On January 30, 1862, Alexina Morrison, a twenty-year-old slave fighting for her freedom, waited in a New Orleans courtroom for the jury’s final verdict. Alexina had spent the past three years in the midst of legal battles against her former master, James White, and the case had finally reached the Supreme Court of Louisiana. Alexina’s case, Morrison v. White, was no different from those of many other slaves who had also fought for their freedom, save for one fact: Alexina had blonde hair, blue eyes, fair skin, and argued that she was white.

Alexina did not bother to contest the authenticity of the thick paper trail that documented her sale to James White. If the court agreed that she was white, those contracts would automatically be rendered invalid and she would be free. At fifteen, Alexina had run away from White. She was subsequently taken in by the sympathetic family of a jailor who believed, as she claimed, that she was white and had been kidnapped into slavery. During the course of the trial, the jury heard testimony from nearly thirty witnesses who scrutinized Alexina’s physical features and moral character, searching for a “trace of the African in her.”[1]

Morrison v. White was one of the more peculiar cases ever to be brought before the Louisiana Supreme Court. Of the more than one thousand slave cases heard by the Court prior to the Civil War, Morrison v. White was one of only eight in which the question of a litigant’s race was at the heart of the case. In the majority of manumission cases, slaves argued that they were wrongfully enslaved because they had previously purchased their freedom or because masters’ promises of emancipation had not been honored. In these cases the Court’s job was legally straightforward; if the slave could produce sufficient documentation or “free papers,” the Court granted freedom. The race of these slaves was never up for debate, as they were presumed to be black or mulatto.

In ruling on racial status independently of documented legal status, the Court found itself navigating unfamiliar legal territory. Morrison v. White therefore provides exceptional insight into how the Court grappled with and defined race when the usual frameworks and precedents for slave cases were not applicable. The difficulty the Court faced in adjudicating Alexina’s case demonstrates that the legal formulation of race in this period was not straightforward; in some ways the law served to bolster restrictions based on racial difference, but in other ways it created opportunities for those restrictions to be contested.

Morrison v. White also provides a rare look into everyday understandings of race among common people in New Orleans. Most histories of the period have emphasized the emergence of “race science” in the years leading up to the Civil War, focusing on the work of naturalists Samuel George Morton, Louis Agassiz, and other members of an elite group of antebellum thinkers now known as the American School of Anthropology. Race science is commonly understood as a body of science that sought to prove the “natural” differences between blacks and whites, developed in part to justify slavery and to oppress persons of color.

But testimony of witnesses reveals that race was not understood in the “scientific” terms typically used by historians to describe the period. Rather, race was understood as a complex concept with a heterogeneous set of meanings, rooted in the language of blood and physical appearance, as well as character and social context. Insofar as witnesses employed language characterized today as a form of “scientific racism,” it was most frequently used to further Alexina’s case—that is, to prove she was white. This use of “race science” to counter slavery, rather than to enforce it, is startlingly at odds with common narratives about scientific racism and how it was used in the antebellum South. While law and science certainly contributed to the reifying of racial categories before the Civil War, they simultaneously created spaces for well-positioned individuals to challenge their legal and racial statuses. Alexina’s use of science and law to her advantage suggests that they were not only tools of persecution but also of empowerment, employed at times to fight oppression rather than further it.

The Story of Alexina Morrison

Alexina was born into the household of Thomas and Elijah Decrow in Matagorda County, Texas around 1842 or 1843. The Decrow brothers, originally from the coast of Maine, belonged to an old American family that descended from William White, a passenger on the Mayflower. In 1831, Thomas and Elijah followed their eldest brother south to settle in Texas where they became cattle ranchers.

Around 1836, the year slavery was legalized in Texas, Thomas and Elijah purchased a sixteen-year-old slave named “Jane,” whom they would later describe during Alexina’s trial as a “bright mulatto.”[2] Jane worked for the Decrows for roughly a decade, during which she had five children. She was single and there is no official record as to who fathered her children. Alexina was born in 1842 or 1843 in the home of Thomas Decrow, who described young Alexina as “very fair,” with “blue eyes” and “light straight hair.”[3] In written response to questions asked by the attorneys by mail, both Thomas and Elijah denied knowing who had fathered Alexina, but Elijah admitted that he “suppose[d] he was a white man.”[4]

