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Nineteen Unknown FSK Facts

Francis Scott Key1. “Francis Scott Key” was never called “Francis” by his family and friends: It was “Frankie” as a child and “Frank” as an adult.

2. Frank and his wife Polly had eleven children. Tragically, three of their sons died young. One drowned in the Potomac River; one was killed in a duel; and another died after a short illness.

3. Francis Scott Key’s most famous descendant was the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald (Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald).

4. Late in life it was rumored that Key had an affair with the twenty-nine-year-old wife of the Governor of Alabama.

5. Frank Key wrote hundreds of poems and two religious hymns during his life, but oddly penned only one song: “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

6. The young Washington lawyer was in Baltimore Harbor on the night of September 13-14, 1814, helping arrange the release of prisoner when the 25-hour British onslaught of 1,500 mortars, cannonballs and rockets “bursting in air”—one of the biggest bombardments in history up to that time—inspired him to write what would become the National Anthem. He wrote the words on the back of a letter he had in his pocket.

7. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was titled “Defense of Ft. M’Henry” when it first appeared on broadsides and sheet music.

Mary Tayloe Lloyd8. Key’s song did not become the official National Anthem until 1931.

9. The author of “The Star-Spangled Banner” only spoke about the night he wrote the song in public once—in a political speech twenty years later.

10. Polly Key came from an extremely prosperous Maryland family, one that owned hundreds of slaves, including the famed abolitionist Frederick Douglas, who was born on their plantation.

11. The usually reserved Key seemed enraptured at Andrew Jackson’s raucous 1829 inauguration, saying of the crowd of 20,000 country people—mostly Tennesseans—the largest inaugural crowd in history, who descended on the nation’s capital: “It’s beautiful; it’s sublime”

President Andrew Jackson14. Frank Key was a close confidant of President Andrew Jackson and a member of his Kitchen Cabinet. Informal meetings often took place in Key’s expansive house on M Street (then known as Bridge Street) in Georgetown.

15. Key served for eight years as U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C. He prosecuted the first person who attempted to assassinate a U.S. President, Richard Lawrence, who tried to shoot Andrew Jackson on the Capitol steps in 1835. Lawrence’s gun misfired twice at point-blank range. The enraged Old Hickory then attacked Lawrence with his cane.

16. Key was a founding member in 1816 and one of the strongest supporters of the American Colonization Society, the controversial group that endeavored to solve the nation’s slavery questions by sending free blacks to a colony in Africa.

17. U.S. Attorney Key zealously prosecuted Reuben Crandall, a young doctor, for possessing abolitionist tracts, an action that led to the first race riot in Washington, D.C., in 1835.

John Randolph of Roanoke (1773-1833)18. Key had a long, close friendship with John Randolph of Roanoke the mercurial, brilliant, and eccentric Virginia congressman who was known to enter the House chamber wearing boots and spurs, his hound dogs at his side and a riding whip in hand.

19. Francis Scott Key adamantly opposed slave trafficking and was well known in the Early Republic for his willingness to represent slaves and free men and women gratis in Washington’s courts. “If ever a man was a true friend to the African race, that man was Francis Scott Key,” a friend wrote. “Throughout his own region of the country, he was proverbially the colored man’s friend.”

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