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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 Hardcover – December 6, 2004

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; First Edition edition (December 6, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871139219
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871139214
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 6.3 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,261,397 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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

More About the Author

John Bailey (b. 1944) is an Australian author with five books to his credit. Bailey's approach to writing has been to create a strong narrative against the background of exotic or remote locations. His first book, The Wire Classroom 1969 (Angus and Robertson), described colonial life in New Guinea. His second, The Moon Baby 1972 (Angus and Robertson), was set in the future in an unnamed metropolis. His third, The White Divers of Broome 2001 (Macmillan), concerns pearl shell diving in the coastal town of Broome in the north of Western Australia.

The Lost German Slave Girl, 2003 (Macmillan) relates the true story of a slave woman in Louisiana who claimed to be a German immigrant who had been illegally taken into bondage when she was a child.

His latest book, Mr Stuart's Track 2006 (Macmillan), reveals the forgotten life of John McDouall Stuart, the first explorer to cross Australia from coast to coast.

Customer Reviews

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I was only mildly interested in this book to start... turned out to be a great read.
Michael Berger
The author does a wonderful job of presenting all the evidence; trying to give the reader a blanced view of both sides of this case for free one "German Slave Girl."
This is a true story and it has all the intrigue, plot twists, and characters of a well-written novel.
Lisa Ann

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 51 people found the following review helpful By A. Woodley on August 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
You know, I thought this would be an incredibly dry book, especially having read the introduction in which the author, Bailey, talks about how he came across it. He was researching the minutiae of slave law in the South at the time. What rights did they have, did slaves ever bring cases against their masters etc....then he came across the most intriguing story - that of a slave girl, Sally Miller - who may - or may not have been Salome Muller - a lost German migrant who was bonded with her father into work to pay for her passage from Europe to America.

Sally Miller was the spitting image of Salome Muller's mother who died on the voyage to America, and her Muller Aunt insisted that she had the birthmarks which Salome had, all her friends and relatives were also convinced. However Miller had been sold as a slave to a master who would not release her, in order for her to assume her new life with her family she had to be formally proved to be Salome Muller and therefore not able to be taken back into slavery again - and so began a vitriolic court case.

The real strength of this book is that it is actually not Dry at all. Bailey points out the weaknesses in his book early on - that there are not written records for some of it, and where these don't exist he has made guesses at what happened in between based on the outcome

What I found ultimately the most fascinating is that this exposes the strengths and weaknesses of the slavery system in the South compared to the North (neither of which I will point out right now was ideal!
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46 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Jona Pavlova on November 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is a fascinating story in its own right, and a horrifying account of what slavery was like on a day-to-day basis for the people who lived with it in the Mississippi area. It's the little details the author gives that bring home how degrading the institution was for slaves and slave owners alike. Surprisingly the author is an Australian lawyer, I bought and read the book in paperback in Australia, but his research in the US has been meticulous. He has had to use fiction to fill in parts of the slave girl's story but this enhances rather than detracts from the overall narrative. I highly recommend it, very suitable for the thinking person's Christmas stocking!
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Charles R. Milbourne on July 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a great read.

Baily gives us a story worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster - a story about a young orphan German girl sold into slavery and the legal efforts made by New Orlean's German community to set her free. The story has many exciting twists and turns.

As good as the story is is Baily's account of Louisiana's case law concerning slaves and redemptioners (indentured whites). The law is familiar and strange. Familiar because we know the legal procedures; strange because the law we learn about treats people as property.

Highly recommended!
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Terry E. Hedrick on March 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I read this book as a selection of my book club and started it with only moderately high expectations. After all, wouldn't all the court deliberations begin to drag on as the case of the purported German immigrant was debated? However, I found the book absolutely fascinating; I'd rank it close to the top of the list of the sixty-something books we've read and discussed. The story of the immigration of the German families is heart-wrenching and highlights how even relatively minor circumstances can have life-altering consequences for a vulnerable population.

The tension only mounts as the court case begins. The book provides a perspective of US history through its detail and discussion of how slaves are treated and, even more startling, the motivations behind the law-making governing slaves and whether someone is considered white. I'd recommend it to all. John Bailey did a remarkable job of using the case of the "lost German slave girl" to provide a much larger view of Southern history.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By doomsdayer520 HALL OF FAME on June 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
John Bailey was doing general research into the minutiae of slave laws in the American South prior to the Civil War, and came across an unusual case that he decided to investigate fully, resulting in this highly interesting book. The story here involves the disappearance of a little German immigrant girl into the world of the redemptioner system (indentured servitude) in Louisiana, then her supposed discovery by anxious relatives 25 years later, working as a slave at a New Orleans saloon. The young woman allowed the relatives to institute a lengthy legal battle for her freedom, but her true identity and the real fate of the lost little girl turned out to be real surprises. Bailey makes use of his research into slave laws to show the relentless everyday prejudice of the slave system. We find that people with even a small fraction of non-white heritage were condemned by law to lives of slavery, poor white immigrants could be enslaved if their indentured servitude arrangements went wrong, the ownership rules for slaves and their children were heartless and constructed similarly to those for perishable foods, and it was nearly impossible for slaves of any heritage to gain their freedom in the eyes of the Southern courts. In addition to covering a very unique court case from Louisiana history, the true value of this book is a look at how a system that everyone knows was evil - slavery - was backed up by a body of obscure laws and regulations that were designed specifically to keep the slaves legally powerless and their masters powerful. [~doomsdayer520~]
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