Kitty's Cottage and the Methodist Civil War

Less than a mile from the center of the Oxford College campus, down quiet, two-lane Wesley Street, a 155-year-old, two-room, white clapboard cottage stands empty. The house's plain and unassuming appearance belies the remarkable fact that it was the home of the woman who became the center of a controversy that ripped the Methodist Church apart over the issue of slavery in 1844. The painful schism lasted nearly a century.

Known locally as Kitty's Cottage, the house is named for its first occupant, Kitty Andrew. In 1834, through the bequest of a Mrs. Powers of Augusta, Kitty, a twelve-year-old slave, became the property of James O. Andrew, a Methodist Episcopal Church bishop and Oxford resident. Andrew was the first chairman of the Emory Board of Trustees.

According to the terms of Powers' will, when Kitty turned nineteen in 1841, she was to be given the option of going to Liberia, an African colony established for freed slaves. If she decided to stay, the bishop, who owned no other slaves, had no choice but to keep her. Georgia laws did not permit her emancipation.

When the time came, Kitty chose to remain in Georgia. According to the papers of then-Emory President Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, she explained her decision by saying, "I don't want to go to that country. I know nobody there. It is a long ways and I might die before I get there."

Because state law prevented Andrew from simply freeing her, he erected the cottage near his own home so that she could live on his property as freely as possible.

In 1844, when Andrew traveled to New York for the annual general conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, he had little notion that Kitty's decision to remain with his family would become the focal point of the conflict that split the church until 1939.

During the gathering at New York's Greene Street Methodist Church that spring, the 151 delegates fell into two camps over Andrew's status as a slaveholder. (After Kitty, the bishop subsequently inherited a slave from his mother-in-law and had acquired by marriage several more who belonged to his second wife. Again, however, the law did not permit their manumission.)

Some northern delegates maintained that a bishop "connected with slavery" was unacceptable. Andrew's defenders, many of whom were Emory faculty and trustees, spoke of Kitty's decision, arguing that Andrew was an "unwilling" slaveowner and thus not culpable. Eventually, 136 delegates voted for a plan of separation, and fifteen voted against it.

Far away from the tumult in New York, Kitty Andrew lived quietly in her cottage in Oxford. "She was just as innocent as she could be," says Marshall Elizer, professor emeritus of mathematics and Oxford history buff. 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.

What became known as "The Methodist Civil War" was not resolved until May 10, 1939, at a conference in Kansas City, Missouri. There the two branches reunited, completing a process of negotiation that had begun in 1866. Meanwhile, Kitty's Cottage remained in its original spot, some fifty yards northwest of where it now sits, for almost a century.

In 1938, it was moved to Salem Campground, an historic church camp meeting grounds in Newton County. It remained there for fifty-six years, serving as a museum and storage building. In 1994, the town of Oxford financed the return of the cottage to within city limits. It now stands roughly fifteen paces north of Oxford's Old Church. Elizer says the home may be renovated soon and opened on special occasions.--A.O.A.

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