We would like the relatives of Major William F. Bradford, William H. Wisener, William Young, and Bill Key to share with us information. At the end of this page there will be a form that allows you to do this.
William was born April 22, 1812 and died in death December 24, 1882.
William Young and William Wisener had the courage to speak up in defense of Shelbyville being called "Little Boston," the city that remained loyal to the Union.
February 20, 1864. Andrew Johnson Papers Vol 6.
At least 75 Key’s immigrated from England to the Americas. John Key in Main.Robert and Solomon Key in Massachusetts. John and Moses Key in Pennsylvania.William, Peter, and Phillip Key in Maryland. Daniel, Thomas, Adam, William, Martin, and Robert Key in Virginia. John, William, and Thomas Key in Barbados.
Martin Key married Elizabeth Ford Key.
John Key, the son Martin and Elizabeth Key, is born in 1691 or 96 and dies in death in 1764 or 65 in Albemarle County, Virginia, presently Fluvanna County. John Key married Martha Tandy, daughter of Henry Tandy II and Priscilla Watson Tandy II in Virginia. Together they had 5 children. John is described as 6 feet and 6 inches tall, thin, with a reddish complexion.
Martin Key, the son of John and Martha Key, is born in 1715 and dies in death April 14, 1791. Martin inherits his father’s home and estate. By repeated purchases Martin becomes one of Virginia’s largest landowners.
Martin Key in inherits “Key West” on Southwest Mountain and “Mansion House Plantation. He builds north of Red Bud Creek a Gentleman’s Lodge, known today as “Windy Knowe.” Originally it was one large room for feasting and dancing, with beds upstairs. Once a year the lodge was used for several days to entertain his friends from different counties. They would hunt, feast and dance. It is located about one half mile north of John Key’s house, “Key West,” now called “Franklin” just off State Hwy 20, also known as Elk Drive. Elk Drive was once “Old Stoney Point Road.” “Windy Knowe” was adjacent to Montecello, Thomas Jefferson’s Home in Charlottesville, Virginia. In 1782 Martin is listed as having 60 slaves. Martin Key marries Nancy Ann Bibb (1725-1815) and has 12 children.
John Key, the son of Martin and Nancy Key is born in 1751. John is an Attorney and serves as the Private Secretary and Steward of Thomas Jefferson. He keeps Jefferson’s plantation accounts and supervises the overseers of Monticello and Shadwell. John Key marries Nancy (Nannie) Ford, the daughter of Captain Thomas Ford and his wife, Keturah Winn. John and Nannie Key have 5 children:
Captain John Key (1777).
Richard Winn Key.
Mary Bibbs “Polly” Key (1780).
Strother Key (1787-1842).
Jesse Bibbs Key (1792).
Strother Key, the son of John and Nannie Key, marries Margret Cathey Graham in 1811. During the War of 1812, Strother witnesses something that makes him mentally sick. He is unable to work, and becomes a womanizer who gambles and drinks his money away. His outlandish conduct and outbursts is a danger to himself and others. To protect her estate his wife is granted a divorce, with her stipulation that she will provide for her husband, and not remarry.
John Wynn Key, the son of Strother and Margret Key, is the nephew of Captain John Key. John Wynn Key is born November 19, 1812, and Alexander Key is born in 1814. John Wynn Key marries Martha Ann Minter in March of 1840 at Gallatin, Summer County, Tennessee.
Merit P. Key, the firstborn son of John and Margret Key is born on January 11, 1841. Their second son, Alexander Wellington Key, is born on May 10, 1842.
Bill Key, a slave of Captain John Key is born a slave in 1833. Five years later, in 1838, Captain John Key dies unmarried and without heirs. In his will he transfers ownership of Bill, his mother Caroline, his six-year-old sister Nancy, and his Uncle Jack, the brother of Caroline, to John Wynn Key, Shelbyville, Tennessee. Caroline is a cook and medicine woman of mixed Cherokee and African descent. It is from his mother that Bill Key learns to cook, find, and distill roots and herbs for medicine for the animals, and for members of the family. From his Uncle Jack, a blacksmith and tanner, he learns how to shoe and care for horses. Bill Key is a calm, quiet, peaceful, boy. Bill, nor his mother, Uncle or sister, tells anyone the name of Bill's father. Yet, as Bill grew, his appearance made it clear which Key, was his father.
