Key was the author of “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the War of 1812.
The scion of a well-off Maryland family, he was an influential young Washington attorney at the time of the war. Having been sent aboard a British ship to negotiate the release of an American doctor captured during the British attack on Washington, Key spent the night there when the ship began bombarding Fort McHenry. The following morning he was thrilled to see the American flag.
He wrote the poem rapidly on an envelope. A few days later it was printed in the Baltimore American and was soon being sung in taverns and theaters in Baltimore and elsewhere in the country to the tune of the English drinking song “To Anacreon in Heaven.” Key may have had the tune in mind when he composed the poem.
He wrote only a few other light verses in his life. He later became the U.S. district attorney for the District of Columbia and carried out negotiations with southwestern Indians.