Francis Key
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Francis Scott Key (1779 - 1843)

Francis Scott Key
Born in Terra Rubra Plantation, Frederick County, Maryland, United Statesmap
Ancestors ancestors
Husband of — married 19 Jan 1802 (to 11 Jan 1843) in Annapolis, Anne Arundel County, Maryland, USAmap
Descendants descendants
Died at age 63 in Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland, United Statesmap
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Francis Key is Notable.

Francis Scott Key was the author of the poem, "Defence of Fort McHenry", from which the United States of America's national anthem "The Star-Spangled Banner" is composed.[1][2][3][4]


Francis Scott Key born 1 August 1779 on Terra Rubra Plantation, Frederick County, [now Carroll county] about one mile south of Keysville, Maryland, USA, son of John Ross Key and Ann Phoebe Penn (Charlton) Key. [1][4]

Francis married Mary Tayloe Lloyd, daughter of Edward Lloyd, January 19, 1802[1][4] and lived in Georgetown, west of the capital from 1804 to 1833. They had 6 sons and 5 daughters.[1][2][4]

Francis was a lawyer, having studied at St. John's College, then further under his uncle, Philip Barton Key.[1][3] He practiced in Frederick, Maryland and Georgetown, Washington, D.C.[1][2][4] He also worked as the U.S. District Attorney.[1][4]

Inspiration During the War of 1812

Francis Key served in the War of 1812
Service started:
Unit(s): Georgetown Light Field Artillery
Service ended:

Key was not supportive of war, due to his religious beliefs.[1][4] Despite this, he contributed in a small way to the US's success in the war as a member of the Georgetown Light Field Artillery.[1][4]

Washington, D.C. had been attacked and President Madison and his family had fled.[2] The country knew the British would be sending more attacks by both land and sea soon.[2] Francis heard that much loved town physician of Upper Marlboro, Dr. William Beanes, had been taken captive and was being held on the British flagship "Tonnant".[1][2][4] It was feared that Dr. Beanes would be hanged.[2] Key and Col. John Skinner, an American agent for prisoner exchange, made plans to get Beanes back.[1][2][4]

On the morning of September 3, 1814, Key and Col. Skinner set sail on a sloop flying a flag of truce approved by President James Madison.[1][2] They reached the ship and started negotiations with the British.[2] At first they were refused but after reading through a pouch of letters written by wounded British prisoners praising the care they were receiving from the Americans, including Dr. Beanes, a plan was made to get Beanes back home.[2] Key, Skinner, and Beanes had to wait out the Baltimore battle, though, before they were allowed to leave.[2][3][4]

At 7 a.m. on the morning of September 13, 1814, the British bombardment began and continued for 25 hours.[2][3] That evening the cannonading temporarily stopped, beginning again about 1 a.m. on the 14th, the British fleet lighting the rainy night sky with rockets' fireworks.[2] The British eventually abandoned the attack.[2]

Key waited for the sight of Gen. Armistead's great flag blowing in the breeze at the Fort, a sign that the skirmish was over.[2] When at last daylight came, the moment which inspired the flag was still there!,[1][2] Francis wrote a poem on the back of a letter, describing what he had just witnessed.[1][2][3][4] It was published by his brother-in-law, Judge J. H. Nicholson, titled "Defence of Fort McHenry".[2][4]

On September 20, 1814, newspapers printed the poem, noting that it should accompany the tune "Anacreon in Heaven" as suggested by his brother-in-law, Judge Nicholson.[2][5] In October 1814, a Baltimore actor, Ferdinard Durang, sang Key's new song in a public performance and called it "The Star-Spangled Banner".[2] Francis became forever famous for that poem. He continued as a lawyer and poet throughout the rest of his life.


Francis Scott Key died of pleurisy January 11, 1843 in Baltimore while visiting his daughter [1][4] and later was buried in Saint Paul's Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland then later reburied at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Frederick, Maryland in 1866.[4][6]

A book of Key's poems were published years later. A copy written by Key of the 1814 poem remained with the Nicholson family (descendants of Key's wife's sister) for 93 years.[2][5] That copy was auctioned off and eventually put in the Maryland Historical Society where it is now displayed.[5]

A 3-cent postage stamp was issued in his honor in 1948. [7]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 Francis Scott Key, on The Archives of Maryland, accessed 9 Sept 2018
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 Francis Scott Key on, accessed 9 Sep 2018
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Francis Scott Key on the Smithsonian's American History site, accessed 9 Sep 2018
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 Francis Scott Key on, accessed 9 Sep 2018
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Source - John T. Marck , Maryland - the Seventh State.
  6. Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed 9 September 2018), memorial page for Francis Scott Key (1 Aug 1779–11 Jan 1843), Find A Grave: Memorial #578, citing Mount Olivet Cemetery, Frederick, Frederick County, Maryland, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .
  7. 3-cent Francis Scott Key single, Smithsonian National Postal Museum.

