Sunday, May 18, 2008

Morgan's "Ever Faithful" Mammy

One of my last official acts before leaving Kentucky for the summer was to take a stroll through the Lexington Cemetery, a mecca for those interested in the Commonwealth's Confederate contingent. The Hunt and Morgan family plot is, unsurprisingly, noteworthy for its high concentration of names familiar to students of the Western theater. The graves are arranged in semi-circles, all surrounding big daddy and golden-age Lexington millionaire John Wesley Hunt.

Among these resting places of one of Kentucky's first families, I noticed one marker standing out of place, in the middle of two rows (arcs?) of graves. You can see hers in the bottom right corner of the picture, behind the first arc of Hunt and Morgan graves. The small stone was marked "Bouviette James (Col.) Ever Faithful." Intrigued by this odd placement of a loyal family servant in the family plot, and hoping to find some evidence of postwar paternalistic benevolence, I did some digging.

Aunt Betty, as the Morgans called her, was the mammy of the house, caring for the children including young John Hunt Morgan. During the war, it is said that she was so loyal to the children that she became an ardent supporter of the Confederate cause, and likely mourned the family's losses along with the household's whites. When she died in 1870, the family buried her in their own plot with some of the surviving Morgans and Basil Duke as her pallbearers. So devoted to the family, was Ms. James, that her ghost is still said to haunt the house in Lexington, and was often seen with children when the residence was still occupied. Neat story, and one not unlike many of the "loyal slave" stories throughout the wartime and postwar South. It may even be seen as rather touching that the family would consider a former slave such an integral part of their household.

Undoubtedly, the relationship between family servant and white folks was close, even affectionate at times, but the relationship was always understood to be unequal. Black was always and unquestionably subservient to white, and the knowledge of this distinction was present in every daily interaction. In the case of Bouviette, her status within the household carried over into death as well. The Hunts and Morgans could not even write her name on her tombstone without reference to her skin color lest some future visitor mistake this (colored) woman for one of the "real" family. Further separating her is her placement within the plot. While Aunt Betty was buried with the family, hers was the only grave not arranged in one of the semi-circles around John Wesley Hunt. She was inside the household, to speak, but was never nor never would be part of the (quite literal) family circle. Her marker, smaller than the rest of the family, also highlights her inequality. Though she was of advanced age when she died in 1870, James received the same sized headstone as the Morgan children who died in infancy or pre-adulthood. Implicitly, then, Aunt Betty was in life and was to be in death a perpetual child, a racial other, and an inside-outsider in the Morgan family.

I find it most amazing that the Morgans perpetuated this master-servant domestic relationship beyond the grave. The permanence of Bouviette's outsider, unequal, childlike status is reinforced even though the post-Emancipation world had destroyed the legal framework of that relationship. Bouviette's unequal situation is particularly interesting in light of the political situation in 1870, the year she died. The passage of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1869 meant that blacks in Kentucky would vote for the first time in that year. When black men were beginning challenging Kentucky's antebellum political and social racial caste system through political participation, when black and white seemed closer to equality than they had ever been, when the slaveowning Hunts and Morgans feared their world was turning upside down, they buried their loyal old Mammy inside but ever outside the family circle. They showed their credentials as caring, paternalistic masters while at the same time demonstrated their idea of the proper station of African Americans in the Commonwealth.

A few feet from Bouviette, in one of the Morgan semi-circles, lies Francis K. Morgan, little brother of John H. Frank enlisted and served as a Private in Co. I of Morgan's and later Duke's 2nd KY Cav. during the war, and in 1870 joined the Citizens' Guards, a Lexington militia company raised amid white claims that the advent of black suffrage would lead blacks to claim full social equality with whites. Old antebellum fears of insurrection, race war, and miscegenation were trotted out to scare Kentucky whites into action against the state's newly-energized Republican party. Instead of "defending" the "threatened" white citizenry, though, the militiamen of the Guards and four other companies led by former Union and Confederate officers in the city would beat, shoot, intimidate, and harass blacks trying to vote or hold political rallies during elections from 1870-1873 (those companies and their violent reassertion of white supremacy, incidentally, were the subject of my recently completed MA thesis).

In the context of Frank Morgan's and other white Lexingtonians' struggle against black political and social equality in the early 1870s, Bouviette's "Ever Faithful" epitaph is a lesson for Bluegrass African Americans in their "proper" status: loyal, submissive, and unequal. Far from doing her honor by burying her "with" the family, Bouviette's peculiar interment in the Lexington Cemetery is a head on a pike, a hanged pirate in the harbor, a lesson, warning, and threat to African Americans no longer bound by slavery but still bound by the Commonwealth's antebellum racism and violence.


Unknown said...

I live in Lexington and taught the Civil War for a while. Thank you for this blog.

Patrick Lewis said...

Good to know we've got readers in the Bluegrass! I'm missing Lexington (and the UK Library) greatly this summer. Thanks for reading.