Judge John W. Keys
This gentleman is the present Probate Judge of Warren County. He was born in Milford, Bucks County, Pa., on the 28th of August, 1814. His father was of Irish and Scotch extraction, and was born and raised in Philadelphia, and his mother was of German origin, and was a native of Salem County, N. J. In 1819 his father, a tanner and currier by trade, emigrated to Ohio, and located in Waynesville, arriving there in October. This was his residence until the time of his death, which occurred in 1830. This event left the family, comprising his wife and seven children, ~ five sons and two daughters ~ with no pecuniary resources whatever. The oldest child ~ the subject of this sketch ~ was then only fifteen years of age. But Mrs. Keys was a woman of rare executive ability, and proved herself amply equal to the situation and emergency in which most women would have failed. She rallied her children around her, and inspired them with the same self-reliance, courage, and hope that dwelt in her own breast, secured for them such positions of honorable employment as they were able to fill, thus early initiating them into the stern realities of life, and developing in their character the elements of a substantial manhood and womanhood. That this noble mother has lived to see all her children useful and respected members of society is a matter of special congratulation. She still resides in Waynesville, at the green old age of eighty-six, at which place are also located three of her sons, John W., Joseph G., and Isaac E. Keys, and her two surviving daughters, Mrs. Israel Brown and Sarah A. Keys. It is a fact quite noticeable that the descendants of this family are connected by intermarriage with a large number of the families of this community. That after the death of Mr. Keys there was no death in the family for a period of some thirty-four years, is also a circumstance of rare occurrence.
The second son, William Keys, served in the War of the Rebellion, and died at Chattanooga, Tenn., in January, 1864, leaving a wife and seven children. The third son, Thomas J. Keys , is a resident of California, and has been a member of both branches of the Legislature, besides filling other positions of importance and honor.**
The first sixteen years of the life of the subject of this sketch (John W. Keys) were passed upon a farm. He then came to Lebanon, where he served a three years' apprenticeship to a cabinet-maker, and subsequently worked for the same length of time as a journeyman.
In December, 1836, he opened a cabinet and undertaker's shop in Waynesville, which business he has carried on ever since; and in his services therein he has attended about two thousand burials.
In February 3rd, 1842, Judge Keys was married to Miss Sarah B. French (April 17, 1812 ~ March 22, 1884), a native of New Jersey. This union has been honored with a family of six children, three sons and three daughters, of whom two daughters and one son survive.
Judge Key's facilities for acquiring an education were very limited, the circumstances of the family after the death of his father preventing him from attending school, with the exception of a brief space of fourteen days, but by a faithful improvement of occasional periods of leisure, he acquired quite an extensive fund of general information, which fitted him for various positions of honor and influence which he has since filled.
In 1839 he was honored with the office of Mayor of Waynesville. In 1842 he was elected Justice of the Peace of Wayne Township, which position he held, with the exception of one term, for thirty consecutive years; and within the same period he also acted as Notary Public for about fifteen years. One thing especially characterized his administration as Justice of the Peace, and exemplified to a great degree his natural kindness of heart and his magnanimity of nature. In numerous instances where complaints were laid before him, arising from petty differences between neighbors, he exerted his influence to have them quietly and amicably settled without a resort to litigation, and thus many a wrangling lawsuit was prevented by his timely counsel. Unlike many others in a similar position, he evinced less desire to pocket his fee than to secure and preserve the peace of the community. This manly, noble course, continued through a justiceship of upwards of a quarter of a century, won for him a host of friends.
In the fall of 1872 he was elected Probate Judge of Warren County, which position he now occupies, and therein he has rendered himself very acceptable to the people, by the efficiency, promptness, and fidelity with which he has discharged the duties of his office.
He is a man of more than ordinary natural ability and possessed of a very discriminating judgment, a remarkable memory, and of perceptive faculties of unusual acuteness and activity; hence his conclusions, though quickly reached, are safe and sound. The Judge is a genial gentleman, bold and fearless in the expression of them upon proper occasions, he never intrudes them upon others.
He carries a heart big with benevolence and liberality, and is very warm in his attachments to the neighborhood in which he has so long resided. He began life without position or fortune, but, by industry, frugality, and a strict integrity, has accumulated a comfortable competence, and now enjoys the fruits of his toil, together with the esteem of his fellow citizens.
The Miami-Gazette newspaper of Waynesville reported on February 19th, 1879 that "upon the completion of his term of office as Probate Judge of Warren County, and his relinquishment of its emoluments and honors, one day of last week, Judge Keys was presented with a handsome ebony and gold cane by his associates in and about the court house. The presentation address was made by Judge J. E. Smith, and Judge Keys happily responded as follows: 'My friends, I am taken completely by surprise. An officer should seek no higher merit than the approval of his own conscience, but I presume, we have within us that feeling that is pleased to know that our acts are approved by others. When I took upon myself the obligation of the office I did so with no mental reservation and feel that I have discharged the duties to the best of my ability. Some things I have done, no doubt in the light of experience would have been done differently. I shall ever feel grateful to the people of the county for having conferred the office upon me. My life has been well spent in hard labor, and through a disposition to accommodate and assist others I have not secured a very large amount of property, and my little estate was somewhat encumbered, but the proceeds of the office have enabled me to relieve my property, and leave something for my assistance and support in my declining years. I shall always feel an interest in the office, and when I look back to the time spent there I shall regard it as pleasant as any part of my life. With the officers with whom I have associated I have found them gentlemen, industrious and liberal, and the members of the bar always willing to impart the information needed when applied to. I have avoided intruding myself on their patience as much as possible, preferring to exercise my own judgment with the other means convenient. During the time I have been in the office I cannot now recall an unkind expression to me by any officer, member of the bar, or other patrons of the office. Gentlemen, I accept your beautiful present, more do I value the motive and feelings expressed than the intrinsic value of the article, valuable as it is. Gentlemen, accept my thanks.' The cane is an elegant affair, and was purchased at the store of E. M. Hale & Co. It is strong enough to be a useful support in the Judge's declining years."