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John Ross Key (1754 - 1821)

John Ross Key
Born in Redland, Frederick County, Province of Marylandmap
Ancestors ancestors
Husband of — married 19 Oct 1775 in Frederick, Marylandmap
Descendants descendants
Died at age 67 in Frederick, Frederick, Maryland, United Statesmap
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Profile last modified | Created 15 Nov 2008
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Notables Project
John Key is Notable.

1754 Birth and Parents

The Wikipedia article states that John Ross Key was born on 19 Sep 1754 at Redland, Frederick County, Maryland, son of Francis and Ann Arnold (Ross) Key [1][2]

John Ross Key was born 19 Sep 1754 in Redland, Montgomery County, Maryland, USA. He was the son of Francis Key (1731–1770) and Anne Arnold Ross Key (1727–1811).[3]

Key was born at Redland, Frederick County, Maryland to English parents. His father was, Francis Key, whose parents had come to Maryland in 1726. and his wife Ann Arnold Ross, who was a strong influence on her grandson Francis when he lived with her near Annapolis when he was in school there. [3]

Maryland Archivist Edward C. Papenfuse's article, however, gives his place of birth as Annapolis, Anne Arundel County Maryland on the same date. [4]

Papenfuse adds that his father was Francis Key, born about 1731-32 and died 770). Francis Key was the clerk of Cecil County from 1756 to 1770 and a member of the St. Mary Ann Parish Vestry, Cecil County, from 1759 to 1762 and 1767 to 1777. Francis was in turn the son of Philip Key (1696-97-1765) John's mother was Ann Arnold (1727-1811) daughter of John Ross (?-1766) Esq. of Annapolis, and his wife Alicia Arnold. [4]


John had uncles Edmund Key, d. 1766 and Thomas Key, d. 1772. [4] He had an aunt Susannah Gardiner Key (1752-1811) who married Normand Bruce, d. 1811.[4]

John had a brother Philip Barton Key (1757-1815). Barton was a loyalist who was educated in England and entered the British Army after the Declaration of Independence. Philip obtained the rank of captain and served in Jamaica and in Florida, where he was taken prisoner. After his release on parole, Philip Key went to England, but he returned to Maryland in 1785 and commenced the practice of law. Philip served as a delegate from Annapolis to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1794, and several succeeding years. [4]

His brother Philip Barton Key, also an attorney arranged for his nephew Francis to study law under his friend, Judge Jeremiah Townley Chase in 1800 and with whom he would later be a partner in Georgetown. [3]


  1. Philip Barton Key (1757–1815)[3]
  2. Elizabeth Scott Key Maynadier (1759–1832)[3]

1770 Inheritance

Upon the death of their father the will which had been made could not be found and consequently the property under the old promogeniture laws, existing at that date, descended to the eldest son, John Ross Key, who with generosity not usual in our day waived his legal rights and shared the property with his brother. [5]

Terra Rubra Estate

"Francis Key wanted to establish an estate at "Terra Rubra" for his son, John Ross Key, to operate and inherit. The mansion house was built and the farm was set up on a large scale, as was common at that time, with various outbuildings to provide for the self-sufficiency of the estate and slaves for the manual labor. After serving in the Revolutionary War, John Ross Key returned to "Terra Rubra" to pursue the life of a gentleman-farmer. His son, Francis Scott Key, was born at "Terra Rubra" on August 1, 1779."[6]


John Key was a lawyer. [3]

He was also a Justice of the Peace, a Judge and Associate Justice of his Judicial District, which comprised Allegany, Washington and Frederick Counties. [3]

Francis took the practice over entirely when his uncle ran for congress. [3]

1775 Marriage

He married Ann Phoebe Penn Dagworthy Charlton (1756-1830) at the city of Frederick on October 19, 1775. [3]

Key was married to Ann Phoebe Charlton on 19 Oct 1775 Frederick, Maryland by Rev Bartholomew Booth, an Anglican clergyman who had no official authority to perform marriages. [7]


John resided: in Taney Town and Piney Creek hundreds, Frederick County.

1775 American Revolution Military Service

John Ross Key was a commissioned officer of the Continental Army, [3]

He was mustered into service at Frederick on June 21st, 1775. He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant of Captain Thomas Price's Maryland Rifle Company. They were one of the first military forces that came to aid General Washington in Boston, July-August, 1775. [3]

By 1781 he was a Captain and commanded a Frederick County Company of Cavalry during the Yorktown Campaign and he was honorably discharged as a General. [3]

"John Ross key wa an active patriot in the American revolution, raising a company by his personal efforts, which he commanded as captain. Whether he advanced to the grade of general, which title was accorded him for many years, the writer has not been able to ascertain." [5]

1790 Census

In 1790 John Ross Key, Esquire, was at home in Frederick County, Maryland. [8] His household was comprised of:

Free White Males 16 and over: 3
Free White Females: 4
Slaves: 26

1800 Census

In 1800 John Ross Key, was at home in Taney, Frederick County, Maryland. The Census report showed that in addition to slaves, his household also include 2 non-white "Other Free Persons." [9] His household was comprised of:

Free White Persons - Males - 26 thru 44: 1
Free White Persons - Males - 45 and over: 1
Free White Persons - Females - 16 thru 25: 1
Free White Persons - Females - 26 thru 44: 1
Number of All Other Free Persons: 2
Number of Slaves: 18