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Memories: 3
Enter a personal reminiscence or story.
I was aboard the submarine USS Francis Scott Key when it was launched on April 23, 1966, in Groton, Connecticut. Mrs. Margery Key Thorne and Mrs. William T. Jarvis, both direct descendants of Francis Scott Key, were co-sponsors at the christening.

posted 12 Sep 2018 by Charlie Burrow   [thank Charlie]
From Alice Luckhardt

A Grandson - John Ross Key (July 16, 1837 - 1920) - an artist - worked as an engineer for The Confederate Army. A mapmaker in SC and VA, was was a LT in rank. A Grandson - Clarence Key was tall, 6 feet, with a full bread. He served Co. "B", Second Texas Cavalry, then 26th TX Cavalry and 33rd,Serve Co. "E", 26th Tenn Inf. Clarence and John’s father John Ross Key died young (1837)and they were raised by grandfather, Francis Scott Key. Another grandson - Francis Key Howard (1826 to 1872) was an editor of Baltimore Exchange newspaper. He wrote editorial about Lincoln’s suspending the Writ of habeas corpus. Francis Howard was arrested on order of US General Banks on Sept. 13, 1861 then sent to Ft. McHenry (where Francis Scott Key was 47 years earlier).

Eight grandsons of Francis Scott Key served in Confederate Army.

posted 10 Sep 2018 by Abby (Brown) Glann   [thank Abby]
Submitted by Nina Shippen (April 2012)

Rebecca Lloyd Nicholson married Edward Shippen. The manuscript of the Star Spangled banner was passed through the Shippen family to Rebecca's and Edward's son Lloyd. Lloyd married Florence Hawley Brush. They sold the manuscript to a Texan in the 1930's, who in turn donated (or his family donated) it to the Maryland Historic Society. My father grew up with it hanging in the front hall of their house in Washington DC. I am Rebecca and Lloyds great granddaughter. Yours truly. Nina Shippen

posted 10 Sep 2018 by Abby (Brown) Glann   [thank Abby]
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Comments: 7

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Francis Scott Key should be remembered for many other accomplishments. As a young lawyer he defended 2 former associates of former Vice President Aaron Burr in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1807 against charges of Treason. He was a supporter of the Democratic Party and candidate Andrew Jackson who became president. He was an advisor and was appointed U.S. Attorney for Washington. He served in that position until 1841. He was active in the Episcopal Church s in the Washington area and helped found what became Virginia Theological Seminary. Despite coming from a wealthy slave holding family he was active opponent of slave trafficking. He freed several slaves during his life time. He provided free legal advice to slaves and freedmen in Washington, D.C. He also helped in civil actions in which enslaved persons were seeking freedom from enslavement.
posted by Ken Morgan
edited by Ken Morgan
You can add the information to his profile. It sounds like it would improve the current information.

If you have sources for the information, that is always appreciated.

Just added a profile for Samuel Sands (abt.1800-1891), the 14 year old type-setter who helped get the original broadsheets printed for Francis Scott Key.
posted by R Prior
Key's son, Charles Howard, and grandson, Frank Key Howard arrested without a warrant just after midnight on September 13, 1861 at his home by U.S. Major General Nathaniel Prentice Banks on the direct orders of General George B. McClellan enforcing the policy of President Abraham Lincoln. (In his book he writes that he was told by the arresting officer that the order had come from Secretary of State William Seward. ) The basis for his arrest was for writing a critical editorial in his newspaper of Lincoln's suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, and criticizing the fact that the Lincoln administration had declared martial law in Baltimore and imprisoned without charge George William Brown, the mayor of Baltimore, sitting U.S. Congressman Henry May, and all the police commissioners.
posted by John Griscom Jr.
Ann Phoebe Penn Dagworthy Charlton, Francis Scott Key's mother, is my 4th great-grand aunt.
posted by John Griscom Jr.
It may be noted that "Key Park", next to "Key Bridge" - which joins Rosslyn VA to Georgetown DC, flies a flag with 15 stars and stripes - the Star Spangled Banner.
posted by Jack Parker
For all KEY/KAY/KAYE researchers .... there is a good possibility we're all related! See the research done so far -- it all began with "Project 50," undertaken by the KAY Family Association (UK) many years ago:

Towards the bottom of the page, there is a link to a KEY Family DNA Study, which includes many of the Project 50 participants. (My husband is one of them.)

posted by Suzan (Cobb) Kaye