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Francis Scott Key legal papers

Identifier: MS 3009


This collection contains materials that center around Francis Scott Key's legal practice. The legal documents include land claims, deeds of indenture, and insurance claims. There are also documents pertaining to land disputes with the Choctaw Nation. Other materials in the collection are receipts for a variety of items, such as pew rentals, groceries, schooling, and subscriptions, as well as family genealogy research and letters to Mr. Francis S. Key Smith, a great-grandson of Key.


  • 1812-1977
  • Majority of material found in 1820-1850


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

The reproduction of materials in this collection may be subject to copyright restrictions. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine and satisfy copyright clearances or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections. For more information visit the MCHC’s Rights and Permissions page.

Biographical Note

Francis Scott Key was born on August 1, 1779 and died January 11, 1843. He attended St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland from 1789 to 1796. Key is most known for composing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” He did so while witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry on the nights of September 13-14, 1814. The poem was quickly transformed into a song but did not become the National Anthem for the United States until 1931. Key was a United States attorney for the District of Columbia and ran a law firm from Georgetown. In his firm he handled Indian Affairs as well as other legal matters. He was sent to Alabama in 1833 by President Jackson to negotiate an agreement between the Creek Nation and the United States. Key was also an excellent orator and amateur poet. Francis Scott Key died in Mt. Vernon Place, Baltimore at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Charles Howard.


0.8 Linear Feet (2 boxes; 1 oversized folder)

Language of Materials



The Francis Scott Key legal papers is comprised of four series: I) Manuscripts; II) Legal Documents; III) Receipts; and IV) Family Materials. The papers in this collection range from 1812-1977.

Each series is arranged by subject and filed chronologically. All undated material comes after the dated material.

Series I: Francis Scott Key Manuscripts, 1815, undated This series includes three items in Key’s handwriting: a poem entitled “The Worm’s Death Song” which was eventually printed in a poetry book entitled Poems of the Late Francis S. Key, ESQ; a letter from Key to his children entitled “My Dear Children” stating each must read it at least once a year after his death “to be sure they are honorable people;” and a Prospectus to publish a newspaper. And finally a manuscript copy, not in Key’s handwriting, of a broadside printed in September 1814.

Series II: Francis Scott Key Legal Documents, 1812-1857 This series contains land claims and disputes from around the country. Also included are land disputes with the Choctaw Nation. Other folders contain a writ of Habeas Corpus for Maria Blunt, estate disputes and wills, deeds of indenture, and military pensions. There are also the minutes of a General Court Martial in the case of Lieut. Robert E. Johnson.

Series III: Francis Scott Key Receipts, 1830-1852 This series contains legal and personal receipts of Key and his family. Included in this series are subscriptions, Washington post office receipts, pew rentals, and property, grocery, schooling, and slave tax receipts.

Series IV: Francis Scott Key Family Materials, 1819-1977 This series contains the three page account book of Lieut. Blunt from 1841-1847. There are personal incoming letters from Key's business partners and relatives. In the printed material there is a speech delivered by Key, sheet music of “The Star- Spangled Banner,” and a facsimile of the manuscript of “The Star- Spangled Banner.” Also included in the family materials is the correspondence of Mr. Francis S. Key Smith, a great-grandson of Key, as well as genealogy research.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Robert Key Smith and Catherine M. Federspill, December 2002.

Related Materials

MS 469, John Eager Howard papers, 1662-1919

MS 511, Francis Scott Key poems, 1819-1835

MS 2199, Francis Scott Key papers, 1810-1845

Scope and Contents

The items in the Francis Scott Key legal papers span 165 years, from 1812 to 1977. The materials consist of incoming business correspondence, family letters, receipts, and descendants’ genealogy research.

The bulk of the papers centers on Key’s legal practice and spans the years 1820-1850. The legal documents include land claims and disputes, a writ of Habeas Corpus, wills, letter testimonies, deeds of indenture, military pensions, the minutes of a court martial, and insurance claims.

Other items in the collection have to deal with Key’s personal expenses such as his receipts for magazines, newspapers, groceries, properties, and schooling. The collection also contains printed material and genealogy research. Some of the printed materials are sheet music of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a facsimile of the manuscript of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and a memorial of John E. Smith to Congress.

Additionally, there are three documents in Key’s handwriting: a poem entitled “The Worm’s Death Song;” a letter from Key to his children; and a Prospectus to publish a newspaper.

Guide to the Francis Scott Key legal papers
Under Revision
Kenneth J. Bechtel
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2019-08-20: Manually entered into ArchivesSpace by Sandra Glascock

Repository Details

Part of the H. Furlong Baldwin Library Repository

H. Furlong Baldwin Library
Maryland Center for History and Culture
610 Park Avenue
Baltimore MD 21201 United States