Hold Onto My Keys While I’m Gone

Maybe you have a neighbor, friend, or relative who has the key(s) to your home or business. This is the person you want to watch over your property when you are away and notify you if something is not quite right. I’m going to share with you a story I happened to see on television on “WHAS Wake Up” recently as reported by Haley Minogue. She was in Springfield, Kentucky interviewing Washington County Judge Executive Tim Graves. In the televised video they are walking through his small town which has the allure of neighborliness where everybody knows everybody else. But what makes this town so special is a once-a-year celebration of events that took place here almost two hundred years ago—events which many of us have never heard about.

As Minogue and Graves walk along the downtown streets, Graves points out buildings still standing since the 1830s but now with different names—the grocery, the hotel, the restaurant—or a parking lot where history intersected with progress. As they walk along, Graves keeps mentioning the name Louis Sansbury. A little background information reveals who he was and how he came to be respected and celebrated.

Sansbury resided in Springfield in 1833 when a cholera epidemic broke out in this little community, as well as other places. As people started succumbing very rapidly to the disease, those who could run out of town, presumably mostly white residents, quickly did just that. As they fled, they left the keys to their businesses in the hands of Louis Sansbury, a 27-year-old enslaved African American man. He and an enslaved African American woman, Matilda Sims, managed to care for the many ill and dying persons—keeping the hotel open, taking food to those who were able to eat, and transporting their bodies to Cemetery Hill when they died. There, these two personally buried the dead. How they were able to keep from contracting the epidemic themselves is a mystery.

The townspeople who had left Springfield returned when the cholera epidemic ended. And in 1845, when Sansbury’s white legal owner died, out of an abundance of thanks for his unselfish deeds, they purchased Sansbury’s freedom and gave him his own blacksmith shop.

According to Washington County Judge Executive Tim Graves, the cholera epidemic came back a second time. By this time Louis Sansbury was a free man, business owner, and homeowner. Nevertheless, he gave of himself to look after the town and its people again.

Springfield, Kentucky’s St. Rose Cemetery has a headstone commemorating the 106 townspeople Louis Sansbury watched over in life and in death. The keys he held onto proved to be keys that would liberate him and celebrate his legacy.

Snippet from Local News Report
Connie Carlisle Polley, 2022

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