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Historic Heartland Spotlight: Explore Kitty’s Cottage

There once was a little girl, who wasn’t born into freedom. Catherine “Kitty” Andrews was born a slave to the wealthy Powell family of Oxford, Georgia. After her patron’s death, in 1834, Kitty became the property of James O. Andrew, a Methodist Episcopal Church bishop and the first chairman of the Emory Board of Trustees. She was twelve years old. She was entrusted to Andrew through a stipulation in the Powell family’s will. The clause stated that, upon Kitty’s nineteenth birthday, she would be given the option of returning to Liberia. The African colony had been established for freed slaves by the American Colonization Society, in 1816, and had been aiding freed slaves with re-colonization since 1822.

Sometime around 1841, Kitty celebrated her 19th birthday and a decision was made. According to the papers of then-Emory President Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, she explained her decision by saying, “I don't want togo to that country. I know nobody there. It is a long ways and I might die before I get there.” Andrews, apparently touched by Kitty’s reticence to leave, erected a small, one-bedroom cottage near his own home so that she could live on his property. It was Kitty's decision to remain with his family would become the focal point of a conflict that would split the Methodist church until 1939.

In 1844, Bishop Andrew traveled to New York for the annual general conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. During the gathering at New York's Greene Street Methodist Church, the 151 delegates fell into two camps over Andrew's status as a slaveholder. Because Andrew’s had inherited a slave from his mother-in-law (Kitty) and acquired several more through his marriage, his position as a “slave-owner” put him at odds with the foundations of the Methodist Church. Some northern delegates claimed that this connection was unacceptable. Andrew's defenders, many of whom were Emory faculty and trustees, spoke of Kitty's decision, arguing that Andrew was an “unwilling” slave owner and thus not culpable. Eventually, 136 delegates voted for a plan of separation, and fifteen voted against it.

But, this is Kitty’s story. Far away from the conflict within the church, Kitty Andrew lived quietly in her cottage in Oxford. She eventually left her home on the bishop's property when she married a free man named Nathan Shell. The couple had two sons and a daughter before Kitty's death sometime in the 1850s. In 1938, Kitty’s Cottage was moved to Salem Campground, a historic church camp-meeting grounds in Newton County. It remained there for fifty-six years, serving as a museum for the people of Newton County. Kitty was also honored with a cemetery marker alongside her former owner's final resting place. 

You can learn more about Kitty's story in Mark Auslander's book “The Accidental Slaveowner“, published through the University of Georgia Press. And, you can still tour Kitty's Cottage by visiting the Welcome Center website. 

 

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