Elizabeth Key was born in 1630 in Warwick County, Virginia. Her mother was an African slave. Her father was Thomas Key, a white Englishman who was a plantation owner.
Before her father moved back to England he had made arrangements that Elizabeth would be freed at the age of 15. These arrangements were ignored by her subsequent owners.
On 21 July 1656 Elizabeth Key successfully sued for her freedom, based on the English law that if a child's father was a free man, the child should be free as well.