The Lost German Slave Girl: The Extraordinary True Story of the Slave Sally Miller and Her Fight for Freedom

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On a spring morning in the Spanish Quarter of New Orleans, 1843.,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 who disappeared twenty-five years earlier, the daughter of her closest friend. But the young woman is the property of a Frenchman who owns a nearby cabaret. She is a slave, with no memory of a "white" past. And yet her resemblance to her mother is striking, and she bears two telltale birthmarks. What happened? Had a ...
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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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Overview

On a spring morning in the Spanish Quarter of New Orleans, 1843.,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 who disappeared twenty-five years earlier, the daughter of her closest friend. But the young woman is the property of a Frenchman who owns a nearby cabaret. She is a slave, with no memory of a "white" past. And yet her resemblance to her mother is striking, and she bears two telltale birthmarks. What happened? Had a defenseless European orphan been callously and illegally enslaved, or was she an imposter? So began one of the most celebrated and sensational crusades of 19th century America-the battle to free the Los German Slave Girl. John Bailey, author of the multi-award winning The White Divers of Broome, has brought to life an incredible true story. The Lost German Slave Girl is a tour de force, a work of narrative non-fiction that is a fascinating exploration of slavery and its laws, a brilliant reconstruction of mid-19th century New Orleans, and a riveting courtroom drama. It is also a compelling portrait of a young woman in pursuit of freedom.
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Editorial Reviews

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John Bailey has written a thoroughly researched, in-depth account of slavery in 19th-century New Orleans. Hmm. Sounds like an arduous read, filled with boring historical detail, right? Wrong. Bailey's work is fast-paced and exhilarating, and it reads like a detective novel, full of intrigue, suspense and compelling courtroom drama. In fact, readers will have to keep reminding themselves that Bailey's tale is no work of fiction, but a true story.

One spring morning in 1843, in the Spanish Quarter of New Orleans, a German immigrant recognizes the face of a young German girl who had disappeared 25 years earlier. But this girl is a slave -- with no memory of her "white" past. Is she truly Mary Miller, as she claims? Or Salomé Müller, enslaved as an orphaned child of German immigrants? And why can't she remember what happened to her? So begins the riveting saga of one woman's fight for freedom in what would become one of the most sensational legal cases in American history.

Like a sleuth, Bailey masterfully leads readers through a maze of evidence, picking up clues from newspapers, pamphlets, court transcripts, and eyewitness accounts. Through startling twists and turns, he unravels the mystery that once had all of New Orleans in its grip. After the first few pages, it will grab you, too. (Spring 2005 Selection)

Publishers Weekly
Who was Sally Miller: was she Salom Miller, 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 Miller, and unusual birthmarks exactly like he daughter Salom 's, the Schubers claimed Sally as kin and set about trying to prove her identity as Salom 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. Agent, Catherine Drayton of Arthur Pine Associates. 50,000 first printing. (Jan.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this expertly woven expos of a hotly disputed 19th-century court battle, Australian historian Bailey (The White Divers of Broome) takes on the early American South. A series of highly contentious trials was held in the mid-1800s to determine whether Sally Miller, a New Orleans woman, was born a multiracial slave or was in fact a German immigrant trapped in bondage from childhood. The stuff of television miniseries, this sensational and emotional cause celebre of its time is revived into a fresh drama from the vantage point of the present. Bailey's revisiting clearly shows the legal bias and the transparent motivations while delivering a shocking new conclusion. He weaves a deft and captivating plot with astonishing detail culled from historical and archival records. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/04.]-Elizabeth Morris, Illinois Fire Service Inst., Champaign Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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 Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An immigrant family's struggles bring a web of intrigue leading to a cause celebre in antebellum New Orleans, known then as America's "Sin City." In his dogged dissection of one of the most ornate and convoluted legal cases ever played out in an American slave state, Bailey, who originally published this in his native Australia, does a fine job of resurrecting the ambience and cultural atmosphere of New Orleans in the 1840s. The dominant Creoles' lifestyle in the Vieux Carre is luxuriously carefree; the poor, on the other hand, are scourged by yellow fever, harried by constant threat of floods, and preyed on by landholders, river-men, and other opportunists. And beneath even the poor are the slaves, locked into their fates by Louisiana's elaborate system of racist legal codes administered by courts as corrupt as the municipal power structure that populated them. Into this mix, in 1843, suddenly walks a young woman immediately recognized in a German neighborhood as Salome Muller, the long-lost daughter of fellow immigrants arriving in 1818. She responds by giving her name as Sally Miller and reporting that she is in fact the property-a slave-of the owner of a nearby cabaret. Thus begins the epic struggle of the German community to reclaim one of its own and, in the process, impugn the honor of a plantation owner who supposedly took advantage of an orphaned white girl. But, the court inquires, is she really white? Is she really who she claims to be-or a light-skinned runaway slave imposter? Bailey's trial narrative is a virtual education on the bizarre legalisms once regularly applied to human chattel; when, for instance, freedom eventually comes to Sally-or whoever she was-it is denied herchildren. An eye-opener to the racism that's so deeply embedded in the fabric of American society. Agent: Catherine Drayton/Arthur Pine Associates
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780871139214
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/9/2004
  • Pages: 268
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.08 (h) x 1.34 (d)

