Francis Scott Key

Before the Lord we bow, the God Who reigns above,
And rules the world below, boundless in power and love.
Our thanks we bring in joy and praise, our hearts we raise
To Heaven’s high King.

The nation Thou hast blest may well Thy love declare,
From foes and fears at rest, protected by Thy care.
For this fair land, for this bright day, our thanks we pay,
Gifts of Thy hand.

May every mountain height, each vale and forest green,
Shine in Thy Word’s pure light, and its rich fruits be seen!
May every tongue be tuned to praise, and join to raise
A grateful song.

Earth, hear thy Maker’s voice, thy great Redeemer own;
Believe, obey, rejoice, and worship Him alone.
Cast down thy pride, thy sin deplore and bow before
The Crucified.

And when in power He comes, O may our native land,
From all its rending tombs, send forth a glorious band.
A countless throng, ever to sing to Heaven’s high King
Salvation’s song.
– Francis Scott Key

Francis Scott Key was an American lawyer, author, and amateur poet, from Georgetown, who wrote the lyrics to the United States’ national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner“.

He was born to Ann Phoebe Penn Dagworthy (Charlton) and Captain John Ross Key at the family plantation Terra Rubra in what was Frederick County and is now Carroll County, Maryland. His father John Ross Key was a lawyer, a judge and an officer in the Continental Army. His great-grandparents were Philip Key and Susanna Barton Gardiner, both born in London, England, emigrated to Maryland in 1726.

He studied law at St John’s College, Annapolis, Maryland and also learned under his uncle Philip Barton Key.

During the War of 1812, Key, accompanied by the American 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 Sir George Cockburn, and Major General Robert Ross. Skinner and Key were there to negotiate the release of prisoners, one being Dr William Beanes. Beanes was a resident of Upper Marlboro, Maryland and had been captured by the British after he placed rowdy stragglers under citizen’s arrest with a group of men. Skinner, Key, and Beanes were not allowed to return to their own sloop: 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.

At dawn, Key was able to see an American flag still waving and reported this to the prisoners below deck. On the way back to Baltimore, he was inspired to write a poem describing his experience, “Defence of Fort McHenry”, which he 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“, 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.) It has become better known as “The Star Spangled Banner“. Under this name, 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.

In the fourth stanza Key urged the adoption of “In God is our Trust” as the national motto. The United States adopted the motto “In God We Trust” by law in 1956.

From 1818 until his death in 1843, Key was associated with the American Bible Society.

In 1832, Key served as the attorney for Sam Houston during his trial in the U.S. House of Representatives for assaulting another Congressman. He published a prose work called The Power of Literature, and Its Connection with Religion in 1834.

In 1835, Key prosecuted Richard Lawrence for his unsuccessful attempt to assassinate President of the United States Andrew Jackson.

In 1843, Key died at the home of his daughter Elizabeth Howard in Baltimore from pleurisy 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. 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.

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