For many years, actor Johnny Depp has brought to life the stories of real-life and fictional villains and heroes on television and the big screen across the world. But details about Depp’s own heritage make his personal story worthy of a Hollywood film, according to

New research revealed the actor is a direct descendant of Elizabeth Key, an African-American former slave who worked within the law to win her freedom on July 21, 1656, the heritage website said. Depp had earlier laid claim to some Native American ancestry, though that assertion was not verified.

Ancestry’s research was conducted in celebration of the release of Depp’s newest film, Walt Disney’s The Lone Ranger.

In the movie, which is based on an old and well-loved television series, Depp plays Tonto, a Native American spirit warrior who helps John Reid, a betrayed lawman-turned-masked-outlaw, fight for justice.

Reid is played by actor Armie Hammer, of the Arm & Hammer industrial family. And, like Depp, he, too, is the descendant of a real-life American freedom fighter, said. According to its expert family historians, Hammer is of Native American ancestry and the progeny of one of the earliest documented Cherokee leaders and known peace advocate, Chief Kanagatucko.

“Many actors choose projects based on their personal connection to the character or the story,” said Michelle Ercanbrack, family historian for, in a statement. “It’s unique to discover that not one, but both of the stars of “The Lone Ranger” have proven ties to historical figures who shaped American freedom struggles over the years. I imagine their eighth-great-grandparents would approve.”

Chief Kanagatucko, Hammer’s eighth great-grandfather, was known as “Old Hop” or “Stalking Turkey” because of his old age and limp. The Cherokee leader was a known advocate of peace and friendship during the French and Indian War and the Seven Years’ War, according to Ancestry.

Key is Depp’s eighth great-grandmother, the family historians said. Born to a British aristocrat father and an African-American mother, Key successfully sued for her freedom and that of her infant son by invoking British colonial law, which determined civil status on the basis of the father. Key won her freedom on July 21, 1656, in the colony of Virginia, where some of Depp’s family members have lived since the early 1600s.

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO