One Slave's Story

During the presidency of Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, a division within the Methodist Episcopal Church foreshadowed the Civil War's division of the nation.

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.

It was a time when abolitionism was in the air. Northern delegates argued that no bishop of the church could morally exercise the episcopal office while owning slaves.

Andrew's first wife, at her death, had bequeathed him ownership of a slave girl named Kitty. That act came with the stipulation that at age 19, Kitty should be offered the choice of emigrating to Liberia, where she could forge a life of freedom. Andrew had offered to pay the passage, but Kitty declined to leave the only people and place she had ever known. It would have been her only path to freedom under Georgia law at the time. 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 100 years, when the northern and southern branches of Methodism reunited in 1939.