LIMA — Kizzie Jane McKimm lived quietly, her 1937 obit and few newspaper clippings pointing to involvement in her church, St. Paul AME. But as an elderly woman — in fact, just a few months before her death — she spoke up about her background.
She was a former slave.
The Works Progress Administration had many projects going during the Depression, and one of them was the Federal Writers’ Project. Workers interviewed more than 2,300 people around the country for “Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1938.” The book also includes photos of about 500 of these people who shared their stories.
McKimm’s photo was not used, but her story was printed. The reporter was Betty Lugabill. The writers wrote in a style to show the dialect of the subject, in his or her own words. For example, the first paragraph of the narrative:
“Ah was born in Bourbon County, sometime in 1853, in the state of Kaintucky where they raise fine horses and beautiful women. Me ‘n my Mammy, Liza ‘n Joe, all belonged to Marse Jacob Sandusky the richest man in de county. Pappy, he belonged to de Henry Young’s who owned de plantation next to us.”
McKimm shared that Sandusky treated them well, but one of his sons, Clay, did not. Clay Sandusky once whipped her mother for forgetting to put cake in his lunch basket when he went hunting, but the elder Sandusky put a stop to it. Jacob Sandusky would sometimes share sticks of candied honey with the children.
Her mother did all the cooking, chores and the milking of 15 cows. She also sewed her children clothes out of discarded dresses from the lady of the plantation. McKimm’s father was able to visit on Sundays in summer, but he only visited about once a month in winter.
Christmas Day was the one slack day. The men would cut a lot of wood for the fireplaces of the house and stack it on the porch. When the wood ran out, their reprieve was over.
McKimm shared that Jacob Sandusky was “what white folks call a ‘miser.’” She remembers him hiding $4,000 in paper money between the floorboards, and when he went to retrieve it he found the rats had chewed it up. She heard other landowners call him a hillbilly on account of his clothes being in such poor shape.
She once was sent on an errand off the plantation and came across a group of about 125 Union soldiers. She hid until they passed, and reported it back home. The soldiers came to the house and asked for something to eat, which the slaves eagerly supplied, but Sandusky hid from them. After the Civil War, Sandusky gave her mother a 150-acre farm and they lived there for a time. After Sandusky’s death, though, Clay kicked them out. The family then moved to Paris, Ky., and she moved north after she married.
McKimm’s story, filled with fascinating details, checks out. Jacob Sandusky was born Jan. 3, 1790, in Bourbon County and died in 1866 in the same location. One of his seven children is named Henry Clay Sandusky, who inherited some land and a slave from his father after his death — but not a home. The District No. 1 Bourbon County slave schedule for 1850 lists Sandusky as owning 19 slaves of all ages. She did exaggerate or misunderstand Sandusky’s wealth. The wealthiest man in the county was U.S. Rep. Brutus Junius Clay, who owned dozens of slaves.
McKimm’s parents were Henry Armstead and Margaret Richardson. Her father supposedly belonged to Henry Young, but there is no Henry Young on the census. There are Youngs who held slaves, but the name Henry is a mystery.
The Scottish Sandusky family took an interesting turn. Jacob Sandusky’s son, James, married a Yankee and went north to Illinois and Indiana, according to “A Portrait and Biographical Record of Hendricks County” in 1895. The son of James, Thomas J. Sandusky, was a farmer, Democrat township trustee and Methodist. “He received a good common education, was reared and has always been used to farm labor,” the book reports.
McKimm married a man named William McKimm, who was born Dec. 25, 1850, in Harrison County, Ky. William’s parents are listed as Noah and Sarah Conway McKimm on his death certificate, and it’s assumed but not clear if McKimm was the slaveowner’s name. Both husband and wife were likely slaves in their younger years.
Following the trail of William McKimm through the census, he is listed as living in Clark County, Ohio, in 1880, and various other Ohio locales west of Springfield. His wife was right with him. They are listed in the Lima city directory in 1908/09 as living on 119 N. Union St.
An accident made the Allen County Republican Gazette on Jan. 26, 1909:
“While engaged in cleaning out a well on the Harmon Colvin premises, directly opposite his own home on West Spring street, yesterday afternoon about 3 o’clock, William McKimm, age 58, was overcome by damp and fell from a ladder to the bottom of the well causing instant death.”
McKimm and other workers were going to try to make the dug well deeper.
“The well was quite full of damp and exceedingly dangerous to enter because of its unusual depth. It is probable that work on it will be abandoned now and a drilled well installed.”
The water had been removed for the job. The depth of the well is unclear.
“Shortly before three o’clock McKimm complained to a brother workman that the damp was getting the best of him, and he was advised to come up and out of the well. McKimm started up the ladder but was only about 16 feet from the bottom when he was completely overcome and fell backward striking the bottom with great force on an upright brick and receiving a fracture of the skull that meant instant death.”
The men at the top grabbed ice hooks with which they raised William McKimm’s body from the well.
“The victim of the accident was one of the best known colored residents of the city and had been a resident of Lima for nearly 18 years. He was born in Harrison Co., Ky., Dec. 25, 1850. A wife and two daughters survive in this city. He resided at 1131 W. Spring St. and had just recently purchased the property in which he resides.”
Services were planned at the African ME Church, with burial at Woodlawn.
The McKimm daughters were Bessie McKimm, who died in 1923 following an operation at City Hospital and was buried at Woodlawn; and Clara Mabel (sometimes Mable Clara) Mandary, who died in 1970 and was buried at Fletcher Cemetery. Bessie had lived at 1029 W. Spring St., and Clara Mabel at 1530 W. Spring St.
William McKimm’s estate was administered by his neighbor, Harry Harper, who was an African American veterinary surgeon. Harper died in 1911.
And what of Kizzie Jane McKimm? She died at age 77 of cardiac failure. She was ailing for three and a half years, according to her obit. The trail of the many nieces and nephews she enjoyed, however, goes cold quickly. Do her descendants know their family’s story? Regardless, we can all learn from the events of the not-so-distant past.