10 "Key" Facts about the "Star-Spangled Banner" and its Author

Posted in: Museums & Historic Sites, Francis Scott Key

Where did Francis Scott Key write the "Star-Spangled Banner"? When was he really born? Here are 10 fun facts tell you the real story behind Francis Scott Key and the "Star-Spangled Banner."


  1. Downtown Frederick 152.jpgThe "Star-Spangled Banner" was never a poem - Francis Scott Key wrote the “Star-Spangled Banner” as a song, not as a poem that would later be set to music.
  2. When was the song written? The document visiting Frederick on June 14-15, 2013 is the earliest manuscript of the song lyrics, which Key originally entitled, “The Defence of Fort McHenry.”  Key wrote the lyrics in his hotel room (the Indian Queen hotel) on Sept. 15, 1814 in Baltimore, once back on land after the Sept. 13 – 14 bombardment of Fort McHenry. He had made notes for himself on board ship as he watched the bombardment, and used these notes to complete the song.
  3. Key's (3rd and Final) Resting Place- Key is buried beneath the Francis Scott Key monument in Frederick, Maryland's Mount Olivet Cemetery.  It is the third place that his remains have been interred. He was first in Baltimore in 1843, then elsewhere in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Frederick in 1866.  He was moved to his current location, along with his wife’s remains, in 1898 when the monument was installed.
  4. Birthplace - Key was born in Frederick County.  His birthplace, the Key family home known as Terra Rubra (after the red earth in the area), remained in Frederick County until Carroll County was created in 1837.
  5. Birthday Mixup - Key was born on Aug. 1, 1779.  By the second half of the 19th century there was confusion about his birth date and year, so there are various publications that have listed it as Aug. 1 or Aug. 9 in 1779 or 1780.  His monument at Mount Olivet Cemetery was dedicated on Aug. 9, 1898, because they thought that was his birthday.
  6. Mythbusting in Frederick - The little white building on Court Street in Frederick, Maryland, once labeled as the Key-Taney law office, was in fact not his law office.
  7. FSK square - with text.jpgKey's Law Career in Frederick - Today’s Frederick City Hall is in the former Frederick County Courthouse building constructed in 1862.  This building replaced an earlier courthouse that burned in 1861 (that one replaced the first courthouse, a log structure).  Key began his law career in the courthouse that burned in 1861.
  8. The Flag that Inspired Key - The large 15-star flag at the Smithsonian was not flying overnight at Fort McHenry, but was raised after the bombardment had ended.  This is what Key saw “by the dawn’s early light.” A smaller flag would have been flying during the attack on the fort.
  9. 15 vs. 18 Stars - There were 18 states at the time the song was written. The 15-star US flag had not been updated yet.
  10. Birth of our National Anthem - The “Star-Spangled Banner” would not officially become our country’s National Anthem until 1931, although it was used by the military much earlier.