Read an Excerpt

ONE
MARY MILLER
The elevation of the white race, and the happiness of the slave, vitally depend upon maintaining the ascendancy of one and the submission of the other.
Chief Justice Watkins of the Arkansas Supreme Court, 1854
This much we know: that on a bright, spring morning in 1843, Madame Carl Rouff left her timber-framed house in Lafayette to travel across New Orleans to visit a friend who lived in the Faubourg Marigny. It was a distance of four miles, following the bend of the Mississippi as it turned abruptly on itself in its winding course to the Gulf. She caught the mule-driven omnibus along Tchoupitoulas Street to the city, a journey of an hour and a quarter, swaying gently as she watched the unloading of the keelboats, skiffs, and packets anchored alongside the levee. She had allowed herself plenty of time, so it was without urgency that she alighted and crossed the expanse of Canal Street to enter the Vieux Carré. She had only a vague idea of how the streets fit together in the narrow grid at the back of the Place d'Armes, so doggedly she followed Bourbon Street, hoping eventually to run into Esplanade Avenue, which would guide her to her destination.

She entered an area of narrow streets and alleys where a jumbled variety of wooden tenements leaned against one another for support. For decades, poor Spanish-speaking families had lived there, but increasingly their homes were being bought up by Américain speculators who had converted them into flophouses, gambling dens, and bawdy houses for the boatmen who poured in from the riverfront each evening. It was an area of New Orleans where no respectable woman should venture, even in daylight. Set incongruously in its midst, enclosed by a high wall on three sides, was the Ursuline Convent.

As Madame Carl crossed the street, she felt the heat of the sun reflecting off the surface of the road. She hadn't been feeling well for some months, so it was no surprise to her when she suddenly felt light-headed. She placed a hand on the front rail of one of the houses and took a moment to recover her breath. In front of the nunnery was a small marble statue of a tormented Jesus, a showy display of Catholic idolatry of which she disapproved. Running down to the levee was a terrace of narrow buildings of weather-bleached clapboards. On the front doorstep of one, sat a woman bathed in sunlight, her legs drawn to her chest, her head resting on her knees.

Madame Carl waited, hoping she would soon feel better. She watched a black man push a barrow of watermelon from the waterfront; some urchins, naked to the waist, scrambled to kick a rag ball along the gutter. After a minute or two, she felt strong enough to continue. She pushed herself off the rail. She was no more than three paces from the sidewalk on the other side of the street when the woman sitting on the step sighed deeply and, with her eyes closed, faced into the sun. Madame Carl stopped and took a sharp intake of air. She knew her. It was Dorothea Müller.

Madame Carl held still, fearful that if she moved, the marvel would end. The same high cheekbones, the same smooth, olive skin, the same full mouth. Dorothea Müller. On that stinking, foul ship, tossing endlessly on the Atlantic, she had watched Dorothea's husband carry her body onto the deck, wrap it in a canvas sheet, and slide the bundle into the sea.

Dorothea, whispered Madame Carl to herself. She was looking at the death mask of someone who had died over a quarter of a century ago. Dorothea! Her dearest friend, her school companion in a village half a world away.

The woman opened her eyes and Madame Carl stared intently into her face. She was as Madame Carl remembered her, seated just like that, on the front step of Frau Hillsler's house.

How are you, Dorothea? asked Madame Carl, her voice quavering with emotion. The woman didn't answer. Gently Madame Carl repeated the question. She took a few steps closer and bent over her. Where have you been, Dorothea? It's been so long. The woman, discomfited by Madame Carl's gaze, shook her head.

But, of course, this couldn't be Dorothea. Madame Carl recoiled at her own stupidity. Then it struck her with a clear and abiding certainty. It was Dorothea's lost daughter, Salomé. Madame Carl stood spellbound. Salomé, she whispered. Is that you, Salomé?

My name is Mary Miller, missus.

Madame Carl looked at the woman in bewilderment. You are Salomé, the child who was lost.

