Last time we looked at the Key Mansion in Georgetown. Today we’re going to walk up to O Street and visit two of the churches he attended.
In his biography, Francis Scott Key-Smith notes that Key was a devout Christian, attended church regularly and took an active part in all religious affairs. Meyers (Paradoxes of Fame) devotes a chapter to the religious aspect of Key’s life. Speaking of those who grew up in the post-Revolutionary Way times, he writes, “Religion and patriotism were virtually fused in their ultimate purpose, as were religion and literature.”
Key contemplated becoming a minister (Meyers: Lawrence C. Wroth, “Maryland Historical Magazine” in 1909). Weybright notes “he was a remarkably active layman, a speaker at church conventions, public gatherings and eventually, at Sunday School rallies.” Key also wrote two hymns for the church.
Key is remembered at St John’s Episcopal Church in two different ways. A commemorative marker outside notes he was one of the co-founders/benefactors. Inside on the east wall near the front row of pews is a tablet containing the words Key wrote for the epitaph of John Johnson Sayrs in 1809. Sayrs had become the first rector for the church five years earlier and served as Chaplain of the Senate from 1806 to 1807.
Two blocks east of St John’s lies a tall brick structure built in the Gothic Revival style. The origins of this church (current built in 1885) arose when St John’s attendance exceeded the available room. With expansion not possible, several members, including Key, started another church at 31st and O in 1811. Key served as a vestryman.
Four years after his death, the church held a ceremony of recognition for him. One of the stained-glasses windows made in Germany bears the inscription, “In Memory of Francis Scott Key.” (Located on the west side, last one (series of three) in the row nearest the rear).
In the early part of 1814, Key addressed the Washington Society of Alexandria, Virginia. The tall Georgetown lawyer reminded the townfolk about a point their favorite son made in his Farewell Address in 1796. Washington had said, “every citizen must adhere to the dictates of religion and morality.” A few months later he penned a hymn what would become the Star Spangled Banner.
Note: I’d like to thank the kind people who helped me at these two churches. In particular, Father Thomas Murphy at Christ Church (“Seek and ye shall find.”)