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  • "Almost Eliza":Genre, Racialization, and Reading Mary King as the Mixed-Race Heroine of William G. Allen's The American Prejudice Against Color
  • Brigitte Nicole Fielder (bio)

In 1853, Mary King, the white daughter of abolitionists, was engaged to marry William G. Allen, the "Coloured Professor" of New York Central College at McGrawville.1 The engagement stirred their upstate New York community into a popular controversy, inciting letters of family disapproval, newspaper commentary, and mob violence leading to their forced, though temporary, separation. Alongside his personal account of their engagement and marriage, in The American Prejudice Against Color: An Authentic Narrative, Showing How Easily the Nation Got into an Uproar (1853), Allen also reprinted various letters and newspaper articles both in support of and in opposition to his and King's marriage. This array of accounts show how Mary King's white womanhood becomes a function of genre: in the various stories of her relation to Allen, King's race and sexuality are constructed according to the practices of reading her as either the white damsel of the captivity narrative or the mixed-race heroine of abolitionist fiction.2

In a letter to Mary King written during the week before she and William Allen were secretly married, the couple's friend John Porter wrote, "Your flight is a flight for freedom, and I can almost call you Eliza," referencing the well-known mixed-race heroine of Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin.3 Unlike Stowe's Eliza, Allen and King were not fleeing literal enslavement, but the racial prejudice of people who had attempted to prevent their marriage. Thus, Porter's evocation of abolitionist literature to explain King's situation is intriguing not only because it refuses to perform the more obvious [End Page 1] slippage of simply relegating prejudice against the African American William Allen (who was born to a free mixed-race woman and was never enslaved) to the discourse of slavery, but because it chooses the white woman as its subject and re-figures her in one of abolitionism's most popular tropes of enslavement, the mixed-race heroine.4 Not merely an equation of all race-related persecution with slavery, Porter's comparison of Mary King to Stowe's Eliza Harris displaces the racist rhetoric of the couple's forced separation, by which some newspaper commentators rendered King a "damsel" in need of white male protection from Allen, which the mob purported to give her.5 Instead, Porter's reading of King places her in the abolitionist literary tradition, where her and Allen's story reads as a narrative of African American fugitivity rather than white captivity.6 Moreover, Porter's characterization of King as "almost . . . Eliza" emphasizes a close generic proximity to the figure of the mixed-race heroine, recognizing the interracial allegiance of King and Allen's proposed kinship, and a re-racialization of the figure of the white woman along lines of her participation in interracial sexual relations and reproduction.7

My analysis takes up Porter's comparison of Mary King to Eliza Harris and reads King as the mixed-race heroine of The American Prejudice Against Color. In the private and public discourse surrounding Allen and King's engagement and marriage, I examine themes of "amalgamation" and fugitivity in order to discuss how Mary King is figured according to different generic constructions of racialized womanhood in the two primary versions of the story Allen reproduces—that told by Allen, King, and their allies, and the version supporting the racist mob that separated the couple. First, I discuss the racist rhetorics by which Mary King is read in the tradition of what I call "anti-amalgamation" literature—a sub-genre of the body of writing that emerges in response to abolitionist literature, which has its roots in the American captivity narrative.

Reading Allen's text, I then illustrate how Mary King functions more closely to the mixed-race heroine of abolitionist literature than the damsel of the captivity narrative. By refiguring King in the terms by which an abolitionist reader compares her to a mixed-race literary figure who is both aligned with the enslaved and able to garner...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 1-25
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-14
Open Access
No
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