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The Accidental Slaveowner

The Accidental Slaveowner: Revisiting a Myth of Race and Finding an American Family

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    The Accidental Slaveowner
    Book Description:

    What does one contested account of an enslaved woman tell us about our difficult racial past? Part history, part anthropology, and part detective story, The Accidental Slaveowner traces, from the 1850s to the present day, how different groups of people have struggled with one powerful story about slavery. For over a century and a half, residents of Oxford, Georgia ("the birthplace of Emory University"), have told and retold stories of the enslaved woman known as "Kitty" and her owner, Methodist bishop James Osgood Andrew, first president of Emory's board of trustees. Bishop Andrew's ownership of Miss Kitty and other enslaved persons triggered the 1844 great national schism of the Methodist Episcopal Church, presaging the Civil War. For many local whites, Bishop Andrew was only "accidentally" a slaveholder, and when offered her freedom, Kitty willingly remained in slavery out of loyalty to her master. Local African Americans, in contrast, tend to insist that Miss Kitty was the Bishop's coerced lover and that she was denied her basic freedoms throughout her life. Mark Auslander approaches these opposing narratives as "myths," not as falsehoods but as deeply meaningful and resonant accounts that illuminate profound enigmas in American history and culture. After considering the multiple, powerful ways that the Andrew-Kitty myths have shaped perceptions of race in Oxford, at Emory, and among southern Methodists, Auslander sets out to uncover the "real" story of Kitty and her family. His years-long feat of collaborative detective work results in a series of discoveries and helps open up important arenas for reconciliation, restorative justice, and social healing.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4192-7
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Prologue
    (pp. 1-6)

    On a warm morning in July 2009 I found myself nervously mounting the steps of a modest house in Rockford, Illinois, not quite sure what kind of welcome I might receive. I was, in a sense, at the conclusion of a journey I had begun a decade earlier. In September 1999, as I began teaching at Oxford College, the original campus of Emory University in the small town of Oxford, Georgia, I had become fascinated with the often-told story of the enslaved woman known as “Miss Kitty,” and her owner, Bishop James Osgood Andrew, first president of Emory’s Board of...

  6. Part One. Memory, Myth, and Kinship

    • Chapter One The Myth of Kitty
      (pp. 9-39)

      On a bright Friday morning in May 2000, a group of about fifty fifth-graders excitedly clambered out of two yellow school buses with their teachers and chaperones and entered into the fabled Old Church in Oxford, Georgia. Giggling and whispering among themselves, they took their seats in old wooden pews, glancing around the beautiful, recently restored structure, which they were told dated back to the 1840s. As they settled down, local historian Martin Porter, a leading member of the town’s historical society, began to speak to the group about the story of an enslaved woman named Kitty, who, he told...

    • Chapter Two Distant Kin: Slavery and Cultural Intimacy in a Georgia Community
      (pp. 40-64)

      Mythology, as Lévi-Strauss argues, is often generated out of the most enigmatic tensions and contradictions of a social system. For over two centuries, North American chattel slavery, which posed so many fundamental conundrums about personhood, relatedness, and the contours of human freedom and constraint, was highly productive of mythological renderings in white and African American imaginings. Although we might discern “family resemblances” among these many popular narratives, many of their specific details were produced out of local specificities in regimes of coerced labor. The vast plantations of Mississippi helped to generate the mythological renderings of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, just as...

  7. Part Two. Slavery as a Mythical System

    • Chapter Three “The Tenderest Solicitude for Her Welfare”: Founding Texts of the Andrew-Kitty Narrative
      (pp. 67-97)

      Why did the story that Martin Porter told in Old Church in 2000 seem so profoundly moving to him and his white compatriots in Oxford and its environs, even as it deeply disturbed many of his African American neighbors? Part of the explanation, as I have tried to suggest, lies in underlying structural features of the narrative, when thought of in the classic terms of myth. Porter’s rendition intuitively “feels right” to nearly all of his local white interlocutors in part because it inverts standard racially charged depictions of choice and coercion and poignantly emphasizes Bishop Andrew’s predicament in a...

