The 200th Anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner

September 14, 2014 is the 200th anniversary of the writing of our national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key. In honor of this 200th anniversary, the War of 1812 Pension Digitization Project has obtained copies of Key’s War of 1812 military service record and his bounty land application file from the National Archives in Washington, D.C.. Together, both of his files help document the military service for Francis Scott Key in the War of 1812.

 

Francis Scott Key was born on 1 August 1779, the son of John Ross Key and Ann Phoebe Penn Dagworthy Charlton. Key was educated at Annapolis, studied law, became a lawyer, and eventually appointed the United States District Attorney. Key was also an author and amateur poet.

 

Francis Scott Key and Mary T. Lloyd were married at Annapolis, Maryland in January 1801. In 1813 Key volunteered for service in the War of 1812 at Georgetown, Washington D.C. He served as Private in Major George Peters’ Georgetown Light Field Artillery, 1st Regiment District of Columbia Militia from 15 July 1813 to 26 July 1813 and as a Lieutenant and Quarter Master from 19 June 1814 to 1 July 1814.

 

On 5 September 1814 Key and Colonel John Skinner boarded the British flagship, HMS Tonnant to finalize the negotiations for the exchange of prisoners. The discussions continued for days. On the 13th of September 1814, Key, Skinner, and the released prisoner Dr. William Beanes were “detained for several days on board the British Fleet during the War of 1812 – the object of the detention being to prevent their giving information to the Government of the United State of certain military movements in contemplation by the enemy”. [1] The men were prevented from returning to shore until after the 25 hour bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British had ended. When the skies began to clear Francis Scott Key was relieved to see that the flag that had flown at Fort McHenry was still there. A triumphal moment, seeing the flag had survived the 25 hour bombardment filled Key with a sense of relief. The thoughts flowed and Key penned the words of a poem that expressed what he saw that day. This poem eventually became the lyrics to our national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner. [2]

 

The military service file for Francis Scott Key is relatively small, an envelope and five cards indexing his status as recorded in the muster rolls. Key’s rank at the time of entry into service was a “Mattross” which is a gunner’s assistant in the Artillery Unit he was assigned to. On the Muster Roll of “Staff Officers attached to detachment of Volunteer Troops under command of Major George Peter” for June 19 to July 1, 1814 is recorded that Francis S. Key held the rank of Lieutenant and Quarter Master. [3]

 

Francis Scott Key died at age 63 on 11 January 1843. Twelve years later, on 18 May 1855 his widow Mary Key applied for bounty land. In the application for bounty land, Mary “further states that between the 5th and 15th of September A. D. 1814 her said husband Francis S. Key was detained and kept in durance on boards [sic] of the British Fleet as a prisoner…” [4] For her husband’s service in the War of 1812, she was awarded 160 acres of land.

 

War of 1812, Preserve the Pensions, NARA, military, records, genealogy

Francis Scott Key

The Federation of Genealogical Societies and the Preserve the Pensions of the War of 1812 Project recognize and honor the service given by all those who have served our country in the military. Key’s Bounty Land application was not found among the Pension Files that are being digitized by the Preserve the Pensions project. Instead, the application was located in the collection known as the Unindexed Bounty Land Application Files at the National Archives. If you are unable to find a War of 1812 pension record for your ancestor, be sure to search the other War of 1812 collections at the National Archives that are not yet digitized.

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  1. Sworn Statement of T. G. Skinner, son of John Skinner, soldier Francis S. Key, (1st Leut., 1st Regt., District of Columbia, Maj. G. Peter’s Georgetown Field Artillery, War of 1812); Case Files of Bounty-Land Warrant Applications Based on Service Between 1812 – 1855, Unindexed Applications,Records of the Veteran’s Administration, RG 15, National Archives.
  2. National Park Service, “Francis Scott Key,” Fort McHenry (http://www.nps.gov/fomc/historyculture/francis-scott-key.htm : accessed 12 Sep 2014).
  3. Francis S. Key, Compiled Military Service Record, War of 1812, 1stRegt., District of Columbia, Maj. G. Peter’s Georgetown Field Artillery; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, RG 94, National Archives.
  4. Declaration for Widow, Mary T. Key, soldier Francis S. Key, (1stLeut., 1stRegt., District of Columbia, Maj. G. Peter’s Georgetown Field Artillery, War of 1812); Case Files of Bounty-Land Warrant Applications Based on Service Between 1812 – 1855. Unindexed Applications,Records of the Veteran’s Administration, RG 15, National Archives.
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