In the late 1840s, Thomas and Elijah sold Jane and her children (including Alexina) to a neighbor, Moses Morrison, who owned Alexina for only a few years before he decided to pass her off, wary of her whiteness and the attention it might attract. Several years later, in his deposition at Alexina’s trial, he explained that “her complexion was very fair for a mulatto; She had yellow flaxen hair and light blue eyes, would have passed for a white child any where if not known.”[5] Alexina traded hands several more times, moving from Texas to Arkansas to Louisiana, when she was finally purchased by James White, a veteran New Orleans slave trader.[6]


In any case, it appears that James White was both beguiled and disconcerted by Alexina’s color; he purchased her, but afterward he cut her hair short, dyed it darker, and curled it.


The shade of Alexina’s fair skin placed her in a rather precarious position in the slave market. In New Orleans the “fancy trade” of light-skinned black women became immensely popular with the advent of “quadroon balls” in the nineteenth century. During that period “there were heaps and piles of money to be made for such an extra fancy piece,” one slave dealer remarked at the time.[7] Alexina teetered between being among the most valued slaves in the trade and being so white she could pass as a white person herself. In any case, it appears that James White was both beguiled and disconcerted by Alexina’s color; he purchased her, but afterward he cut her hair short, dyed it darker, and curled it.[8] He decided to call her “Mary Jane,” or “Jane” for short.

Alexina remained in White’s possession for only a few months before she escaped, fleeing only about a mile before she surrendered herself to a local constable, who delivered the crying girl to the Jefferson Parish prison.[9] There Alexina explained to William Dennison, the jailor, that her real name was Alexina, not Jane, and that “she was born free, of white parents, and was kidnapped” into slavery in Arkansas.[10] Dennison believed Alexina, and when White visited the prison and inquired about a “little white girl by the name of Mary Jane,” referring to Alexina, Dennison chose not to turn her over to him, and instead took Alexina home to live with his family.[11] The Dennisons included Alexina in their social events in Jefferson Parish; they “introduced her into society of respectable persons in this parish as Miss Morrisson [sic] and in that character have dressed her up, and taken her to public and private balls.”[12]White continued in his efforts to gain repossession of Alexina. But in short time, Alexina had won the favor of parish members, and with the help of Dennison and other locals, she sued James White for her freedom.

The Trial

Alexina’s freedom was debated in three successive trials, which included the testimony of nearly thirty witnesses, including Alexina’s former owners and those who met her after she had surrendered herself to jail. However, the roster of witnesses also included locals who had never before met Alexina. They were deployed to give testimony about Alexina’s race, either by formal physical examination or by assessing her from across the courtroom. Among them was the New Orleans port harbor master, a butcher, a slave owner, an obstetrician, and the inventor of the binocular microscope—all folks who were presumed to have authoritative judgment on racial characteristics. Though the witnesses were all male, they constituted a diverse group in terms of class and profession. Each considered Alexina’s physical features, her character, behavior, and relationships with other white people to arrive at their pronouncement of her race.

Though it is difficult to find coherency in witnesses’ views in this style of discourse their understandings of race can be broken down into a taxonomy of four categories: 1) blood, 2) physical features, 3) behavior and moral characteristics, and 4) associations and social context. Witnesses often blended and blurred the lines of these divisions, moving from discussions of blood to physical appearance to moral character, and at times conflating them in a single sentence. The amount of attention that was devoted to each area differed significantly among witnesses.

Discussions about blood in Morrison v. White were characterized by neat precision—one half this, one half that—as if heritage resulted in perfect mixtures of bloodlines. Many southern states at this time had “hypodescent rules,” or statutory definitions of race that automatically assigned children from mixed unions to the subordinate group, usually on the basis of one-fourth or one-eight “Negro blood.” Though blood fractions never became law in Louisiana, witnesses in court often spoke using similar language and terminology.

The word “blood” had multiple meanings, making it difficult to pinpoint what physicians and witnesses meant when they used the term. At times it is clear that “blood” was used metaphorically to signify ancestry; in other circumstances blood was used more literally, reflecting a belief that the substance in one’s veins represented an exact mix of parental origin. Blood both told the story of one’s ancestry, while also containing clues about one’s intrinsic character or future behavior.

