Many of Cable's Strange True Stories of Louisiana (1890) are as truly Gothic as any fiction he wrote, and perhaps as anything in this volume.
Salomé Müller was a German immigrant child who was separated from her family, sold into slavery and grew up believing that she was black. She was freed after a lengthy court battle, and her saga was widely reported.
Slavery in the Americas depended on the legal fiction that a person was either black or white. Yet after generations of racial mixing, the reality, observable by anyone, was that there were people of every shade in between. There are many stories of people of color passing as white, and other stories of people, like Grace King's “Little Convent Girl,” involuntarily crossing the color line from white to black. Salomé Müller's sad story is a reductio ad absurdumof Southern racial dogma, and exposes the artificial construction upon which slavery was based.
Text: George Washington Cable, Strange True Stories of Louisiana (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1889), 145–91.
SALOME MÜLLER, THE WHITE SLAVE (1818–45)
Salome and Her Kindred
She may be living yet, in 1889. For when she came to Louisiana, in 1818, she was too young for the voyage to fix itself in her memory. She could not, to-day, be more than seventy-five.
In Alsace, France, on the frontier of the Department of Lower Rhine, about twenty English miles from Strasburg, there was in those days, as I suppose there still is, a village called Langensoultz. The region was one of hills and valleys and of broad, flat meadows yearly overflowed by the Rhine. It was noted for its fertility; a land of wheat and wine, hop-fields, flax-fields, hay-stacks, and orchards.
It had been three hundred and seventy years under French rule, yet the people were still, in speech and traditions, German. Those were not the times to make them French. The land swept by Napoleon's wars, their firesides robbed of fathers and sons by the conscription, the awful mortality of the Russian campaign, the emperor's waning star, Waterloo—these were not the things or conditions to give them comfort in French domination. There was a widespread longing among them to seek another land where men and women and children were not doomed to feed the ambition of European princes.