Francis Scott Key’s Death Biography: Old St. Paul’s to Mount Olivet Cemetery

On January 14, 1843 three days following his death of pleurisy at the age of sixty-three, Baltimore’s Niles’ Weekly Register reported his death:

“Francis Key, Esq., late U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, died suddenly whilst on a visit to his son-n-law, Mr. Howard, of Baltimore on the 12th inst. He was a man of a very high order of talent…He was the author of the deservedly popular national song, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Key was visiting his oldest daughter Elizabeth Phobe Key Howard (1803-1897), the wife of Dr. Charles Howard (1802-1869), youngest son of Revolutionary War veteran Brigadier General John Edgar Howard (1752-1827). The site of the Howard’s home (c.1853) is where now stands the United Methodist-Episcopal Church (built 1870) at 10 East Mount Vernon Place. His father’s mansion of “Belvedere” was located further north. Following the funeral (in which no narrative is known to have survived) Key’s remains were placed in the brick vault of the Howard family in Old St. Paul’s Cemetery in Baltimore. Here he rested with his wife Mary Tayloe Lloyd Key (1784-1859) daughter of Governor Edward Lloyd of Wye House until removed to Frederick, Maryland in 1866 and buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery. In 1898 the Key Monument Association  dedicated the monument we view to day over Mr. & Mrs. Key’s grave.

“His patriotism will survive forever in his song.” Alexandria Gazette, January 14, 1843.

Published in: on February 14, 2014 at 4:24 pm  Comments Off on Francis Scott Key’s Death Biography: Old St. Paul’s to Mount Olivet Cemetery  

Dr. William Beanes arrives onboard HM Brig Thetis, August 28, 1814.

New Discoveries & New Interpretations of the War in the Chesapeake.
For nearly 200 years the story that Dr. William Beanes of Upper Marlborough, Md., who was taken prisoner from his home by the retreating British forces from Washington, D.C. in August 1814, was placed onboard Vice-Admiral Alexander Cochrane’s ship-of-the-line flagship HMS Tonnant has been told to readers of history and former historians.

A recent discovered letter written by Dr. William Beanes about his personal ordeal, now allows us to interpret the real updated story – that having been taken several miles away to the Patuxent River, where the British fleet had anchored, he was placed initially – not onboard the admiral’s flagship – but onboard HMS Brig Thetis with runaway slaves from Prince Georges County and later transferred to yet another ship. He remained on this last vessel until finally transferred on September 7 to the American flag-of-truce sloop-packet the President along with lawyer Francis Scott Key and Colonel John Stuart Skinner, U.S. State Department prisoner of war exchange agent.

Sources: Withheld until formally published.

See the depostions regarding Harriet Brooke at: Claim of Harriet Brooke, Calvert County, Case No. 660, Case Files. Ca. 1814-28, entry 190, Record Group 76, National Archives, College Park reproduced in:

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Francis Scott Key Remembers-September 1814

On August 6, 1834 Francis Scott Key returned to his hometown of Frederick, Maryland in company with his former law partner fifty-seven year old Roger Brooke Taney.  They had come to partake in a celebratory dinner on the Frederick Courthouse lawn. At one point Judge Taney stood up during dinner and introduced Key, who needed no introduction as the author of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

In a brief speech, Key for the only known moment in his life after the War of 1812 expressed his feelings and how he came to be inspired to write the nation’s song so celebrated on the “Defence of Fort McHenry.”

Herein are the words taken from Francis Scott Key: Life and Times by Edward S. Delaplaine published in 1937.

“You have been pleased to declare your approbation of my song. Praise to a poet could not be otherwise than acceptable; but it is peculiarly gratifying to me, to know that, in obeying the impulse of my own feelings, I have awakened yours. The song, I know, came from the heart, and if it has made its way to the hearts of men, whose devotion to their country and the great cause of freedom I know so well, I could not pretend to be insensible to such a compliment.

You have recalled to my recollection the circumstances under which I was impelled to this effort. I saw the flag of my country waving over a city – the strength and pride of my native State – a city devoted to plunder and desolution by its assailants. I  witnessed the preparation for its assaults, and I saw the array of its enemies as they advanced to the attack. I heard the sound of battle; the noise of the conflict fell upon mylistening ear, and told me that “the brave and the free” had met the invaders. Then did I remember that Maryland had called her sons to the defense of that flag and that they were the sons of sires who had left their crimson footprints on the snows of the North and poured out of the blood of patriots like water on the sands of the South. Then did I remember that there were gathered around that banner, among its defenders, men who had heard and answerred the call of their country – from these mountain sides, from this beautiful valley, and from this fair city of my native Country; and though I walked upon a deck surrounded by a  hostile fleet, detained as a prisoner, yet was my step firm, and my heart strong, as these recollections came upon me.

Through the clouds of war, the stars of that banner still shone in my view, and I saw the discomforted host of its assailants driven back in ignominy to their ships. Then, in that hour of deliverance and joyful triumph, my heart spoke; and “Does not such a country, and such defenders if their country, deserve a song?” was its question.