Witnesses on both sides testified about the connection of Alexina’s blood to her appearance. One witness for White, Robert Preston, remarked that from “the appearance and features of the plaintiff [he] judges that she has African blood in her vains [sic].”[13] In contrast, witnesses for Alexina spoke of the absence of the usual indicators of African blood. For example, a local clerk named G. H. Lyons noted that she had none of the “Marks of Black blood” that he had heard about from physicians.[14] Dr. Samuel Choppin, a local physician who testified in favor of Alexina, said that after a thorough examination, he “he found nothing in her organisation [sic] that would satisfy him she had any african [sic] blood in her.”[15]

The discussion of Alexina’s constitution extended beyond her blood and into her physical appearance and the peculiarities of each race. At least three witnesses scrutinized Alexina’s body in a formal examination, most often in one of the physician’s offices.[16] Choppin told the court he had examined “her body, her legs, back, breast, hair, [and] her eyes.”[17] Witnesses pointed to everything from the straightness of her nose to the absence of dark marks on the bottom of her spine to “the conformation of the lower part of her mouth” as evidence of her race.[18] Seaman Hopkins said she “had a very hollow foot” and “a double cartilage,” both of which were “characteristic of the white race.”[19]

Dr. John Leonard Riddell, a professor of chemistry at the Medical College of Louisiana, conducted a full “examination” of Alexina’s hair. Riddell was famous for his invention of the first binocular microscope in 1853, which he primarily used for his study of botany and later of cholera.[20] But when called to testify in Morrison v. White, Riddell turned his microscope to Alexina’s hair. Riddell said that he had previously conducted a comparative study of negro, mulatto, and white hair by cutting samples and analyzing the cross-section of the strands of hair.[21] He explained to the Court that in the Caucasian race the “cross section of the hair is an oval, a moderate oval.” The “long diameter would be five” in Caucasian hair and “about three in the negro hair.” He also noted “negro hair approached the character of wool.”[22] After examining a piece of Alexina’s hair, he concluded it was “of the moderate oval characteristic of the caucassian [sic] or white race.”[23]

One of the most important sources of evidence in Morrison v. White was Alexina’s behavior and moral character. Her conduct was considered proof that she was white, as demeanor and integrity were inextricably tied to race in antebellum Louisiana. John B. Clawson, a neighbor of Dennison’s who housed Alexina briefly during the course of the trial, said, “she conducted herself as a white girl. She is so in her conduct and actions.”[24] Alexina’s white femininity was constituted through a complex process of behavioral and linguistic craftsmanship. One witness, H. L. Clinch, said that in part “from her graceful appearance he bases his opinion that the girl is white.”[25] Though the understanding was implicit, gracefulness was taken to be symbolic of virtuous white femininity.

Race in antebellum New Orleans was also understood in terms of social context. Perhaps in part because the color lines were blurrier in New Orleans than elsewhere in the South, people depended on contextual clues and association to determine race. The population of New Orleans was extraordinarily diverse in 1859 compared to other southern states.[26] In addition to a significant free-black population, there were also people of Indian descent and “creoles” with Spanish and French ancestry. Clawson admitted that had he “been introduced to the girl without knowing her, he would have taken her for a white girl.”[27]

Morrison and Decrow confessed the same. Out of context, Alexina “would have passed,” but with context the jurors should know better, the two former owners implied. Alexina’s ability to associate easily with white people was also considered proof of her whiteness. Alexina’s ability to live closely with the Dennison family and to socialize with the larger white society was confirmation that she was white; to suggest otherwise would be to insult the judgment and standards of those who had taken her into their homes and communities.


Once Alexina had ingratiated herself into the Jefferson Parish community, it was crucially important that the citizens reaffirm her whiteness.


Beyond the significance of contextual clues, monitoring associations was a critical aspect of maintaining racial boundaries. Once Alexina had ingratiated herself into the Jefferson Parish community, it was crucially important that the citizens reaffirm her whiteness. If they reversed course, they would be admitting to the permeability of the color line, and to their own inability to perceive difference. The specter of “white slavery” was an issue of great concern at the time, particularly for poor whites in the South. A newspaper that reported on Morrison v. White contended that Alexina’s enslavement was “a case in point” of white slavery, and that “it was time for the poor whites to look out.”[28] Another article described Alexina as a poor white who had been sold into slavery and decried, “How many such poor whites there are now writing under the lash of the slave-driver, God only knows.”[29] Whether or not anxieties about white slavery were forefront in the minds of the Jefferson Parish community members who came to Alexina’s aid, they certainly felt they had an interest in securing Alexina’s freedom. Race was not an individual identity, it was a marker of group membership; Alexina could not be black and simultaneously exist as a member of the “group” comprised by white citizens of Jefferson. In this sense, maintaining the boundaries of the group was equivalent to keeping racial borders intact.