Before Bill’s entrance into the home of John Wynn Key, problems with John’s father, Strother Key, had been getting worse. Bill’s presence in the household had a calming, sobering influence on Strother. The change was amazing, and instantly Bill endeared himself to Strother’s wife, and their son John and his wife Martha. There was also a change with the animals. When Bill entered the barnyard, the animals, small and big, gathered to him sensing that he was their friend.
Richard Houston Dudley, when served as Mayor of Nashville from 1897-1900, was born in 1836. Richard Dudley lived about 4 miles from John W. Key’s tanyard. He was 2-years-old, when Bill Key arrived in Shelbyville. (Richard becomes a playmate and life-long friend of Bill Key.) Richard vividly recalls Bill’s yellow dog and rooster, and the tricks Bill trained them to do. Within the first year of Bill’s arrival, word quickly spread among the slaves that Bill was bewitching the animals, and could speak their language. It was no magic. It was the gentle, kind, and soft voice, from a heart that truly loved the animals, that calmed the wild colts, and balking, kicking mules. The talk, coming from superstitious and jealous hearts, would bring enemies who had a thirst for Bill’s blood.
John W. Key was an educated man that wanted to be a Scholar. As a daughter of a wealthy Nashville family, his wife, Martha Ann Minter, was also educated. Together, they began tutoring Bill in every academic subject that time allowed. John taught Bill reading, writing, mathematics, and science, while Martha gave lessons in skills of a gentleman, etiquette, and clear expressive speech, with proper pronunciation and articulation. Tennessee had laws that prevented anyone from educating a slave. The penalty could be hanging. Though aware of these laws, they didn’t prevent John and Martha from doing what they thought was right.
A slave driver who worked as an overseer of a large plantation, known for his cruel and unusual torment of slaves, complained to John Key about Bill’s insolence and demanded that the boy be whipped. When John refused, the overseer began taunting Bill. I will teach you your place. Frightened, Bill, when traveling in a wagon with John, told John of the threats. John promised that he would never sell him to the overseer’s boss. Not long after, the overseer and his boss came to John’s tanyard with money. They knew John had debts, and offered to pay them if John would give them Bill. After a stammer or too, John gave a firm, No! Seething with anger, the overseer swore at Bill and then in a hoarse whisper, said: “Boy, one day I’m gonna get you and lick the blood out of you!”
In 1842, Strother Key suddenly died. Bill had been with the Key’s family for 4 years. He was now 9-years-old. Merit was more than a year-old and Alexander was a baby. In addition to the added expense of the young children, Martha’s brother, Jeptha Minter, was demanding money for the loans he had given them. To pay off the debt, Margret, Strother’s wife, insisted that the slaves be sold or leased out. For the next 10 years, Bill, his mother Caroline, his sister Nancy, and his Uncle Jack were turned over to Jeptha Minter. Jeptha, to get his money, leased them out to different plantations and businesses. During the ten-years away, Bill earned the reputation of being a Doctor for animals and humans.
At the time, the choice was between a Doctor that practiced blood-letting and a druggist who prescribed portions that regularly ended more lives than they saved, and a self-taught physician whose native treatment with herbs cured smallpox and performed caesarean sections. At no charge, Bill freely pulled slaves teeth, set their bones, and delivered their babies. The stories of his kind generosity and healing abilities spread across the State.
The ten-years away proved to be a blessing. For being leased out gave Bill the freedom to help smuggle slaves, north through the underground railway. It is amazing to think, that under the nose of his enemies, he could get away with what he did. No doubt, contributing to his success, was his polite, clear, and articulate voice, and calm gentle nature.
August 27, 1852.
Nineteen-year-old Bill Key is standing on the steps of the Bedford County Court House. Here, Bill has an emotional reunion with John and Martha Key.
The Southern Railway between Nashville and Chattanooga goes through the center of town. Its new depot is bursting at the seams, with people coming and going.
Jeptha, Martha’s brother, purchased property next to the Key’s. Another pleasant surprise was that Margret felt remorse at letting Bill go. Immediately, she set things in motion that results in Bill being back in their home. Eleven-year-old Merit and 9-year-old Alexander are delighted. They eagerly and willingly tutor Bill so that he can make up for the lost time.
For the first time, Bill is allowed to keep some of the money he earns. That being the case, how did Bill have money to save, when he was not allowed to keep what he earned. It was his skill with the cards that gave him his money. Being home allows Bill to develop a close personal friendship with Attorney William H. Wisener.
Bill had the opportunity to escape, what stopped him was his love for his mother, sister, Uncle, and the Key’s. He knew that though John Key was a tender-hearted scholarly man, he was not able to make good business decisions. He needed help. Then, there were the boys, that he loved.