With it came an inspiration not to be resisted; and even though it had been a hanging matter to make a song, I must have written it. Let the praise, then, if any be due, be given. not to me, who only did what I could not help doing; not to the writer, but to the inspirers of the song!”

…I again thank you for the honor you have done me; but I can only take the share of it. I was but the instrument in executing what you have been so pleased to praise; it was dictated and inspired by the gallantry and patriotism of the sons of Maryland. The honor is due, not to me who made the song, but to the heroism of those who made me make it…

Source: Francis Scott Key: Life and Times by Edward S. Delaplaine (New York: Biography Press, 1937), 378-380. Mr. Delaplaine’s archival source of Key’s remarks remains a mystery.

Published in: on May 22, 2011 at 8:31 am  Comments Off on Francis Scott Key Remembers-September 1814  

Annapolis: Diplomatic Port of Entry & Colonel John Stuart Skinner

On the evening of March 12, 1813, a British courier, Mr. Moore arrived in Annapolis on board the British packet Francis Feeling, Capt. Anthony Bell. Mr. Moore, that evening dined with Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1832) at his town house. It was during this meeting that Carroll learned and thus informed his son that “the significancy of the place [Annapolis], and its being the station for flags of truce, will except it from that calamity [of war].” Thus Annapolis was designated an official port of entry, securing the state capitol from any acts of aggression.

In 1807 John Steuart Skinner (1788-1851) an Annapolis planter and lawyer was appointed notary public representing Maryland, who served as secretary for a republican meeting held at the State House on May 30, 1812. Their resolution was to “express in a public manner their sentiments on the present posture of affairs with Great Britain,” and to draft resolutions representing the City of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.

On July 6, 1812, Congress approved “An Act for the Safe Keeping and Accommodation of Prisoners of War” that was followed by a “Provisional Agreement, for the Exchange of Naval Prisoners of War” on November 28 with the British government. In March 1813 Skinner was appointed colonel as agent for the U.S. State Department and for U.S. flags-of-truce for dispatches and prisoner exchange. His first mission came on February 27 when the British Packet, Francis Feeling entered Annapolis harbor under the guns of Fort Madison for dispatches to be received or sent between the U.S.Government and the British naval forces. It would be one of many such missions carried out by Skinner during the war that would enable him to acquire a diplomatic friendship with Rear-Admiral George Cockburn.

That fall Colonel Skinner was ordered to Baltimore with a U.S. Navy purser’s commission for those U.S. vessels being built in Baltimore and for the U.S. Chesapeake Flotilla. In September 1814 he would accompany lawyer Francis Scott Key on a diplomatic mission to the British fleet to secure the release of a Dr. William Beanes held on board HMS Tonnant. On Sept. 8 he and Skinner were transfered to an American flag-of-truce vessel, the President and together witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry (Sept. 13-14) that became the inspiration for a new national song, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

In the years following, Skinner became the most influential editor in America for several agricultural journals he founded among of which was The Plough, the Loom, and the Anvil. He became the president of the Maryland Jockey Club and postmaster for Baltimore (1816-1849). He died on March 21, 1851 and is buried in Westminster Church burying ground in Baltimore. 

Sources: Charles Carroll of Carrollton to his son, March 12, 1813. Unpublished Letters of Charles Carroll of Carrollton…Ed. Thomas M. Field (New York: U.S. Catholic Historical Society, 1902); “Biographical Notice of John S. Skinner,” by Benjamin P. Poore The Plough, the Loom, and the Anvil, (New York, 1855).

Published in: on April 10, 2011 at 6:19 pm  Comments Off on Annapolis: Diplomatic Port of Entry & Colonel John Stuart Skinner  

“Defence of Fort McHenry” – Words of the National Anthem

September 14, 1814, 9 A.M.“At this time our morning gun was fired, the flag hoisted, Yankee Doodle played, and we all appeared in full view of a formidable and mortified enemy, who calculated upon our surrender in 20 minutes after the commencement of the action.” Joseph Hopper Nicholson, U.S. Volunteers at Fort McHenry to a friend, September 17, 1814.

It was at this moment,  that a 38 year old Georgetown lawyer, Francis Scott Key, witnessed from an American flag-of-truce vessel, the President, admist the British fleet, the great garrison flag (42’x 30′) over Fort McHenry. The following is from a handbill that was distributed to every soldier at Fort McHenry soon after the bombardment.



The annexed song was composed under the following circumstances – A gentleman had left Baltimore, in a flag of truce for the purpose of getting released from the British fleet, a friend [Dr. William Beanes] who had been captured at [Upper] Marlborough. He went as far as the mouth of the Patuxent, and was not permitted to return lest the intended attack on Baltimore should be disclosed. He was therefore brought up the Bay to the mouth of the Patapsco, where the flag vessel was kept under the guns of a frigate [HMS Surprise], and he was compelled to witness the bombardment of Fort M’Henry, which the Admiral had boasted that he would carry in a few hours, and that the city must fall. He watched the flag at the Fort through the whole day with an anxiety that can be better felt than described, until the night prevented him from seeing it. In the night he watched the Bomb Shells, and at early dawn his eye was again greeted by the proudly waving flag of his country.


