White Slave Children: Individual Accounts

Figure 1.-- The engraving here was based on a CDV portrait and published in "Harper's Weekly" (January 30, 1864) during the Civil War. (Photographs could not yet be reproduced in print.) The CDV was one of a series being sold by the National Freedman's Relief Association to raise money to assist emancipated slaves. The Association explained, "The group of emancipated slaves whose portraits I send you were brought by Colonel Hanks and Mr. Phillip Bacon from New Orleans, where they were set free by General Butler. Mr. Bacon went to New Orleans with our army, and was for eighteen months employed as Assistant-Superintendent of Freedmen, under the care of Colonel Hanks. He established the first school in Louisiana for emancipated slaves, and these children were among his pupils. He will soon return to Louisiana to resume his labor."

We do not have a lot of information about the light-skinned slave children. One complicating factor about children like the ones here is that during the ante-bellum era, many were cared for in the homes of their father, often under relatively genteel slavery. After the Civil War, however, they were an object of acute embarassment for the families involved. They were thus sent north or forced to leave their homes if alittle older. Because of the enbarassment involved and the desire of the children to disappear into the white population, very few accounts exist describing their experiences. We have found a few accounts during the Civil War. What is rarely available is information about their adult lives, especially those who were freed as they wanted to escape the stigma of race and slavery and met into the white population. Thus the individual accounts we have found are about their childhood.

Augusta Boujey (1864)

"Augusta Boujey (figure 1) is nine years old. Her mother, who is almost white, was owned by her half-brother, named Solamon, who still retains two of her children." [NFRA} Augusta is the girl at the left.

Rosina Downs (1864)

"Rosina Downs (figure 1) is not quite seven years old. She is a fair child, with blonde complexion and silky hair. Her father is in the rebel army. She has one sister as white as herself, and three brothers who are darker. Her mother, a bright mulatto, lives in New Orleans in a poor hut, and has hard work to support her family." [NFRA] Rosina id the girl at the far right.

Rebecca Huger (1864)

"Rebecca Huger (figure 1) is eleven years old, and was a slave in her father's house, the special attendant of a girl a little older than herself. To all appearance she is perfectly white. Her complexion, hair, and features show not the slightest trace of negro blood. In the few months during which she has been at school she has learned to read well, and writes as neatly as most children of her age. Her mother and grandmother live in New Orleans, where they support themselves comfortably by their own labor. The grandmother, an intelligent mulatto, told Mr. Bacon that she ad "raised" a large family of children, but these are all that are left to her." [NFRA} Rebecca is the white girl second to the rught in the front row.

Charles Taylor (1864)

"Charles Taylor (figure 1) is eight years old. His complexion is very fair, his hair light and silky. Three out of five boys in any school in New York are darker than he. Yet this white boy, with his mother, as he declares, has been twice sold as a slave. First by his father and "owner," Alexander Wethers, of Lewis County, Virginia, to a slave-trader named Harrison, who sold them to Mr. Thornhill of New Orleans. This man fled at the approach of our army, and his slaves were liberated by General Butler. The boy is decidedly intelligent, and though he has been at school less than a year he reads and writes very well. His mother is a mulatto; she had one daughter sold into Texas before she herself left Virginia, and one son who, she supposes, is with his father in Virginia." [NFRA]


National Freedman's Relief Association (NFRA). Letter to the editot, "Harper's Weekly" (January 30, 1864).


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Created: 9:12 PM 5/7/2007
Last updated: 9:12 PM 5/7/2007