Embree's House

The East Tennessee Historical Society hosted a virtual “brown bag” lecture Wednesday, April 21 featuring Anne G’Fellers Mason and her research on Nancy and Abolitionist Elihu Embree.

Warren Dockter, president of the Eastern Tennessee Historical Society opened the event and expressed his excitement to be able to return to programing that they have had to largely forgo during the pandemic.

“This is our first event we have had in a while. We are very excited to get our programs up and going again,” Dockter said, adding that the next lecture in this series will be held on May 5.

Dockter introduced published author Anne G’Fellers Mason, highlighting her education, as she holds an MA in history and an MFA in playwriting.

G’Fellers Mason started the lecture by combining her degrees and having a portion of one of her plays be read aloud. It was a work of museum theater that addressed the history of Nancy, a woman and mother who was at some time enslaved and Abolitionist Elihu Embree.

The story between these two people is intriguing because as an abolitionist, Elihu was against slavery, yet he owned Nancy and her children, and sold them off to pay off loans he owed.

What made this situation particularly interesting is that when Elihu was sick and wrote out his will, he named Nancy and all of her children in his will and made it clear that his wish and his intention was for them to gain freedom, as soon as they could be granted it.

This was quite the statement to put in his will, considering he was widowed and had seven young children at the time between the ages of three and 16, all of whom were simply referred to as his heirs and left in the care of his brother.

“After that I unfortunately have not been able to find a document that names Nancy. There is no last name in any of the documents about her. It’s not uncommon, but it is frustrating,” G’Fellers Mason said.

Though Nancy wasn’t named, G’Fellers Mason did find listings of people in the census that she believes could have been in reference to Nancy, but there is no way to be sure.

“I wish I could say Nancy was free, but I just don’t know, and I want to know. Whether it is a good answer or a bad answer, I want to know,” G’Fellers Mason said.

“All voices from the past cry out to me, some louder than others, and I genuinely want to know this story,” G’Fellers Mason said.

More information about the East Tennessee Historical Society and their upcoming events can be found on their website. Their next event, “An Evening with Jon Meacham,” will be held April 22.

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