Reality, Rationalization, and the Metamorphosis of Slaves into Masters: Augustin Metoyer of Isle of Canes vs. Henry Townsend of The Known World
The past was the ultimate reality show. "Survivors" there, like those staged by modern networks, often acted in ways unthinkable to those of us who spy upon their lives through the screen of history. Our initial reaction ("Omigod! How could they do that?!"), may turn into denial, rationalization, and even condemnation. Arguably, no issue makes this point as starkly as the reality that, historically, men and women who escaped the chains of slavery might transform themselves into masters — morphing, if you will, from victims to victimizers. In this paper, I explore and contrast two stereotyped identities: the "black master" of Anglo America (characterized by the fictional Henry Townsend of The Known World) and the "conflicted Creole" (personified by the legendary but real Augustin Metoyer of Isle of Canes). Gender and religion, as well as self-identity and self-interest, shaped the vastly different ways these two freed slaves responded to issues of humanity and conscience. Neither character offers us palliatives or apologies, only an opportunity to better understand the psyche of the past that created today's racial milieu. As a counterweight, both prototypes will be measured against the celebrated black "Barber of Natchez", William Johnson.
Keywords: Race, Slavery, Creole, Creolization
Ms Elizabeth Shown Mills
Faculty and Course Coordinator, Advanced Research Methodology and Evidence Analysis, Samford University Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research