We’re often reminded that truth is stranger than fiction. Such is the case with The Lost German Slave Girl. No one could make this stuff up. The subtitle is “The Extraordinary True Story of Sally Miller and Her Fight for Freedom in Old New Orleans.” It was written by an attorney and legal scholar who did exhaustive research through old court records, books and newspaper accounts.
First of all, readers may be surprised to learn that not all slaves were from Africa. I must admit I was aware of indentured servants, but not of the redemptionists. They were Caucasians who arrived in the U.S. from Europe and for whatever reason were unable to pay their passage and/or had no means of support. They were sold as slaves to ‘redeem’ themselves; usually for a few years.
This book is the sad story of Salome Muller, who traveled as a small child with her family to America. From their German village, the Mullers made their way with other families to Amsterdam for departure. There they were beset with hardships and delay after delay before finally leaving. On the horrendous voyage they endured deprivation and tragedy. The mother died at sea. The father, a shoemaker, and his son and two young daughters arrived penniless in New Orleans.
With no other course open for survival, the family was sold as redemptionists and sent upriver to a plantation. The son and father fall overboard and drown (possibly a suicide on the father’s part). Two young girls who can speak no English are left alone on a dock.
Twenty-five years later, on a New Orleans street lined with flophouses and gambling dens, a German woman recognizes a face from the past, Salome Muller, because she bears such a striking resemblance to the deceased Muller mother. The olive-skinned girl is the slave of a nearby cabaret owner.
Thus begins the lengthy, riveting legal drama and an unforgettable portrait of a young woman in pursuit of her freedom. Is she or isn’t she the lost German girl? The New Orleans German community rallies to her defense, and her owner and a former owner mount a fierce battle to keep the girl in bondage.
The case grows stranger and stranger with unforeseen twists and turns. Remember: it’s a true, carefully documented story with all the sources noted. There’s much to learn about slavery laws of this era, the 1840s. It’s an interesting read.
» The Lost German Slave Girl
By John Bailey
Published by Grove Press
— Lynn Lofton, firstname.lastname@example.org
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