Cover image for The great New Orleans kidnapping case : race, law, and justice in the Reconstruction era
Title:
The great New Orleans kidnapping case : race, law, and justice in the Reconstruction era
Author:
Ross, Michael A. (Michael Anthony)
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Oxford University Press, [2015]

©2015
Physical Description:
viii, 309 pages : illustrations, map ; 25 cm
Summary:
In The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case, Michael Ross offers the first full account of this event that electrified the South at one of the most critical moments in the history of American race relations. Tracing the crime from the moment it was committed, through the highly publicized investigation and sensationalized trial that followed, all the while chronicling the public outcry and escalating hysteria as news and rumors surrounding the crime spread, Ross paints a vivid picture of the Reconstruction-era South, and the complexities and possibilities that faced the newly integrated society.
Language:
English
Contents:
A kidnapping in the back of town -- Detective John Baptiste Jourdain and his world -- A trace of the missing child? -- A knock at the Digbys' door -- The arrest of the alleged accessories -- The woman in the seaside hat -- The Recorder's Court -- A highly unusual proceeding -- Unveiling the mystery -- The case "that excited all New Orleans".
ISBN:
9780199778805
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

In June 1870, the residents of the city of New Orleans were already on edge when two African American women kidnapped seventeen-month old Mollie Digby from in front of her New Orleans home. It was the height of Radical Reconstruction, and the old racial order had been turned upside down: blackmen now voted, held office, sat on juries, and served as policemen. Nervous white residents, certain that the end of slavery and resulting "Africanization" of the city would bring impending chaos, pointed to the Digby abduction as proof that no white child was safe. Louisiana's twenty-eight year old Reconstruction Governor Henry Clay Warmoth, hoping to use the investigation of the kidnapping to validate his newly integrated police force to the highly suspicious white population of New Orleans, saw to it that the city's best Afro-Creole detective, Jean BaptisteJourdain, was put on the case, and offered a huge reward for the return of Mollie Digby and the capture of her kidnappers. When the Associated Press sent the story out on the wire, newspaper readers around the country began to follow the New Orleans mystery. Eventually, police and prosecutors puttwo strikingly beautiful Afro-Creole women on trial for the crime, and interest in the case exploded as a tense courtroom drama unfolded.In The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case, Michael Ross offers the first full account of this event that electrified the South at one of the most critical moments in the history of American race relations. Tracing the crime from the moment it was committed, through the highly publicized investigationand sensationalized trial that followed, all the while chronicling the public outcry and escalating hysteria as news and rumors surrounding the crime spread, Ross paints a vivid picture of the Reconstruction-era South, and the complexities and possibilities that faced the newly integrated society.Leading readers into smoke filled concert saloons, Garden District drawing rooms, sweltering courthouses, and squalid prisons, Ross brings this fascinating era back to life. A stunning work of historical recreation, The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case is sure to captivate anyone interested true crime, the Civil War and its aftermath, and the history of New Orleans and the American South.


Author Notes

Michael A. Ross is Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland. He is the author of the prize-winning Justice of Shattered Dreams: Samuel Freeman Miller and the Supreme Court during the Civil War Era as well as numerous award-winning articles. He holds a law degree from DukeUniversity and a Ph.D. in History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Supreme Court History.


Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

University of Maryland history professor Ross (Justice of Shattered Dreams) unearths a strange event from the Reconstruction era that highlights the postbellum periods tensions with race, local culture, and the role of the federal government. Elegant Afro-Creole women Ellen Follin and Louisa Murray were unlucky when authorities accused them of kidnapping an Irish-American toddler named Mollie Digby in what Ross calls the first kidnapping trial in American history to become sensationalized national news, but possessed the good fortune to be tried in a brief era in which they might receive a fair trial. Tensions ran high between races and classes in New Orleans, but black detective (and later state representative) Jean Baptiste Jourdain tracked down the suspects while a mixed-race jury heard the case against the educated, property-owning Afro-Creole defendants. Ross slowly reconstructs the case and describes the trial, allowing the mystery of guilt or innocence to crescendo. He also demonstrates how a kidnapping case featuring a disbelieving immigrant father, exotic race and legal systems, and a crime-ridden city known for debauchery captivated national attention. Ross poses relevant questions that show this nearly forgotten cases significance to American history. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

Ross (history, Univ. of Maryland; Justice of Shattered Dreams) adds mystery and intrigue to the historic Reconstruction era in New Orleans through his retelling of a sensational true crime tale. The author's focus on characters' background, position, and environment does much to illuminate the circumstances and trial surrounding the 1870 crime in which toddler Mollie Digby, of a white, working-class family, was "abducted" from her babysitter by an allegedly well-dressed "mulatto" woman. Given its elements of race and class, the ensuing investigation and trial had all the earmarks of a case ripe for hyperbolic coverage by the era's press. It was capitalized upon to stoke white people's fears of "Voudoo" kidnappings while threatening the long established Afro-Creole position in New Orleans society during an especially fractious time. Impeccable research and crisp, compelling writing bring us to the case's resolution. Here, though, the responsibility lies with the reader to take the outcome for what it is and not ask for more. VERDICT Recommended for American history students and enthusiasts.-Jewell -Anderson, Savannah Country Day Sch. Lib., GA (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Table of Contents

Introductionp. 3
Chapter 1 A Kidnapping In The Back of Townp. 8
Chapter 2 Detective John Baptiste Jourdain and his Worldp. 25
Chapter 3 A Trace of the Missing Child?p. 40
Chapter 4 A Knock at the Digbys' Doorp. 54
Chapter 5 The Arrest of the Alleged Accessoriesp. 77
Chapter 6 The Woman in the Seaside Hatp. 86
Chapter 7 The Recorder's Courtp. 108
Chapter 8 A Highly Unusual Proceedingp. 129
Chapter 9 Unveiling the Mysteryp. 175
Chapter 10 The Case That "Excited All New Orleans"p. 208
Afterword and Acknowledgmentsp. 235
Notesp. 244
Indexp. 297