Resistance, Silence, and Placées: Charles Bon’s Octoroon Mistress and Louisa Picquet

Resistance, Silence, and Placées: Charles Bon’s Octoroon Mistress and Louisa Picquet

American Literature
Volume 79, Number 1 (March 2007)
pages 85-112
DOI: 10.1215/00029831-2006-072

Stephanie Li, Assistant Professor of English
University of Rochester

In 1850, Mary Walker, a free woman of color, filed a petition in the Fourth District Court of New Orleans to enslave herself and her nine-year-old daughter to George Whittaker. Commenting on a similar case involving the voluntary enslavement of another free woman of color, the New Orleans Daily Picayune asserted that Amelia Stone “preferred” the liberty, security, and protection of slavery here, to the degradation of free niggerdom among the Abolitionists at the North, with whom she would be obliged to dwell, and in preference to which, she has sought the ‘chains’ of slavery.” With only this specious rationale, a political barb aimed at antislavery Northerners, there exists no historical record to explain Stone’s and Walker’s drastic choice. Nevertheless, we can offer some conjectures concerning the motives of women of color who sought enslavement. Throughout the nineteenth century, free people of color living in New Orleans were subjected to waves of discrimination that culminated in the ratification of laws restricting their mobility and basic liberties. They were required to carry proof of their freedom at all times, and their right of assembly was severely limited. An 1842 law required recently arrived free blacks to leave Louisiana. Had Walker been new to the state, enslavement would have been the only way for her to remain. Even if she had been born in Louisiana, she might have preferred the stability of enslavement to the troubles and insecurities of freedom.

In giving up her liberty, Walker made one final independent choice; she chose George Whitaker as her master. Perhaps she had some knowledge of his character and social position that led her to entrust her life and that of her daughter to him. He may have been her former…

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