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

I’ve been watching Texas Rising on the History Channel.  I know it has historical inaccuracies in it, and I know there is a huge debate over the whole Yellow Rose aka Emily West story, but its good entertainment.  I have to give it points for the acting and large amounts of male skin.  But there are two more important reasons.  The first is that while the show is definitely in the American camp, there is some attention paid to how the Mexicans would view the Americans.  In fact, when one of Santa Ana’s officers kills a Team solider, it is hard not to sympathize when said officers tells the solider to get out of his country.  The second reason is the character of Emily West.  No doubt there is justice in claiming that she is many ways another stereotype of the beautiful temptress using her wiles to ensnare a man.  But there are glimmers of something deeper.  West isn’t motivated out of love of Houston or Texas, but out of desire of revenge for the killing of her brother.  More importantly, several times she has called direct reference to her past as a slave.  There is even a line where she says that as black woman she doesn’t have freedom in America (or what will be Texas).  Her prayer when she asks for strength to do what needs to be done is some of the best writing in the series.

 

                I thought of this while reading this book.  Bailey looks closely at a case in New Orleans.  The case occurred prior to the American Civil War and concern a woman who some people were convinced was a German immigrant enslaved.  In this story, Bailey looks closely at what the laws regarding slaves and ownership were in New Orleans (pre and post purchase) as well as the case itself.  The question is whether or not Sally Miller was a woman who had African blood in her veins.  If the answer to this question was yes, than she would be a slave.  If no, while than she wouldn’t be.  The question of who Sally Miller was isn’t as easy to solve as you would think.

 

 The only misstep that Bailey makes is when he is discussing the use of female slaves by their white male owners.  Because of ownership (a slave woman couldn’t really say no; obviously), it is hard to see it as anything other than rape, at least by our modern terms.  This could have been more directly worded, even in a chapter that was discussing how such “relations” were legally seen at the time.  (And no, I am not taking about the concubines.  I am talking about the enslaved women).

 

                Perhaps the most horrifying aspects of this book are not the chapters detailing the trials of Sally Miller but those sections that detail the laws governing whether a child would or would not be freed along with his or her parents.