O! say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,

What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,

Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight

O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so gallantly streaming?

And the Rocket’s red glare, the Bombs bursting in air,

Gave proof through the night that our Flag was still there;


O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,

O’er  the Land of the free, and the home of the brave?


On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,

Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,

What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,

As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?

Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,

In full glory reflected new shines in the stream,


‘Tis the star spangled banner, – O! long may it wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.


And where is that band who so vauntingly swore

That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,

A home and a country, should leave us no more?

Their blood has wash’d out their foul footsteps pollution.

No refuse could save the hireling and slave,

From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,


And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,

O’er the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.


O! thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,

Between their lov’d home, and the war’s desolation,

Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land,

Praise the Power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,

And this be our motto – “In God is our Trust;”

And the star-spangled Banner in triumph shall wave,

O’er the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

*  *  *  *  *

On September 20, 1814, the Baltimore Patriot and Evening Advertiser published the words. Within the year every newspaper in the eighteen states had also published it.

Sources: One of the rare copies of the “Defence of Fort McHenry” handbills is at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore.

Published in: on April 3, 2011 at 10:50 pm  Comments Off on “Defence of Fort McHenry” – Words of the National Anthem  

A Flag Hoisted, A Moment to Remember, September 14, 1814

“At this time our morning gun was fired, the flag hoisted, and Yankee Doodle played…”  Private Isaac Munroe, U.S. Volunteers, Sept. 1814.

The words of Francis Scott Key still echo over the Patapsco River and Baltimore, when literally “by the dawn’s early light,” the American ensign was hoisted over the walls of Fort McHenry to the tune of Yankee Doodle, a young nation’s national air. What actually happened at that moment on September 14, 1814?  Was the flag hoisted in victory as the British sailed away?

These are the questions that often have been misrepresented in telling this compelling story that occured two hundred years ago. The answer lies not in the national anthem, nor in the “retreat” of the Royal Navy before Baltimore, but in the U.S. Army Regulations of 1813 and 1821 and eyewitness’ of the battle.

The Dawn’s Early Light – On the early morning hours of September 14, 1814, following a 25 hour naval bombardment at 4:30 a.m., the American batteries at Fort McHenry fell silent. Three hours later the British ships ceased firing. The tumultuous night of thunderstorms had now stopped. The sun had been up since 5:40 a.m. The bombardment smoke reflected the morning mists drifting along the shores of marsh grass and river surfaces.

The British fleet that had unleashed its armaments bombs and rockets against Fort McHenry, hoisted their sails and one by one began to sail down river – the Battle for Baltimore had ended. The garrison within, while overwhelmed of having survived the bombardment, now unexpectedly viewed the sudden withdrawal of the British navy from Baltimore.

At 9 a.m. four fifers and drummers of the U.S. Corps of Artillery lined up within the Star Fort parade ground for the raising of the morning colors. The 17’x 25’ storm flag that had flown during the tumultuous night was lowered. The great garrison flag measuring 42′ x 30′ was then ceremoniously raised over the star fort “In full glory reflected how shines in the stream,…” as remembered by Francis Scott Key. A month earlier a newspaper correspondent witnessed at Fort McHenry:

“Who that has ever heard the Reveille played at Fort McHenry by the skillful performers of that Garrison, but who will be ready to acknowledge the power of the “ear-piercing fife and spirit stirring drum,” when touched by the hand of a master? And who has not witnessed the effect produced on an audience at the Theatre, when some favorite air was struck up? Of National Airs we have as yet but few; but we have two that are sufficient for our purpose – Yankee Doodle and Hail Columbia – are as soul-aspiring airs as ever were composed…”

U.S. Army regulations make it very clear that daily at 9 a.m. the sentries of the Fort were changed, the fort’s cannon, a 6-pdr. is fired, and the fifes and drums played. However, amidst the celebration, remained a trepidation of another attack. Any clear celebration would  have to wait. The star-spangled banner that Key had witnessed was not raised in victory – but of U.S. Army regulations. It so happened the British departed on the very hour the U.S. regulations stated the flag be raised!

So much for the romantic nature of writers.

For the first time, an American had composed the words that gave the American flag new meaning and symbolism that had never been expressed before. From this moment, Americans began to refer to the flag as the star-spangled banner, so to the present day.

The flag that so inspired Francis Scott Key with the words that became a new national song is displayed at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Histiry in Washington, D.C.

Sources: “National Music,” Baltimore American and Commercial Daily Advertiser, August 17, 1814; Rules and Regulations of the U.S. Army, 1812;

Published in: on March 30, 2011 at 6:35 pm  Comments Off on A Flag Hoisted, A Moment to Remember, September 14, 1814