The Lost German Slave Girl: The Extraordinary True Story of Sally Miller and Her Fight for Freedom in Old New Orleans

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9780802142290: The Lost German Slave Girl: The Extraordinary True Story of Sally Miller and Her Fight for Freedom in Old New Orleans

It is a spring morning in New Orleans, 1843. In the Spanish Quarter, on a street lined with flophouses and gambling dens, Madame Carl recognizes a face from her past. It is the face of a German girl, Sally Miller, who disappeared twenty-five years earlier. But the young woman is property, the slave of a nearby cabaret owner. She has no memory of a "white" past. Yet her resemblance to her mother is striking, and she bears two telltale birthmarks. In brilliant novelistic detail, award-winning historian John Bailey reconstructs the exotic sights, sounds, and smells of mid-nineteenth-century New Orleans, as well as the incredible twists and turns of Sally Miller's celebrated and sensational case. Did Miller, as her relatives sought to prove, arrive from Germany under perilous circumstances as an indentured servant or was she, as her master claimed, part African, and a slave for life? A tour de force of investigative history that reads like a suspense novel, The Lost German Slave Girl is a fascinating exploration of slavery and its laws, a brilliant reconstruction of mid-nineteenth-century New Orleans, and a riveting courtroom drama. It is also an unforgettable portrait of a young woman in pursuit of freedom.

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From School Library Journal:

Adult/High School–A fascinating mystery obsessed and polarized New Orleans from 1843 until its shocking conclusion in 1849. A close-knit community of German immigrants made an amazing claim: they had seen a young slave woman whom they were sure was the daughter of a relative who had sailed with them from Holland years earlier. After her parents died, the girl and her sister had been sent off to become indentured servants. No one knew what had happened to them, but the community was positive that the slave woman known as Mary or Brigit Wilson was really Salome Muller. Lawyers were assembled, and the battle lines were drawn. The Germans maintained that an unscrupulous former owner, John Fitz Miller, had enslaved an indentured child and later sold her to her current owner. Miller hired a "dream team" to press his claim that Mary was merely a clever slave, duping a bunch of credulous immigrants. Adding to the puzzle was her lack of memory of a German childhood and Miller's inability to prove that he had bought her. Bailey has provided a rich, vibrant New Orleans setting. Using court transcripts, pamphlets produced by both sides, newspaper stories, and biographies, he has produced a courtroom thriller with unexpected twists and turns. The details he includes about the horrors of the immigrant experience, and his discussions of laws governing slave owners, make this a valuable history lesson as well.–Kathy Tewell, Chantilly Regional Library, VA

From Publishers Weekly:

Starred Review. Who was Sally Miller: was she Salomé Müller, a long-lost German immigrant girl enslaved by a Southern planter? Or was she really a light-skinned black woman, shrewd enough to exploit her only opportunity for freedom? Bailey (The White Diver of Broome) keeps us guessing until the end in this page-turning true courtroom drama of 19th-century New Orleans. Bailey opens the story in 1843, when a friend of the Schubers—a local family of German immigrants—discovered Miller outside her owner Louis Belmonti's house. Struck by her remarkable resemblance to their late cousin Dorothea Müller, and unusual birthmarks exactly like he daughter Salomé's, the Schubers claimed Sally as kin and set about trying to prove her identity as Salomé and obtain her freedom. Bailey brings to life the fierce legal proceedings with vivid strokes. The case was controversial because it wasn't Belmonti but her previous owner, the perfect Southern gentleman John Fitz Miller, who faced disgrace if proved to have forced a white German girl into slavery. Bailey elucidates the bewildering array of possible identities turned up for Sally by numerous witnesses as well as the complexities of 19th-century Louisiana slave law and the status of black women. Sally herself remains an enigma at the center of this highly engrossing tale.
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