Francis Scott Key (August 1, 1779-January 11, 1843) was an American lawyer and amateur poet who wrote the United States national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner". He is an alumnus of St. John's College, Annapolis, Maryland.
He was born to Ann Phoebe Penn Dagworthy (Charlton) and Capt John Ross Key at the family plantation Terra Rubra near Keymar, Maryland.
During the War of 1812, Key, accompanied by the American Prisoner Exchange Agent Col. John Stuart Skinner, dined with Vice Adm. Cochrane, RAdm. Sir George Cockburn and Major General Robert Ross, aboard the HMS Tonnant where they negotiated the release of a prisoner, Dr. William Beanes (A resident of Upper Marlboro, Maryland captured by the British after he placed rowdy stragglers under citizen's arrest). After the release of Dr. Beanes, Skinner, Key and Beanes were allowed to return to their own sloop, but were not allowed to return to Baltimore because they had become familiar with the strength and position of the British units and of the British intention to attack Baltimore. As a result of this, Key witnessed the bombarding of Ft. McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore and was inspired to write a poem entitled "The Defense of Ft. McHenry", later named "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, and then by an Act of Congress in 1931.
In 1835 Key prosecuted Richard Lawrence for his unsuccessful attempt to assassinate President of the United States Andrew Jackson.
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, and guitarist Dana Key.
The Francis Scott Key Bridge between the Rosslyn section of Arlington County, Virginia, and Georgetown in Washington, D.C. , and the Francis Scott Key Bridge, part of the Baltimore Beltway crossing the outer harbor of Baltimore, Maryland, are named in his honor. Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge is located at the approximate point where the British anchored to shell Fort McHenry.
He 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. He was later, in 1866, moved to his family plot in Frederick at Mount Olivet Cemetery. The Key Monument Association erected a memorial in 1898 and the remains of both Francis Scott Key and his wife were placed in a crypt in the base of the monument.