Col. Marshall Key

(b. September 8, 1788, Fauquier Co., Va.; d. November 16, 1860,
Louisville, Ky). Marshall Key, a county clerk and a friend of Harriet Beecher Stowe, was the youngest son of James and Judith Keith and the nephew of U.S. Supreme Court chief justice John Marshall.

Key relocated to Washington in Mason Co. with his father before 1815 and in 1815 purchased a brick Georgian townhouse, with an elegant curved
staircase, that had been erected by Francis Taylor in 1807. On April 18, 1816, Key married Harriet Sellman, daughter of Dr. John and Elizabeth Farrar Sellman of Cincinnati. The couple had six children before Harriet died on July 14, 1832. Key owned a tavern in Washington and was elected Mason Co. clerk. Among his employees were his oldest son, John James Key, and Edward Allen Hannegan of Hamilton Co., Ohio. Both men became lawyers. Marshall Key sponsored young Hannegan’s education at the law school at Transylvania University in Lexington and helped him establish a law practice in Indiana. Hannegan later became a U.S. congressman and a U.S. senator. After his wife’s death, Marshall Key sent his daughter Elizabeth to the Western Female Institute in Cincinnati founded by Catharine Beecher of Hartford, Conn.

During the summer of 1833, Colonel Key, as he was called, invited two teachers from his daughter’s school, Mary Dutton and Harriet Beecher, to be house guests at the Key home in Washington for a few days. As entertainment, he escorted the young women to witness a slave auction at the Mason Co. Courthouse. According to tradition, it was this experience that inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe to write the controversial best-selling novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin nearly 20 years later. On June 29, 1857, Key married widow Helen Bullitt Martin and moved to Louisville. He died there in 1860 and was buried at the Bullitt Family Cemetery, near the Oxmoor section of Louisville.

The Marshall Key home in Washington is now the Harriet Beecher Stowe Slavery to Freedom Museum.

Bullitt Family Cemetery Records, Louisville, Ky.
Calvert, Jean, and John Klee. Maysville, Kentucky:
From Past to Present in Pictures. Maysville, Ky. Mason Co. Museum, 1983.
The Towns of Mason County: Their Past in Pictures. Maysville, Ky: Maysville and Mason Co. Library Historical and Scientific Association, ca. 1986.
Mike McCormick