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Francis Scott Key


As a member of the American Colonization Society's board of managers, lawyer and poet Francis Scott Key had the opportunity to hear firsthand about the horrors of the slave trade from Abdul Rahman. In a special and unusually well-attended meeting of the board, Abdul Rahman, Key and other ACS members discussed the possibility of purchasing the freedom of the prince's children still enslaved on Foster's plantation. This the Society was unable to do, though it did help pay for Abdul Rahman's fundraising travels through the North and his eventual return to Africa.

Francis Scott Key

Famous for writing "The Star Spangled Banner," Francis Scott Key was only an amateur poet and was better known at the time as a high-profile lawyer, taking on some of the larger cases of the early nineteenth century -- he successfully defended Sam Houston after the "Father of Texas" got in a fistfight with a congressman, and he was chosen to prosecute Richard Lawrence, who had tried to assassinate President Andrew Jackson in 1832.

Key's immortal ode to the United States flag was inspired as he watched the British bombard a fort in Baltimore Harbor. The poem, "The Defense of Fort McHenry," was eventually combined with an old English drinking song, and it became the U.S. national anthem in 1916. Although Key's phrase "land of the free" would not encompass all U.S. citizens for many years, Key's small part in Abdul Rahman's fight for the freedom of his children was a step in that direction. Though he never considered himself a songwriter, Key was elected to the Songwriters' Hall of Fame in 1970.

Audio File: The Star-Spangled Banner can not be played.

Samuel Southard

The portly secretary of the Navy, Samuel L. Southard, whom Abdul Rahman met during his Washington visit, seemed fated to become part of the prince's story. Though their meeting was brief, Southard would play a major role in Abdul Rahman's journey away from slavery. As secretary of the Navy, Southard had extensive ties in Africa and with the American Colonization Society. These were vital connections as Southard organized Abdul Rahman's ocean voyage to Liberia, from which he was to travel overland to his home.

Samuel Southard

Southard was a career politician, serving as a senator, governor of New Jersey, and acting vice president under John Tyler, but his lasting legacy is as one of the most important leaders in early American maritime history. He vitalized the young Navy, building the first naval dry docks and hospitals, improving administration, and promoting U.S. exploration as far as the Pacific Ocean -- this in a time before the Panama Canal. The destroyer USS Southard, which fought its way through the worst sea battles in World War II, carried his name and legacy as a naval leader into the next century. But Southard should also be remembered as the man who helped reverse the cruel Middle Passage, which took Prince Abdul Rahman away from his own destiny as a leader in Africa.

USS Southard