April 12, 1861. South Carolina started the Civil War by firing on Fort Sumter. At the time, Merit was 20 and Alexander about 19. Like their farther, they were scholarly boys that lived a sheltered life, in a peaceful loving atmosphere that promoted loyalty to the Union and freedom for the slaves.
In June, during a speech at the Court Yard, Merit and Alexander were forced along by men that were joining a State Militia. When the news reached their parents, they concluded that the boys had been kidnapped. As soon as Bill hears the news, he saddles his horse and rides out in pursuit. His destination is Camp Trousdale, close to the Kentucky border north of Nashville. (Camp Trousdale is a site where one is trained for war.) The day before Bill arrives, Merit and Alexander, and the men with them, were surprised to discover they had been tricked. They were told they would be protecting the State, yet, after arriving, their commander turned their Militia over to the Confederacy. Before anyone could object, they were mustered in as Company F. of the 18th Tennessee Regiment of the Confederate Infantry. When Bill arrived, he found the boys hungry, worn out, and somewhat bewildered as to how they had been recruited. Bill remained with them, as their slave.
From Camp Trousdale, they are ordered to Greenville, Kentucky, then southwest to Fort Donelson. Bill describes the area as more of a stockade, than a fortress. Fifteen acres on a 100-foot bluff above the west bank of the Cumberland River, stood 12 heavy guns. Below, stretching for 3 miles along the river were trenches. Here the infantry would conceal themselves. Bill saw two glaring problems. First, the disagreements among Generals Floyd, Pillow, and Buckner. Second, there was no plan for defending against an attack by land. If attacked by land, the men would be pinned against the river with nowhere to go.
As a noncombatant, Bill looked for a place outside the fortifications where he could build a shelter. He also looked for possible routes of escape. He found a spot along the base of a small hill, dug into the soil, and braced it with logs. From here he made sure the boys where well feed. He also attended to the sick. When the attack began, Bill located the boys and kept them near. The weather was cold, with freezing sleet, bitter wind and heavy snow. As Bill feared, the attack was from the gunboats on the river and overland from the rear. Trapped and pinned against the river, there was no escape.
Lieutenant-Colonel Forrest, refusing to surrender, escaped by crossing Lick Creek, and heading south out of Dover. Others followed, including Bill, with Merit and Alexander. When they caught up with Forrest, Bill told him that Merit and Alexander were at College level in book learning, and had served in communications, protecting important papers and sending dispatches. Discovering this was true, he made Alexander an officer, and assigned both Alexander and Merit as scouts and guides. As for Bill, he served as the caretaker of Forrest’s own horse, and as an unofficial guide along with Alexander and Merit.
From Fort Donelson, they head to Nashville, for supplies. Forrest, before entering the war, was addicted to gambling, and he hadn’t changed. This proved to be good news to Bill for eventually, Forrest became indebted to Bill. In exchange for the debt, Forrest granted Bill a pass to go home. (Convinced that Merit and Alexander were okay, Bill wanted to return to see his family, and to let the Key’s know that their sons were safe.)
Two months had passed with no word from Merit and Alexander. Bill made inquiries. When news returned that they were with Forrest heading to Pittsburgh Landing near Shiloh in southwest Tennessee, Bill rode at top speed, not sure what he would find. (Shiloh means “a place of peace.”) Surrounded by peach trees, with their sweet buds, it did appear to be a place of peace. But, quickly, on April 6 and 7, 1862, that would change. The Rebels were retreating toward Corinth, Mississippi. Bill found Merit and Alexander in a clearing called Fallen Timbers. The 4th Illinois Cavalry were in hot pursuit. Merit was guarding papers, while Alexander, on foot, follows Forrest in his mad dash into the approaching line. Alone, and trapped, Forrest rears his horse and turns, while slashing with his sword. A bullet rips into his hip and lodges in his lower spin. Forrest returns to camp, and eventually, Alexander.
While Bill and the Key boys were with Forrest, Confederate troops under the command of General Hardee entered Shelbyville forging for food. John Key’s tanyard had been heavily looted and some 30,000 head of hogs and many bee hives had been taken. Goods from the stores were paid with worthless Confederate script, leaving owners feeling that they had been robbed. At the approach of the Federal Army, being led by the 4th Ohio Cavalry, Hardee fled.
