The Accidental Slaveowner
Revisiting a Myth of Race and Finding an American Family
Publication Year: 2011
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.
Published by: University of Georgia Press
List of Illustrations
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Preface and Acknowledgments
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This book spans history and ethnography, moving back and forth between the ethnographic present and multiple points in the past. Drawing on spoken recollections, published and unpublished documents, as well as architectural and landscape forms, I document the history of powerful myths about freedom and unfreedom. I simultaneously attempt to...
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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...
Part One: Memory, Myth, and Kinship
1. The Myth of Kitty
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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...
2. Distant Kin: Slavery and Cultural Intimacy in a Georgia Community
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Mythology, as L�vi-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...
Part Two: Slavery as a Mythical System
3. “The Tenderest Solicitude for Her Welfare”: Founding Texts of the Andrew-Kitty Narrative
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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...
4. “As Free as I Am”: Retelling the Narrative
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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...
5. “The Other Side of Paradise”: Mythos and Memory in the Cemetery
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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...
6. “The Most Interesting Building in Georgia”: The Strange Career of Kitty’s Cottage [Includes Image Plates]
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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...
Part Three: Families Lost and Found
7. Enigmas of Kinship: Miss Kitty and Her Family
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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...
8. “Out of the Shadows”: The Andrew Family Slaves
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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...
9. Saying Something Now
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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...
Appendix 1. Guide to Persons Mentioned in the Text
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Appendix 2. Timeline
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Appendix 3. Kitty’s Possible Origins
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Appendix 4. Kitty’s Children
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Appendix 5. The Greenwood Slaves, Postemancipation
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Page Count: 376
Illustrations: 11 b&w photos, 12 figures
Publication Year: 2011