Apologies for the delay in my Francis Scott Key series. As Yogi might say, when you come to a fork in the road, you can only take one direction.
To recap, we have checked out Key's time spent in Georgetown and Frederick, his War of 1812 role at Bladensburg, the stars and stripes at the National Museum for American History, and his trips to the Old Presbyterian House in Alexandria. That leaves his birthplace at Terra Rubra, his two homes in DC, and Baltimore and Fort McHenry.
Today we will look at Key’s other visits to Alexandria, where he helped the Episcopal Church launch a theological seminary.
Four years after he wrote the Star-Spangled Banner, and while he was still living in Georgetown, Francis Scott Key turned to helping the Episcopalian Church. They were looking for men to spread the gospel.
Citing its access to a library and excellent lodging and boarding, leaders of the Church chose Alexandria as the place for a new seminary around 1818. William Holland Wilmer of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (corner of S. Pitt and Duke) played a large role in the founding of this Seminary, first called the “Society for the education of pious young men,” and later the Episcopal Theological Seminary. Key was selected to help manage the implementation of the school.
According to a church history, (p 86), Wilmer, Key, Bushrod Washington and others attended meetings at the church. I paid a visit and was shown a small room where some in the church believe the meetings took place.
The school had humble beginnings with just two instructors and 14 students. They met at a building at the southeast corner of S. Washington and King Street (now retail stores). Among its founders were Bishop William Meade, Edmund Jennings Lee (uncle of Robert E. Lee) and Key.
Four years later the school moved to a much bigger spread beyond the western outskirts of the city. A trip to the school today reveals a winding road approach into a large campus. In the seminary’s Welcome Center, a pamphlet on the Francis Scott Key Society can be found as part of their literature. It notes that “Key, a devout Christian, set aside one-tenth of all he earned throughout his life for charities, including the Seminary.”
Key is also remembered at Key Hall, which stands beside the most imposing structure on the campus, Aspinwall Hall, whose cupola and spire have some of the best views of Alexandria.
Additionally, the Commonwealth of Virginia erected a roadside marker on King Street across from the shopping center just north of the intersection of King, Quaker and Braddock Road. I seldom take that part of King, and never noticed the marker.
Key would be proud of the growth of the Seminary, and the work of the “Francis Scott Key Society.” At their website they note:
“In order to ensure the Seminary's lasting good health, Francis Scott Key set aside one-tenth of all he earned throughout his life for charities, including the Seminary. Upon his death in 1843, the money was disbursed according to his wishes. By including Virginia Seminary in their wills or trusts or by making life income gifts to the Seminary, the members of the Society that bears his name have emulated Francis Scott Key by planning for the Seminary's financial future.”
It’s said that Key tithed one-tenth of his earnings for charities. We may never be able to verify that, but almost everything he did in his life points to this being true. As a good Christian, he certainly gave his time and talents to the betterment of humankind.