It was reported that as the Union Army approached, Mrs. Graham, (the matriarch of the Key family, and wife of Strother Key,) climbed up on a pedestal and, with her own bare hands, tore the flag of the Confederacy down from the post in the town square, raving that her husband had fought for the Stars and Stripes and had given his life to his country. She was described as an energetic elderly woman of 80-years. Shortly after this event, she died.
To crush and to punish, the Union sympathizers, John Morgan Hunt made a raid on Shelbyville. He robbed their bank, burnt their homes and farms, looted their stores, took their horses and abducted and assaulted their slaves.
December 31-January 2, 1863.
At Stones River, about 30 miles north of Shelbyville, the Confederates are caught in an artillery crossfire. This ends the war for Alexander and Merit Key. They return to Shelbyville to find their home in ruins. Bill's earnings gave him the money to pay off the debts, to send Merit and Alexander to College, and to care for John and Margret Key, and the rest of his extended family,
The legendary “Queen of Horses” is a light-gray mare that belonged to Sheik Ahmid in Persia. Her lineage was carefully kept on tablets of ivory that reached back to the Pharaoh’s. Her fame in Arabia led to her being worshipped, with prayers for her health and safety.
Unbeknown to the Sheik, Jack was paid by P. T. Barnum to search for new performers for his Circus. With a slick tongue, Jack gained the confidence of the Shiek. In his pride, the Sheik took Jack to the tent of his most prized horses. He even granted Jack his request to ride the “Queen.” Later, during a feast, Jack offered to purchase the horse. Insulted, Jack was ordered out of the Sheik’s presence.
During the late hours of the night, Jack creeps out of his tent. At the entrance of the tent where the horses were kept, sat two guards. Unseen, Jack makes his way to the back of the tent, takes his bowie knife, and slits the tent to as high as he can. Standing before him, with a cord tied to a post, is the “Queen.” He frees her, and leads her out. At a safe distance from the tent, he jumps on her back and rides as if he was an Indian. Her speed takes her to distances that were impossible to follow.
The next we hear of the “Queen of Horses” is during a European tour in the Circus of P. T. Barnum. Though a tremendous sensation, she was no longer treated like a Queen, but as a slave. Through carelessness and unkind treatment, she weakened. Barnum sold her to a smaller circus. Though able to do tricks, her health continued to worsen. They sold her to an even smaller circus. Bill Key found her at an auction in Mississippi and purchased her for $40 dollars. It took Bill nearly a year, using his own homebrew tonic, to help her regain her beauty.
Bill mated “The Queen” with Tennessee Volunteer, the son of Kentucky Volunteer. The birth of her colt weakened The Queen. Bill tired, but could not save her.
Her colt was born so sickly, that it would be weeks before he could stand, and when he did he wobbled on his legs. It reminded Bill of Jim, a man in town that wobbled on his legs and looked as if he was drunk. Thinking the comparison was appropriate, Bill named the colt "Jim Key." While nursing the colt to health he had to take him into his house. He even made a separate room for him. Later, when Jim was well, Bill had to provide in Jim's stall, a bed for himself. Jim had bonded, and would not rest until Bill was with him. With kindness, patience, and love, Bill taught Jim to do tricks.
On his property, Bill had made a blacksmith shop for his Uncle, designed a race course and built a restaurant. He also served as the communities Vet, and Doctor. With no real need for more money, he does something that he is convinced will help others.
The medicine that he brewed for "The Queen" and had used for the cure of "Jim" was registered with the Government, with Bill as the sole owner. Out of the sincere desire to help others, Bill takes Jim on tour.
People try to say it was magic, that Bill talked to Jim, and told him what to do. This is not what Bill states. What was accomplished was the result of being kind, patient, and loving. As proof, Jim heard what others said, strangers to him and members of the audience. What he heard, he understood, and acted accordingly. Like spelling out the name he heard.
Bill's entire life course was a peaceful one. He was in situations were he could kill and be killed, but instead of that happening he had the right words, and tender voice, that moved others to do what was peaceable. For example, there was one situation that would have resulted in Bill and Alexander being hanged. What saved them was something Bill knew the Officer in charge needed. What was that. Answer! Someone to cook him a good meal. Bill had the reputation of being the best cook in Tennessee, and Bill knew it. All Bill had to say, was that he wanted to cook the officer a meal. The officer investigated, to see if Bill could cook. When he was told Bill was the best cook in Tennessee, he released Bill and Alexander and let him cook.
Apparently, those that loved Bill knew that he was a man of peace. For this reason they engraved on the headpiece of his grave stone, the word "PEACE," the trainer of Jim Key.