Witnesses in Morrison v. White and other cases of racial determination drew authority from personal experience rather than from formal training or expertise. In particular, witnesses claimed authority from: 1) personal identification as a creole; 2) time spent in the immediate area; and 3) experience living or working with people of different races. Though a number of well-educated physicians were paraded before the court, they cited life experience as their primary qualification, followed by their formal work and instruction. Technical data was introduced by Dr. Brickell and Dr. Riddell, among others, but cross examinations repeatedly circled back to the witnesses’ daily interactions with negroes, mulattoes, and other people of mixed blood.

A number of witnesses, both for Alexina and for James White, prefaced their testimony by identifying themselves as creole.[30] One of the witnesses identifying as creole, P.C. Perret, testified that he could tell that Alexina was white “from natural instinct,” although “why he feels this to be so he cannot explain,” he said.[31] When pushed, Perret explained that “the creole can always detect in a person whether that person is of African origin.”[32] When asked if he could name any of Alexina’s specific features that helped him in his determination, he again answered that his judgment was the result of an “impulse with him and with creoles generally.”[33] Perret said it was “the same instinct” as “the alligator, who knows three days in advance that a storm is brewing.”[34]


The court appeared not to be interested in formal training or scientific expertise; instead, their assessments of Alexina’s race were based on their lived experiences with race in New Orleans.


Interestingly, every time a witness identified as creole, he also appended a geographic location—“creole of this state,” “creole of Louisiana,” or “creole of New Orleans.” Long-term residence in the local parish was particularly valued. At least eight witnesses mentioned their current residence in New Orleans or in Jefferson Parish during their testimony.[35] Those who were not from New Orleans used other geographic locations to anchor themselves, emphasizing their southern roots.[36] Local residence may have helped the jury to “locate” the witness in a familiar landscape or framework. Additionally the focus on local geography suggests that proximity to the legal dispute endowed an individual with an exceptional power to parse the complexities of the situation. The Court was not interested in what outsiders thought about Alexina’s race; in prioritizing geographic heritage in testimonies, the Court implicitly affirmed that a local understanding of race was critical.

The most important source of authority for witnesses was experience with persons of all colors. Physicians and non-expert witnesses uniformly cited past experiences living or working among people of different shades as a reason to believe their opinion of Alexina. The physician Dr. Brickell said that he was qualified to make a judgment of Alexina’s race, not based on his medical training, but, “based upon his being raised from a boy among negroes and persons of all colors,” and that he drew “only from the experience he has had himself.”[37] Dr. Riddell similarly spoke of his interactions with Negroes, mentioning to the court that he owned a man with “very little colored blood.”[38] Hopkins had studied with a surgeon in Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1840 or 1841, conducting an “experiment” to compare black and white sailors.  He said he believed “his experience is such as to lead him to discriminate a white person from one of color.”[39] Several other witnesses cited slave ownership as qualification, suggesting that those who were enslaved had an “essential” quality that owners could identity.[40] The court appeared not to be interested in formal training or scientific expertise; instead, their assessments of Alexina’s race were based on their lived experiences with race in New Orleans.

Race Science

It is impossible to know how the jury weighed different types of evidence in the trial. Race was determined by a confluence of factors, from climate to parental strength, and was manifested through social interactions and appearance. Though witnesses looked for specific features that might reveal race, there was no systematic method of analysis as dictated by science. In fact, the most notable part of the testimony is that the most notorious techniques of “scientific racism” were not included in the trial. For example, none of the physicians ever measured Alexina’s skull size or performed a phrenological analysis. Only one witness mentioned her fingernails, a body part that histories of race science tend to emphasize as highly contested.[41] Discussions about polygenism—the belief that races were separate species with distinct origins—did not explicitly appear in the trial either.