The woman shook her head once more. Madame Carl flinched in disappointment. She didn't know what to say. She began to feel ill again and leaned against the wall of the building for support. She studied the figure beneath her. The woman wore a tignon of brightly colored madras cotton and a dark kersey shawl over a long dress of coarse linen. They were slave's clothes. Her face was tanned and her hands were engrained with dirt. Unsettled by the attention of Madame Carl, the woman stooped her shoulders in submission. At that gesture of huddled servility, it occurred to Madame Carl that the woman might be a slave. It was an appalling thought that hit her in the pit of her stomach. How could this be? Madame Carl's thoughts tangled in confusion. Was her mind unraveling in the heat?

Please, whispered Madame Carl.

The woman looked up. I am a yellow girl. I belong to Mr. Belmonti, she said, inclining her head toward the interior of a shop behind her.

Madame Carl straightened and took a deep breath. Could she be mistaken?

The two women glanced fleetingly into each other's eyes, hoping to understand the other's thoughts. Madame Carl asked her to remove her tignon. The woman on the doorstep paused, then reached behind her head, unwrapped the cloth, and shook her head, unfurling long, dark auburn locks. The hair was Dorothea's, but it was the woman's action -- the toss of her head, the sensual delight in the display that took Madame Carl's breath away. Again Madame Carl was shaken, but she pressed on. You are not rightly a slave, she said. You are Salomé Müller.

There was a blank expression on the woman's face, then a look of puzzlement, followed by a slow grin as she pondered a joke she didn't get. Then, finding no answer, she bowed her head in deference.

You are of pure German blood, urged Madame Carl, her voice rising. I knew your mother. I know you. We came together to this country -- on the same ship -- twenty-five years ago. You are German.

As she waited for a response, Madame Carl's attention was snagged by a shadow moving in a room of the house behind the woman. Madame Carl turned and caught a glimpse of a moon-faced man with a bushy mustache who was leaning forward to listen to their conversation. He stepped back out of view. Salomé's owner, she supposed. A Frenchman. She looked around, noticing for the first time that she was standing outside a barroom of some sort -- inside the front parlor were tables and chairs, and a bench containing bottles of colored liqueurs and a cabinet of cigars. She turned back to the woman on the doorstep. Please don't be afraid. I can help you. You are German.

No, I am Mary Miller and I belong to Mr. Belmonti. You ask him. Her eyes begged to be left alone.

Please listen to me. You are not a slave. You are from the Müller family.

There was no response. It was hopeless. Madame Carl wondered if she should speak to the woman's owner, but that would take more strength than she felt she could muster. She could take no more. Abruptly she turned and walked away. At the corner she stopped and looked back. The doorway was empty. It was as if the woman had never existed. In her place stood her master, a tall, plump man smoking a cigar.

* * *

Over a century ago, two Louisiana writers, J. Hanno Deiler (a professor at Tulane University in New Orleans) and George W. Cable, working independently of each other, told the story of the Lost German Slave Girl. Deiler's article appeared as a pamphlet in a German-language newspaper in New Orleans in 1888. Cable's version appeared in The Century Magazine of 1889 and was later included as a chapter in his Strange True Tales of Louisiana. Since neither spoke to either Madame Carl or Mary Miller, their reports of the conversation between the two women were clearly imaginative creations, derived from hand-me-down renditions supplied by relatives. The version presented here is adapted from both these sources and from the notes of evidence of the trial when Salomé Müller sought her freedom in the First District Court of Louisiana in 1844.

In Cable's version, on the very day Madame Carl discovered Mary Miller, she enticed her away for a few hours so that she could show her to members of the German community in New Orleans. However, according to the lawyer who represented Salomé Müller in her quest for freedom, this didn't happen until "the following day, or shortly after". Whenever it was, soon after the initial meeting Madame Carl managed to convince Mary Miller to accompany her across New Orleans to the house of Francis and Eva Schuber in Lafayette. Eva Schuber was Salomé Müller's cousin and godmother, and had accompanied the Müller family on the voyage to America. If anyone could confirm to Madame Carl that she had found the lost girl, it would be Eva.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 24 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 14, 2012

    very interesting and shocking

    As they say, truth is stranger than fiction. This is indicative of this book, which tells of the horrid laws of slavery during the 1800's, and the true tale of a 3 year old child who had emigrated to Louisiana in the early part of the 19th century. After surviving a horrendous ocean voyage to America from Germany, where many died on this voyage, this child, as well as many others who were immigrants, were enslaved temporarily, regardless of their race. The child, however, had an olive complexion, and was taken to be a negro. After many years of being a slave, she was recognized by her godmother, who proceeded to try to get her freed. The story is compelling and should be read by all.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2006

    One of the best historical fiction books I have ever read.