Slave Holder

John Ross Key was a slaveholder. One of his slaves was named Jared, born as a slave to John Ross Key. Jared was the father of Henry Franklin. Henry in turn is described as ""the venerable colored janitor of the Academy of Fine Arts." ...Franklin's slave name was Bill Budd. ...Franklin serves as Treasurer of the Colored Baptist Church in Philadelphia." Henry Franklin was active on behalf of fugitive slaves. [10]

Blacksmith Apprentices

1810 Slavery and People of Color

On 31 July 1810, Anne made a sworn statement concerning Robert (Toogood) Patterson. [11]

Anne Phoebe Taney [ ] oath -- that she has known Robert Togood or Robert Patterson as he calls himself about fourteen or fifteen years ago. -- He was apprentice to her Father John Ross Key in Frederick County about five miles from Taney Town to the Blacksmiths business -- Her said father there kept in smiths shop on his farm -- The said Robert continued with this Deponents Father until his time was out which this Deponent believes was for about four or five years This deponent always understood in the family that the said Robert was Freeborn -- that he was one of the Toogood family adjudged to be free -- being the son of Selby Toogood whom this Deponent has frequently seen -- & understood to have obtained his freedom by petition to some court of this State -- The said Robert is about thirty years of age, a dark mulatto, about five feet ten inches high stout made stoops in the shoulders and has now a defect in his left eye but how long he has had it this Deponent does not know, and as for the last nine or ten years this Deponent has not seen Robert very often -- Sworn before Thomas B. Jones State of Maryland Fred Coty to wit I WR Clk. FCC. do hereby certify that Robert Toogood or Robert Patterson about 30 years of age a dark mulatto about 5 feet 10 inches high stout made stoops in the shoulders has a defect in the left eye Hath been proved to my satisfaction to have been free born That he has been an apprentice to Mr John Ross Key of the said County to learn the blacksmith trade and that his term of servitude is expired And I further certify that the said R Toogood or R Patterson is the same person who now applies for this Certificate and being free ought to be permitted to pass and repass he behaving himself well. Given under my hand and the seal of Frederick County Court the 31. day of July 1810. William Ritchie Clerk Robt. Toogood Afft & Cert

1820 Census

In 1820 John Ross Key was at home in Taney, Frederick County, Maryland. [12] His household was comprised of:

Free White Persons - Males - 10 thru 15: 1
Free White Persons - Males - 16 thru 18: 1
Free White Persons - Males - 16 thru 25: 1
Free White Persons - Males - 45 and over: 1
Free White Persons - Females - 16 thru 25: 1
Free White Persons - Females - 45 and over: 1
Slaves - Males - Under 14: 2
Slaves - Males - 14 thru 25: 2
Slaves - Males - 26 thru 44: 2
Slaves - Males - 45 and over: 2
Slaves - Females - Under 14: 2
Slaves - Females - 14 thru 25: 2
Slaves - Females - 26 thru 44: 2
Total Free White Persons: 5
Total Slaves: 14
Total All Persons - White, Slaves, Colored, Other: 19

1821 Death

He died 11 Oct 1821 (aged 67) in Frederick, Frederick County, Maryland, USA and is buried at the Mount Olivet Cemetery, Frederick, Frederick County, Maryland, USA in Area G, Lot 47, Grave 5A [3]


Six children were born to the couple, but only three reached maturity. Francis Scott Key, his sister Anne Arnold Phoebe Charlton Key who would marry Roger Brooke Taney and John Alfred Key who died at Edgefield, South Carolina. [3]

  1. a daughter died an infant
  2. Francis Scott Key b Aug 1779 Francis Scott Key (1779–1843)[3]
  3. Catherine b 15 Dec 1781 died July 1782
  4. Ann Phoebe Charlton Key (1783-1855) born 13 June 1783 married Roger Brooke Taney [p 65]
  5. John Alfred Key died at Edgefield, South Carolina


  1. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  2. In 1776 Frederick county was subdivided into smaller counties, Redland is now in Montgomery county.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 Find A Grave: Memorial #2446 Memorial for John Ross Key. Accessed 11 January 2023 jhd
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Edward C. Papenfuse. A Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature, 1635-1789. (Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, 1979) Maryland Archives Online, pdf Biography of John Ross Key (1754-1821) Accessed 9 November 2022 jhd
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Tales the Tombstones Tell: Interesting Reminiscences of an Old Maryland Family." Democratic Advocate, Westminster, MD, Jan 30, 1886
  6. Maryland Historical Trust. Terra Rubra Accessed 11 January 2023 jhd
  7. "The Lost World of Francis Scott Key" by Sina Dubovoy publ 2014 p 43
  8. 1790 United States Census. (Paid Site). Entry for John Ross Key Accessed 11 January 2023 jhd
  9. 1800 United States Census. (Paid site). Entry for John Ross Key Accessed 11 January 2023 jhd
  10. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Unknown A sketch of Henry Franklin and family Accessed 11 January 2023 jhd
  11. The Papers of Roger B. Taney. Sworn Statement of Anne Atney concerning the Status of Robert Toogood Patterson Accessed 9 November 2022 jhd
  12. 1820 United States Census. (Paid site). Entry for John Ross Key Accessed 11 January 2023 jhd

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Wikipedia shows another generation between parents. They suggest these parents are actually his grandparents. Click the Show button beneath the box labeled “Ancestors of Francis Scott Key” to show the pedigree.

Rejected matches › John Samuel Key (1857-1951)

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