"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Monday, December 4, 2017

Francis Scott Key

This 1985 bronze portrait of Francis Scott Key by Betty Mailhouse Dunstan was installed in Francis Scott Key park in Georgetown in 1995. A nearby historical marker says this about Francis Scott Key.
“The author of our National Anthem was a lawyer, patriot, community leader and poet. His home and law office stood approximately 100 yards west of here. Francis Scott Key lived there from 1803 to about 1833 with his wife, the former Mary Taylor Lloyd of Annapolis, Maryland, and their six sons and five daughters. The house was demolished in 1947 after years of neglect by various owners.

During the war of 1812, British troops had invaded and captured Washington in August of 1814. They set fire to the Capitol, the White House and most Federal buildings. As they withdrew to their ships they took Dr. William Beanes prisoner because he had arrested some stragglers among the British troops for looting.

The popular and respected 35-year-old George Town lawyer, Francis Scott Key, came to the aid of friends seeking Dr. Beanes' release. Under a flag of truce approved by President James Madison, key set out with Colonel John Stuart Skinner, an American agent for prisoner exchange. They located the British fleet and boarded Admiral Cochrane's Royal Navy Flagship. Key successfully arranged for Dr. Beanes' release.

However, lest they reveal the British plans to attack Fort McHenry and Baltimore, they were detained under guard aboard their ship. Throughout the night of September 13-14, 1814, Key stood on deck watching the bombardment of Ft. McHenry. At dawn Key's anxiety was relieved. Our flag was still there! Key began to compose a poem on the back of a letter.

After the release following the British defeat, Key continued to work on his poem. On the next day, he showed it to a relative, Judge Joseph Hopper Nicholson, a Fort McHenry's defender. Nicholson was so moved he immediately had broadsides of the poem printed and circulated. That poem became The Star Spangled Banner.

Francis Scott Key's law practice continued to flourish. He was three times appointed to the post of U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. He was active in anti-slavery causes, advocated the establishment of public schools, negotiated a treaty in 1833 between the Creek Indians and settlers in Alabama, and was a vestryman of St. John's Church as well as a founder of Christ Church in George Town. On a trip to Baltimore in 1843, Francis Scott Key died of pneumonia on January 11 at the home of his eldest daughter, Mrs. Charles Howard. He is buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery near his birthplace in Frederick, Maryland.

The high standards which guided Francis Scott Key's life continue to be an example to all Americans.” -- Francis Scott Key historical marker (HMDb # 120). 

Betty Mailhouse Dunston 
© 1982

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