    If you have an interest in History, early New Orleans, slavery, or just a very good mystery, this would be a book that you can¿t put down until you finish it. I carried the book around with me until it was finished then wished it was longer. John Bailey has a gift for taking the facts and putting them into a readable narrative which turns history into an interesting and enlightening experience. His work was so well researched that I, as a native of the area, could find no place where he misrepresented the people, facts or language of old New Orleans and the Slavery and legal questions of the early 1800¿s. His method of introducing an explanation of the facts within the narrative gives the reader information supporting the story as it moves along. Quite a feat for a person who is not even from America. This is only his second book but I hope it is not his last.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2012

    Hard to Put Down!

    Very entertaining history. It becomes a supense story of whether Sally Miller will obtain her freedom and has a surprise ending.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 2, 2012

    A good read because it's true.

    Interesting, holds your attention, but not one I'm running out telling people they should read. One new insight, I never know about the 'redemptioners' and the possible consequences of the practice.
    I think any one with a law background would be interested -again because it is a true story.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 13, 2012

    Excellent presentation of actual events

    The research is presented straight-forward and documents. A book that could be dry and lifeless. It is the exact opposite. I was caught in the story and rooting for the lost German slave girl!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2012

    A fascinating story, but a dreadfully written book. The author

    A fascinating story, but a dreadfully written book. The author is trying to tell two stories here. Many authors succeed in this kind of endeavor. He did not. The story of Sally Miller is amazing...as is the story of the history of laws governing slaves. I hope for readers' sakes, the author and/or editor will take another stab at trying to present it coherently.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2007

    A reviewer

    During the 19th century, Sally Miller was found by Madame Carl Rouff and brings her to the village where German immigrants lived. And everyone recognizes her as Salome Muller, a lost German slave girl. She is a daughter of Daniel Muller who was sold to another slave owner who was from far away. So all the relatives and friends gets separated. Then they never heard from them ever. Sally Miller, by a help of the other German families tries to win a freedom from slavery. The whites, or Europeans, were to be indentured servants because they had to pay off debt that was to come to America. Sally's trial starts with her previous master, John Fitz Miller, the rich owner of slavery. Then it also includes with . John Miller then goes with research that Sally is not Salome and goes with how he bought her, how she didn't have any accents, and that her skin is a bit dark, not white. Then the Defense team with Upton's help proves about how Sally look just like her mother and that she has a mole. Also, with witnesses help, that she did have a German accent and that she was sold to Attakapa where John Miller's farm was. Many of the trials of her fails and people begins to give up. But Upton and Eva, her Godmother, helps her until the end, trying to look for more witnesses to prove. This book, also, shows some examples of many other trials that are similar to this and how the outcome was successful. It, also, shows how people were trying to win their freedom, not giving up, and how they want to prove that they have a right. In my opinion, I think that Sally Miller is not Salome Muller, but I am glad about how she freed herself from slavery, and how strongly her community fought for her. When I read this book, it seemed so realistic to me that this was actually happening now. If there is a time during the class, this book should be read to actually understand how these people felt and why they want freedom so much, that they could risk their life. Later, Sally Miller is freed following by the judges, and she tries to free her own children. This taught me how difficult it is to be freed. There is many ways to be freed, and if none of them works, then there is no way. This taught me how when slave is pregnant, then the children immediately becomes slaves. And the only way to free themselves is to pay certain amount of money or win their freedom someway. If I was one of the slave owner's daughter, I would want to end this and help the slaves with their life. I with everyone in 19th century would feel this way, so that there wouldn't be such thing as slavery since all human are equal. ^_^

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2015

    Excellent book

    An excellent historical account of one of the most intriguing legal battles ever in Louisiana. The book is very well documented and footnoted, but it reads like a novel. The book has the historical accuracy of Twelve Years A Slave, the plot twists of Gone Girl, and the legal drama of a Law & Order episode.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2015

    Great read

    Very interesting story. The story really sucks you in and the history reads like a novel as opposed to dry facts.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2015

    So very educational of 'the times'

    this is an amazing book. If you need to understand what it might be like to live in the skin of any of the many characters of this book, or to live in this era of time, delve in!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2015

    Waste of time!

    With all the time I put into reading this book, I sure expected a different ending. Not one that had more questions! It was frustrating, while reading the book, even she didn't really know who she was...now that is the saddest part of all! The part I find really unreal, these birth marks on her had to tell people something. Why was it questioned about so much? It is not like you can just dab on birth marks at will. I just didn't like the ending.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2015

    Boring

    More like a text book then a story

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 7, 2012

    Good Book

    What I found most interesting about this book were the facts. It was interesting to me to learn the laws of slavery back then. Not a lot of story, but it was just facts of the case. Interesting.

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    Posted January 3, 2012

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    Posted January 15, 2011

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    Posted July 9, 2011

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    Posted June 24, 2011

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    Posted July 23, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2011

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