Gave proof through the night… USS Francis Scott Key SSBN 657

I have some vague memories from an earlier age about the man who was credited with writing the National Anthem. I have even been to a number of the locations where he lived and where he wrote the famous verses that would someday become one of the most memorable songs of the country’s history. So it was interesting to read a more complex history of his life.

In the day and age we live with, I believe there would have been massive protests about the use of his name. His views on slavery were complicated but very much in line with the times in which he lived. A slave owner at one point in his life, he later went on to free those slaves and advocate against slavery while at the same time warning the country against the abolitionists. As I said, he was complicated.

On the other hand, he loved the young country that was his home. The words he wrote that night while waiting to see if the British had been successful in defeating the Americans in Fort McHenry live on today and still inspire most Americans. At the time of the naming of the 41 for Freedom boats, his name would naturally have come to the front of any selection. For some of us, it will always be an honored name and a song for our nation. Time will tell if it remains so.


Built at General Dynamics Corp., Electric Boat Div., Groton, Conn.

Contract 7/29/63, Keel laid 12/5/64, Launched 4/23/66

Commissioned 12/3/66

Capt. Frank W. Graham commanding Blue Crew

Comdr. Joseph B. Logan commanding Gold Crew

The man who wrote the National Anthem.

War of 1812

By the early 1810s, the United States had entered into conflict with Britain over the kidnapping of U.S. seamen and the disruption of trade with France. The ensuing hostilities would come to be known as the War of 1812. Though opposed to the war due to his religious beliefs and believing that the disagreement could be settled without armed conflict, Key nonetheless served in the Georgetown Light Field Artillery.

British forces captured Washington, D.C., in 1814. Taken prisoner was a Dr. William Beanes, who also happened to be a colleague of Key. Due to his work as an attorney, Key was asked to help in the negotiation of Beanes’ release and in the process traveled to Baltimore, where British naval forces were located along Chesapeake Bay. He, along with Colonel John Skinner, was able to secure Beanes’ freedom, though they were not allowed to return to land until the British completed their bombardment of Fort McHenry.

Crafting ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’

On September 13, the three at sea watched what would become a day-long assault. After continual bombing, to Key’s surprise, the British weren’t able to destroy the fort, and Key noted upon the dawning of the next morning a large U.S. flag being flown. (It had in fact been sewn by Mary Young Pickersgill at the request of the fort commander.)

The British ceased their attack and left the area. Key immediately wrote down the words for a poem that he would continue composing at an inn the next day. The work, which relied heavily on visualizations of what he witnessed, would come to be known as the “Defence of Fort M’Henry” and was printed in handbills and newspapers, including the Baltimore Patriot. The poem was later set to the tune of a drinking song by John Stafford Smith, “To Anacreon in Heaven,” and came to be called “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

From Admiral Rickover’s book Eminent Americans:

NAMED FOR the author of our national anthem. An only son, Francis Scott Key (1779-1843) was born at Terra Rubra in what was then Frederick County, Md. This plantation had been owned since 1750 by the Keys, a wealthy family of cavalier ancestry. Great-grandfather Philip Key, who had been a well- to-do lawyer in England, came to this country in 1726, having obtained from Lord Baltimore the grant of a large tract of land (about 3,000 acres), beautifully situated along the Wicomico.

Succeeding generations followed his example of successfully combining management of a large plantation with public service and the practice of law.

His grandson, John Ross Key, father of Francis, served as justice of the peace and associate district judge. Twenty-one when the Revolutionary War began, he enlisted at once. In answer to a call for expert riflemen to join the Army at Boston, he led a detachment of frontier fighters from Frederick to Boston in record time—520 miles in 22 days. These were the first soldiers from the South to reach New England, the first of the famous “Maryland line.” With their mountain rifles, tomahawks, leather hunting shirts and moccasins, Boston found them a strange but reassuring sight.

Taking occasional leave to look after his plantation, John Ross stayed in the Army until victory was won. He fought with Lafayette at the siege of Yorktown and was a friend of George Washington who visited Terra Rubra when Francis Scott was a boy of 12. Years later, when he was a successful lawyer,

Francis never accepted a fee from the old soldiers who had fought with his father. They were his childhood heroes. In the family tradition which he himself continued with his own 11 children, Francis Scott Key was tutored by his parents.


(About the national anthem) The song’s popularity, I think, is due entirely to Key’s words. He wrote a hymn to the American flag. He caught the mystique the flag has for us, who are a Nation not by consanguinity, not by a long common history but by devotion to an abstract concept, the concept of what the ideal society should be, the concept of liberty under law. Denis W. Brogan, an Englishman who understands us uncommonly well, once tried to explain to his countrymen what the flag means to Americans. It is more, he said, “than a mere symbol among many others. It is the regimental color of a regiment in which all Americans are enrolled.”

The 13 stripes remind us of our small beginnings, the 50 stars of how large we have grown. It was the sight of the flag still flying after an anxious night watch that inspired Key to surpass himself and, in a sense, to become the poet laureate of the American people.


Class and type: Benjamin Franklin-class fleet ballistic missile submarine

Displacement: 7,300 long tons (7,417 t) surfaced

8,250 long tons (8,382 t) submerged

Length: 425 ft (130 m)

Beam: 33 ft (10 m)

Draft: 31 ft (9.4 m)

Installed power: 15,000 shp (11,185 kW)

Propulsion: One S5W pressurized-water nuclear reactor, two geared steam turbines, one shaft

Speed: Over 20 knots

Test depth: 1,300 feet (400 m)

Complement: Two crews (Blue Crew and Gold Crew) of 120 men each

Armament: 16 × ballistic missile tubes

4 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes (all forward)

The USS Francis Scott Key crew has an amazing amount of material about the boat on their web site

As I have been writing the stories about the 41 for Freedom, I have tried to capture as much as I can about the namesake and the boat.

But after visiting their web site, I can assure you there is enough written to keep any seeker busy for hours at a time including pictures, stories by shipmates and the real history.

With that, I will give my standard salute to these Cold Warriors: Thanks for keeping the country safe.

Mister Mac

A montage of seven views showing parts of the launching of a Trident I C-4 missile from the submerged nuclear-powered strategic missile submarine Francis Scott Key (SSBN-657) and the Trident's re-entry bodies as they plunge into the earth's atmosphere and then into the Atlantic Ocean.
A montage of seven views showing parts of the launching of a Trident I C-4 missile from the submerged nuclear-powered strategic missile submarine Francis Scott Key (SSBN-657) and the Trident’s re-entry bodies as they plunge into the earth’s atmosphere and then into the Atlantic Ocean.

4 thoughts on “Gave proof through the night… USS Francis Scott Key SSBN 657

    1. You are welcome. As I have been writing the series, I have learned so much that I am sure was never taught in school. Plus, we have the advantage now of browsing through the national archives and sources in ways I could have never imagined even a few years ago. Its as if a giant door that had been sealed shut was suddenly opened. My goal is to have all Forty One for Freedom Boats cataloged by December of this year. I am almost half way through so that seems realistic. Also got a nice boost to finish the book I have been working on. I will be reaching out to you soon for some advice on next steps

  1. Mr. MAC! I was the Key when the first Trident Missles were fired. I am so thankful for being able to serve alongside the most talented and great people I have ever met. I was om the Key (gold) from 1976 to 1980. I love that picture of the test shots. THANK YOU !

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