Book Review: The Lost German Slave Girl: The Extraordinary True Story Of Sally Miller And Her Fight For Freedom in Old New Orleans
Book Reviewed by Paige Turner
Only the great American melting pot could provide a setting where an Australian author recounts the tale of an orphaned German immigrant who was intentionally misidentified as an African slave. In the "The Lost German Slave Girl", lawyer and historian John Bailey offers readers the true story of Sally Miller and her fight for freedom.
Famine conditions in 1816 spurred seven German families to immigrate to the United States. Horrific conditions plagued their trans-Atlantic voyage, and the family of Daniel Muller experienced their full impact. Muller's wife died during the crossing and he himself perished soon after his family debarked in New Orleans. By then the rest of the German contingent had dispersed. Daniel's two daughters under the age of five, Salome and Dorothea, were left with no one to care for them.
Years later in 1843, some survivors of the treacherous voyage were shocked and delighted to rediscover Salome Muller -- the spitting image of her dead mother -- in New Orleans' French Quarter. Despite their elation Salome declared herself to be Sally Miller, a slave with no recollection of her past. But her co-voyagers persisted in claiming her as one of them.
The very idea that a white orphan would be passed off as a black, then enslaved shattered the protections and privileges held dear by whites, and was an egregious act that could not go without being addressed. New Orleans' German-American community banded together to address the wrong inflicted upon their kinswoman.
In his telling of this fascinating tale, Bailey relates slavery to the immigrant experience and provides a new variation on the theme of man's inhumanity to man.
The front cover of "The Lost German Slave Girl" piques readers' interest by illustrating the crux of Sally's plight. It depicts a Dresden doll-like visage with a pink complexion, rosy cheeks, large, dark, soulful eyes and tender pouty lips -- a dainty, tender, feminine image that is incongruous with the typical perception of an African-American slave.
Bailey is evenhanded in his exposition of Sally's mystery. He never directly compares her situation to that of the average black slave, but an inherent sympathy for slaves comes through clearly in his writing.
Ultimately the book is about the inanity of American slavery as much as about the identity of Salome, the lost German girl. Racism and its underpinnings are placed under strong light. Readers can trace the roots of the issues of self-identity and self-determination that the descendents of slaves, and all of American society still face today.