    • Chapter Four “As Free as I Am”: Retelling the Narrative
      (pp. 98-127)

      By 1900 the foundational texts of the Andrew-Kitty narrative—especially those by Andrew, Redford, and Smith—were familiar to all those steeped in southern Methodist history and lore. Subsequent accounts of the tale would draw on these texts with varying degree of fidelity. In reading through the hundreds of accounts of the Andrew-Kitty story from the early twentieth century, one is again reminded of Franz Boas’s famous characterization of Northwest Coast Native American mythology, adopted by Claude Lévi-Strauss in his development of the concept of “bricolage,” the endless breaking apart and recombination of a fixed set of mythic elements. Pondering...

    • Chapter Five “The Other Side of Paradise”: Mythos and Memory in the Cemetery
      (pp. 128-150)

      In chapters 5 and 6, we turn from textual analysis to the emplacement of remembrance and mythos in lived social space. We consider the elaborated spatial sites that have helped to reproduce and extend the dominant white narratives of Bishop Andrew, Miss Kitty, and Andrew’s other slaves, even as they opened up fissures in the mainstream structures of remembrance. My point of departure is Jessica Adams’s fascinating argument in her study of a postslavery plantation that “careful readings of plantation images suggest that slavery’s physical and psychic violence is always active within scenes of nostalgia.”¹ To what extent might this...

    • Chapter Six “The Most Interesting Building in Georgia”: The Strange Career of Kitty’s Cottage
      (pp. 151-180)

      The early history of the building that came to be known as Kitty’s Cottage is rather obscure. Presumably, from the time of the Andrew family move in Oxford in autumn 1840 up until the time of her fateful interview with Professors Longstreet and Lane in December 1841, Miss Kitty resided in the Andrews’ new house in Oxford. From spring 1840 onward, at least two other slaves, Billy and Lucy, were living in the Andrew household; it is not clear if Kitty shared a room or a cabin with them on the Andrews’ lot.¹

      Once she moved out of the Andrews’...

      (pp. None)
  8. Part Three. Families Lost and Found

    • Chapter Seven Enigmas of Kinship: Miss Kitty and Her Family
      (pp. 183-234)

      In part 3 we turn from the mythological elaborations of the story of Bishop Andrew and his relationship to slavery to a rereading of the historical record. We begin with the many puzzles involving the story of Miss Kitty (ca. 1822–51). Who were her parents? How did Bishop Andrew acquire her? What was the precise nature of her relationship with the Bishop? What was her life in Oxford in the Andrew household like? Was the Bishop in fact the father of her children?

      In this chapter I review and sift through the available evidence, and attempt to reconstruct what...

    • Chapter Eight “Out of the Shadows”: The Andrew Family Slaves
      (pp. 235-270)

      My inspiration for this chapter and its title is an admonition to me from community historian Emogene Williams as we sat in her kitchen in late July 2009, as I excitedly reported to her on my successful quest to locate the living descendants of Miss Kitty’s eldest son Alford Boyd: “I’m so pleased you’ve worked so hard on the story of Miss Kitty and have been led to her children. But just as important is the story of all those other slaves of Bishop Andrew, the ones no one ever talks about. Nobody ever built a house for them, or...

    • Chapter Nine Saying Something Now
      (pp. 271-294)

      What are the social and ethical consequences of revisiting a powerful myth, such as the contested stories of Bishop Andrew and Miss Kitty? Are such efforts most likely to exacerbate old wounds, polarize communities, and deepen suspicions across lines of race and related distinctions? Or might there be ways, through alternate engagements with such deeply held narratives, to contribute to mutual understanding, bridge building, and social transformation? These questions are vital ones, as scholars and activists in diverse locations ponder how interventions in public history might best be framed and articulated. Are there ways for public scholars to pursue serious...

  9. APPENDIX 1. Guide to Persons Mentioned in the Text
    (pp. 295-310)
  10. APPENDIX 2. Timeline
    (pp. 311-318)
  11. APPENDIX 3. Kitty’s Possible Origins
    (pp. 319-326)
  12. APPENDIX 4. Kitty’s Children
    (pp. 327-332)
  13. APPENDIX 5. The Greenwood Slaves, Postemancipation
    (pp. 333-340)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 341-358)
    (pp. 359-366)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 367-383)