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Controversies & Enigmas

The Bishop, His Slave, and the Church

Kitty's Cottage

It was during the presidency of Augustus Baldwin Longstreet that one of the more remarkable events in Oxford and Emory history occurred, foreshadowing the division of the nation and the long, slow process of healing that would be required following the Civil War. The 1844 General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church was held in New York City, and Longstreet attended as an elected delegate, along with his neighbor and friend Bishop James O. Andrew, president of the Emory Board of Trustees. In the city of William Lloyd Garrison, at a time when abolitionism was in the air, the issue of slavery could not be avoided. In particular, slaves owned by Bishop Andrew became the focus of intense and heated debate.

Northern delegates argued that no bishop of the church could morally exercise the episcopal office while owning chattel slaves. But Bishop Andrew had little recourse. On the death of his first wife, she had bequeathed him ownership of a slave girl named Kitty, stipulating that at age nineteen Kitty should be offered the choice of emigrating to Liberia. Georgia law prohibited manumission otherwise, although the 1850 census counted nearly three thousand free blacks living in the state. Bishop Andrew had offered to pay the passage to Liberia, where Kitty could forge a life of freedom, but she had declined to leave the only people and the only place she had ever known. Caught in the nineteenth-century "Catch-22," Bishop Andrew allowed Kitty to exercise virtual freedom while she continued to live in a cottage on his property and work for his family.

When the northern delegates at the New York conference forced the issue to a vote, the southern delegates decided to form a separate denomination, which they organized the following year in Louisville, Kentucky, as the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.

Continuing to speak and write in defense of the South, Southern Methodism, and slavery, Longstreet published prolifically in the last years of the decade and inclined more and more toward national disunion. The split in the church itself presaged the split between North and South. Unlike the national divide, the church's division would not be healed for nearly a hundred years, when the northern and southern branches of Methodism reunited in 1939.


Source: The Legacy of Heart and Mind: Emory Since 1836, Gary S. Hauk, Ph.D.

 

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