Francis was a lawyer, having studied at St. John's College, then further under his uncle, Philip Barton Key. He practiced in Frederick, Maryland and Georgetown, Washington, D.C. He also worked as the U.S. District Attorney.
Key was not supportive of war, due to his religious beliefs. 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.
Washington, D.C. had been attacked and President Madison and his family had fled. The country knew the British would be sending more attacks by both land and sea soon. 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". It was feared that Dr. Beanes would be hanged. Key and Col. John Skinner, an American agent for prisoner exchange, made plans to get Beanes back.
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. They reached the ship and started negotiations with the British. 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. Key, Skinner, and Beanes had to wait out the Baltimore battle, though, before they were allowed to leave.
At 7 a.m. on the morning of September 13, 1814, the British bombardment began and continued for 25 hours. 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. The British eventually abandoned the attack.
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. When at last daylight came, the moment which inspired the flag was still there!, Francis wrote a poem on the back of a letter, describing what he had just witnessed. It was published by his brother-in-law, Judge J. H. Nicholson, titled "Defence of Fort McHenry".
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. In October 1814, a Baltimore actor, Ferdinard Durang, sang Key's new song in a public performance and called it "The Star-Spangled Banner". 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  and later was buried in Saint Paul's Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland then later reburied at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Frederick, Maryland in 1866.
A book of Key's poems were published years later. A copy written by Key of the 1814 poem remained with the Nicholson family (Key's wife's sister's family) for 93 years. That copy was auctioned off and eventually put in the Maryland Historical Society where it is now displayed.
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