Francis Key, a lawyer, was the composer of the "Star-Spangled Banner." The composition later became the national anthem. Key was born in Fredrick County, Maryland, in August 1779 to an affluent family. He studied at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland where he graduated in 1796. At one point he considered joining the Episcopal priesthood. He later opted to pursue law. He studied with Judge Jeremiah Chase and then joined the bar in 1801.
He set up a successful private law practice in Georgetown. Key represented several high profile clients including two associates of Aaron Burr, a former US Vice president against charges of treason. Due to his religion and faith, Key was not supportive of the War of 1812. However, he joined the Georgetown militia and took part in the Battle of Bladensburg in 1814 which was outside Washington, D.C.
The War With The British
The War of 1812 was as a result of anger at the British for interference in American Trade, the impressing of US sailors by the Royal Navy, as well as American ambition to expand westward. The US attained encouraging victories at the beginning of the war against distracted British forces who were engaged in a fight with France. After the win against Napoleon's forces, the British were able to turn their attention to North America. They soon attacked the capital of the United States and burnt government buildings with great significance. The Royal Navy then set their sights on the critical seaport of Baltimore. In September 1814, Key went to a British naval fleet that was near Baltimore to secure the release of William Beanes, a friend of his who had become a British prisoner during a previous battle. He managed to secure the release of his friend from the British under one condition; that they were not to leave the harbor until the Royal Navy was done conducting an attack on Baltimore. They guarded on an American Ship during the period of the attack.
The Attack On Fort McHenry
On a rainy September 13, the Royal Navy fired a downpour of rockets and shells on Fort McHenry at the Baltimore Harbor for 25 consecutive hours. Due to the intensity of the attack, Key thought the British would win as he watched the barrage of the Fort eight miles away. At the dawn of September 14, he saw the American Flag flying at the Fort signaling an American Victory. The sight inspired Key to compose the "Star Spangled Banner." His work was initially distributed under the title "Defense of Fort McHenry" before gaining its current title.
British Links To The Star Spangled Banner Anthem
Ironically, the tune to the composition was from a song of British origin titled "To Anacreon in Heaven." It was written by a British Composer by the name John Stafford Smith. It later became the Anacreontic Society's club anthem and a favorite drinking song.