Monday, February 05, 2007
Sacred to the Memory of Kitty Andrew Shell
Kitty was a slave girl bequeathed to Bishop James O. Andrews by a Mrs. Powers of August, Georgia, in her will when Kitty was 12 years old with the stipulation that when she was 19 years of age, she was to be given her freedom and sent to Liberia.
When she reached the age of 19, Bishop Andrews had Dr. A. B. Longstreet, who was then President of Emory College and Professor George W. Lane to interview Kitty. They did. Kitty declined to go to Liberia, saying that she preferred to remain with Mrs. Andrews at Oxford, Georgia.
Under the laws of Georgia at that time, Bishop Andrews could not free Kitty unless she would agree to leave the state, so he built for her a cottage in his back yard and told her “You are as free as I am.”
Kitty lived in that cottage – a free woman – until she married a man named Nathan Shell, and went to her own home.
The ownership of this slave was the cause of the division of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1844.
For a full history see:
“The Life and Letters of James O. Andres by Rev. George W. Smith, D.D.
and so on….
I go through Oxford, Georgia a few times a year -- this morning I had teaching parish in Covington, which is about a mile south of Oxford. It is an official United Methodist Shrine -- there's a plaque that says so near Town Hall. I've posted some pictures of "Old Church" last July and told a little bit of the story. Today I decided to stop at the old cemetery and look for some dead Bishops. I also ran across this "headstone" that is supposedly placed on Kitty's grave. It is said (by mostly white people) that Kitty is the only person of color in the cemetery. I wonder if that's really true: first if she's the only one and second if she really was "of color."
I understand that this story has a large component of myth. The stone actually corrects part of the myth - Kitty was not left to Bishop Andrews by his first wife Amelia, but by a Mrs. Powers of Augusta, Georgia on or around 1834. Researchers have found a will probated by a Mrs. Lovely Powers in the right time period, but there is no mention of a slave girl. Census data around this time was confusing as well, but finding evidence of Kitty is difficult to say the least.
This story/myth tucks in loose ends so very nicely and neatly -- it makes me wonder if we have really prettified a messy history. It's a story that makes us white people feel warm and fuzzy -- the Nice Bishop tried to obey the law, but the awful civil law came in horrible conflict with canon law and he was tormented. He was just trying to do the Right Thing. Nice nice, pretty pretty.
There is another scenario available to us: older empowered white man with children (? not so sure about children) receives/inherits nubile young black woman. He holds the power over this disenfranchised young girl -- the law and the society are not going to see her in a favorable light; she's just a slave girl. Who knows how educated she is or is not? The white man's wife is sick -- she dies within a year. He puts the slave girl in a nice little cottage, just in the back yard. Kitty starts having babies. He gets remarried. Kitty has more babies. Everyone is happy(!). Kitty gets married and moves off; Kitty dies. The End. Not such a nice nice pretty pretty story.
I don't know what really happened -- but we don't need to make history any prettier. We need to tell truth.