Religion, Race, and Sex in the American Antislavery Mission to Jamaica

Gale Kenny

Before the Civil War, white American abolitionists established a mission in Jamaica as a “test case” for emancipation. The abolitionists struggled to reconcile their political commitment to egalitarianism with the racial and cultural hierarchies of their civilizing mission. The talk will examine this tension through the lens of a sex scandal that almost destroyed the mission in 1850, as it forced the missionaries and Jamaicans to reconsider their assumptions about racial and religious authority, female morality, and the relationship between sexuality and spirituality.

Gale L. Kenny, ACLS New Faculty Fellow in Religion, received her B.A. in Religion from Northwestern University, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in History from Rice University. Her research focuses on race and religion in nineteenth-century America, and she is presently beginning work on a project about humanitarianism in British and American antislavery movements in the 1840s and 1850s. She is the author of Contentious Liberties: American Abolitionists in Post-Emancipation Jamaica, 1834-1866.