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Was Jane a Slave? (Part 1 of 5)

Dr. Quincy Newell is the first non-Mormon scholar we’ve had on Gospel Tangents.  Of course, I had to ask why she was interested in Mormon history in the first place!

GT:  I think one of the things that’s most perplexing to me, and I think to my listeners as well, you’re not Mormon!

Quincy:  No, I’m not.

GT:  Why in the world are you studying Mormonism?

Quincy:  I am interested in religion in the American West, and Mormons are a huge part of that story.  I’m also interested in the experiences of religious and racial ethnic minorities. So thinking about sort of how those different factors in identity intersect and how they shape people’s lives. So that’s why I got into the study of Mormonism.

Dr. Newell has just come out with a book on early black Mormon pioneer Jane Manning James.  It’s called “Your Sister in the Gospel,” and is published by Oxford University Press.  I was curious about Jane’s relationship to slavery.

Quincy:  Jane was not a slave. She was very particular in making sure that everybody knew that. She was born free in Connecticut, in about 1820. Her mother had been enslaved, and she said that her maternal grandmother had been brought from Africa as an enslaved woman as well. So Jane certainly had slavery in her background. She knew about it. She experienced it. She knew people who had been enslaved. But she herself was not enslaved at any point. That’s a status symbol, I think, for her. So she was very particular in making sure that people who knew her, people who heard about her, knew that she was not enslaved, and that was important to her.

GT:  But her mother was a slave. How did that work?  I think there was a law or something that you were emancipated a certain age or something. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Quincy: Yes, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to get all the details right off the top of my head. But Connecticut passed a set of laws that basically instituted a kind of gradual emancipation.  I don’t remember the year in which they were passed, but Jane’s grandmother was too old, and was never emancipated. The legislature in Connecticut decided they didn’t want owners of slaves to dump their aged slaves on the public trust and make the public responsible for maintaining them. So they remained enslaved for the rest of their lives. But there was a date that anybody born after that date was to be emancipated by, I think, their 25th birthday, something like that. So Jane’s mother was eligible for that emancipation, and for that reason, she probably was emancipated in around 1810 or so. Jane was born about 10 years later, so she was born free. But she certainly knew relatives who would have remained enslaved for the rest of their lives.

We will get more acquainted with both Jane and Quincy in our next conversation.  Check it out!

Dr. Quincy Newell of Hamilton College has published a biography of black Mormon pioneer Jane Manning James.

Don’t miss our previous conversations about Jane with Margaret Young!

002:  Combating Racism

001: “Is There No Blessing for me?


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