Saturday, 28 March 2015

"O Say, Can You See by the Dawn's Early Light" - Francis Scott Key, 1779-1843

FRANCIS SCOTT KEY, author of the "Star-Spangled Banner," was born at Double Pipe Creek, Maryland, on the estate of his father, John Ross Key, an officer in the Revolutionary War. He was educated at Saint John's College, practiced law at Frederick, Maryland, and for three terms served as district attorney at Georgetown in the District of Columbia under President Andrew Jackson. 

During the War of 1812 with England, Key visited the British ship, "Minden," in order to secure the release of some of the prisoners, one of them being his friend, Dr. William Beanes, of Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Merely because of his sympathy with the American cause, Dr. Beanes was held by the British. Key was successful in getting the prisoners released. But just as they were all about to depart, the British decided not to let them go that night because of the attack about to be made upon Baltimore. Accordingly, they were taken on board the frigate "Surprise" and carried up the Patapsco River to their own vessel, which was kept under guard, lest they escape and give away information to their fellow countrymen. During the battle between the ships and the forts their anxiety was intense. And as Key walked the deck, eagerly awaiting the dawn, which should tell him whether or not over Fort McHenry the flag was still there, he wrote on the back of a letter : 

"O say, can you see by the dawn's early light, 
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last 
gleaming?" 

On the rowboat that bore him shoreward in the morning he completed the song now so famous.
 

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