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February 9, 2017 – (Key West, FL). Key West Art & Historical Society Distinguished Speaker Series To Highlight Sandy Cornish Civil War Era Garden

On Thursday, February 23 at 6:00pm, Key West Art & Historical Society welcomes Distinguished Speaker Series guest Jeff Stotts, an environmental horticulturist and sustainable landscape development consultant, to the Helmerich Research & Learning Center on the third floor of the Custom House Museum.  Stotts will present a compelling and educational narrative on Sandy Cornish’s Civil War Garden, followed by champagne and samplings of tropical fruits harvested from Grimmel Grove.

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

Cornish endured an intense journey from slavery—his freedom papers were destroyed in a fire and he subsequently 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 had  the island’s first successful farm— a farm mentioned in an 1850s horticultural magazine as well as in all the 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  capable of processing any attribute worthy of recognition by society,” says Stotts.

The Distinguished Speaker Series is sponsored in part by the Helmerich Trust, the Department of State, the Division of Cultural Affairs, and the Florida Council on Arts and Culture and the State of Florida. Additional support provided by the Marriott Key West Beachside Resort.

Tickets are available through; $5 for members, $10 for non-members.  For more information contact Adele Williams, Director of Education, at 305-295-6616, x115. 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.” On Thursday, February 23, at 6pm, at the Custom House Museum, environmental horticulturist and sustainable landscape development consultant Jeff Stotts will share insights on Cornish and his Civil War garden. (Contributed Photo)