I posted this essay in June 2010. I can hardly believe it was eleven years ago. I've added the few lines dedicated to Sandy Cornish's life from Wikipedia.
Sandy Cornish (1793–1869) was an African American farmer, businessperson, and civic leader in Key West, Florida. As a former slave who had purchased his freedom, he publicly maimed himself to prevent being returned to slavery.
Slavery and freedom
Cornish was born a slave in Maryland in 1793. In 1839, his master hired him out to a railroad-building project in Port Leon in Florida's Panhandle. The position allowed him to earn money for himself, and after nine years of work at $600 a year, he was able to purchase his own freedom and that of his wife Lillah. However, the papers showing him to be free were destroyed in a fire. Lacking proof of his emancipation, he was seized by slave traders, but managed to break free. The next day he gathered a crowd of onlookers in Port Leon. He loudly proclaimed that, having purchased his freedom once, he would not return to slavery under any circumstances. He then deliberately maimed himself, stabbing himself in the leg, slashing the muscles of one ankle, and cutting off a finger of his left hand, which he proceeded to sew back on with a needle and thread. These injuries made him worthless as a slave and thus immune to recapture. Friends took him home in a wheelbarrow, and he eventually recovered his health.
Around 1850, he and Lillah bought a farm in Key West, in the area that is now Truman Avenue near Simonton Street. Selling vegetables and fruits to local residents, he became one of the richest people in Key West. He was a leader of the local black community and the founder of the Cornish Chapel of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, now the Cornish Memorial AME Zion church and chapel, which still stands at 702 Whitehead Street.
He died in 1869 at the age of 76. He was buried in Key West Cemetery, but the location of his grave was lost to history. In 2014, the cemetery and the Historic Florida Keys Foundation installed a plaque to his memory. Speakers described his life as an inspiring testament to human freedom. City Commissioner Clayton Lopez, presiding over the ceremony, said, "His actions in life show that he was not going to accept the fate developed for him by lesser men. He is a legend that continues to point the way to human dignity to this day."