was Still There

Happy 230th birthday, Francis Scott Key! The man who authored the words that became the national anthem of the United States of America was born on August 1, 1779, in Frederick County, Maryland. He grew up writing verses as a hobby, taking after one of his ancestors who was an English poet laureate. After attending St. John's College, Key became a successful lawyer. He married and had 11 children with his wife Mary.

In 1814, Key headed a truce commission negotiating for the release of Dr. William Beanes, who had beed captured by the British and held on the British ship, Suprise, off Baltimore. Dr Beanes had looked after the American troops at Valley Forge during the revolution, so was something of an American hero. The negotiators, including Key, were not permitted to leave the British ship they were on (Minden) since the British were planning an attack on Fort McHenry. The British attacked the fort, the battle raged for a day and night, while Key watched through field glasses. The next morning, Key saw that the American flag was still flying over Fort McHenry, and quickly wrote down his verses on an envelope he had with him. After the battle, the negotiators were released. Back at the Indian Queen Hotel in Baltimore, Key wrote out a neat copy, and it was soon printed as The Defense of Fort McHenry. It became known as The Star Spangled Banner in 1815. The music was an English popular (and sometimes, drinking) song, To Anacreon in Heaven, composed by John Stafford Smith around 1775. It became the US national anthem in 1931.

Francis Scott Key was a very religious man. But, he was also a slave owner, torn between maintaining slavery and advocating for a solution to it; eventually, he freed his own slaves. He served as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia from 1833 to 1841. He died January 11, 1843.

No comments: