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April 10, 2019- (Key West, FL). Key West Art & Historical Society Distinguished Speaker Series guest Jeff Stotts to highlight The Life and Times of Sandy and Lillah Cornish 

On Thursday, April 25 at 6:00pm, Key West Art & Historical Society welcomes Distinguished Speaker Series guest Jeff Stotts, a historian, environmental horticulturist and sustainable landscape development consultant, to the Helmerich Research & Learning Center on the third floor of the Custom House Museum, 281 Front Street, where he will present a compelling and educational narrative titled “An Iconic Figure in Key West History: The Life and Times of Sandy and Lillah Cornish.”

Stotts will also lead a Society Historic Walking Tour to the Cornish Memorial AME Zion Church established by Cornish in 1864 in Bahama Village on Saturday, April 27, from 9:30-10:30am.

Cornish was an iconic leader of his African American community, “respected by all races,” says Stotts. His interest in Cornish developed from researching the Cornish church and Afro-American history of Key West.

Cornish endured an intense journey from slavery—his freedom papers were destroyed in a fire and he was tracked by slave hunters who tried to capture and resell him. To render himself useless as a slave, he publicly maimed himself at the town square, and eventually ended up in Key West, where he and Lillah had the island’s first successful farm— a farm mentioned in an 1850s horticultural magazine as well as in diaries of citizens of the era. His work as a leader and farmer was so notable, he was visited by President Johnson’s fact-finding commission and the chief justice of the US in 1865.

“All this and more when typically, being black wasn’t even considered human, or a person or capable of processing any attribute worthy of recognition by society,” says Stotts.

Guests can choose to attend one or both events; each stands as its own individual presentation. Tickets for each are $5 for KWAHS members, $10 for non-members, and are available at Early ticket purchase is recommended.  Sponsored by the Helmerich Trust, the State of Florida Division of Cultural Affairs and the Southernmost Beach Resort.For more information, contact Kristina Callaway, KWAHS Director of Education at 305-295-6616 extension 115 or at   Your Museums.  Your Community.  It takes an Island.


Farmer, civic leader and former slave Sandy Cornish, shown here circa 1865, has been described as an “inspiring testament to human freedom.” (Portrait by W.G. Jackman, from “After the War” by Whitelaw Reid, from the Scott DeWolfe collections, Monroe County Public Library)