This realization complicates the history of race science as it is often portrayed in accounts of the Antebellum South. Many of these histories use an anachronistic conception of the “scientific expert” to explain how race functioned on a daily basis. In reality, “scientific expertise” did not yet exist as a well-defined category of knowledge. This misapplication leads to the conclusion that society understood race in scientific terms defined by professionals, when, in fact, race was constructed from a confluence of local, social, and cultural factors. The use of the term “scientific expert” results in an overstatement of the social influence of the American School of Anthropology, a collection of now-famous nineteenth-century “race scientists.” These confusions in the history of race in America are largely the result of an unfortunate discursive separation between contemporary historians of biology and historians of race in America.

Indeed, most of the “race science” developed by Samuel George Morton or Samuel Cartwright, members of the American School of Anthropology, was not applied to Alexina, suggesting that professional scientific opinion was either not considered useful in resolving local disputes about race, or it was unknown. Despite varied opinions on particulars, all involved seemed to agree that race was a highly localized concept, determined through one’s personal frames of reference and past experiences. The metrics used to classify a skull collection did not map onto the racial differences understood by New Orleans society or by its court.


Morrison v. White, along with all pre-Civil War cases of racial difference, shows that the antebellum courtroom served as an important forum for the negotiation and evaluation of racial meaning.


Of course, it is important to understand race on a micro level because race is an intrinsically local phenomenon, created through daily social interactions. Therefore, race takes on whatever meaning or significance is imbued by the immediate social groups. Certainly there are no precise boundaries for what qualifies as “local,” and undoubtedly prejudice may extend far beyond the bounds of an immediate community. But given its social origins, race requires active participation, patrolling, and reinforcement within a community to continue to have meaning.[42] All of the participants in Morrison v. White were asked to be arbiters of race. The description of race that was defined and refined in Samuel George Morton’s laboratory was different from the version of race playing out on streets and in the courts of New Orleans; thus the phrenological analyses of the American School is limited as a source for understanding the constitution of “blackness” or “whiteness” in 1859 in Jefferson Parish. Likewise, the legal strategy or evidence provided in a case of racial determination in Georgia has minimal relevance to Morrison v. White, as each place—and its people, attitudes, and history—has a sui generis formulation of race.

Morrison v. White, along with all pre-Civil War cases of racial difference, shows that the antebellum courtroom served as an important forum for the negotiation and evaluation of racial meaning. It may be tempting to ignore this period because the perspectives of antebellum thinkers can be easily dismissed as lacking in exactitude and unequivocally racist. In fact, it is their racism that makes these views worth studying, as they reveal a great deal about the origins of prevailing prejudices that led to injurious race-based legislation in the twentieth century. Study of these early cases allows us to form a clearer picture of the complex origins of centuries-long conversation about human similarity and difference.

* * *

After months of witness testimony and cross-examination, the trial came to a close. But the jury’s verdict on January 30, 1862 was hardly conclusive. The foreman finally announced that the twelve men were not “able to agree unanimously on a verdict.”[43] They had reached an impasse, with ten votes in favor of Alexina and two in favor of White. Before a new trial could begin, the Civil War erupted and the Court was disbanded. The record of Alexina disappears thereafter.

Alexina’s story captures many of the paradoxes of early America. If indeed either Thomas or Elijah Decrow fathered Alexina, then she was a direct descendant of the Mayflower pilgrims.[44] The arresting image of an all-American daughter of the Mayflower fighting for freedom in the country that her ancestors had founded encapsulates some of the greatest ironies of American history. It is through stories like Alexina’s that we move beyond familiar caricatures of pre-Civil War America, and begin to understand the complexities of race, slavery, and diverse southern communities.

In the most familiar portrayal of the antebellum era, Southern powers did everything they could to secure slavery through the legal and scientific codification of racial castes. By strengthening slave laws and formulating hard theories about racial difference, the white South struggled to retain its power and supremacy. The legal and scientific constructions of race appear to go hand in hand during this period, each one becoming more stringent in the run up to the Civil War.

Morrison v. White teaches us that science and law—two structures that are typically thought of as linear and hegemonic—were used in some instances to restore agency to slaves, a reality that complicates our understanding of the construction of race during the antebellum period. Exposing this reality does not downplay the coercive power of slavery; rather, it helps to bring to light the profound mobilization efforts of people typically dismissed by history as powerless.

My hope is that this account of Alexina’s story will contribute to the challenging project of recovering perspectives about race that have largely been forgotten by American history. In unearthing and reconstructing pre-Civil War perceptions of heredity and racial difference, we might gain insights into the genesis of contemporary beliefs about race. It is through this reflective process of historical study that we hold mirrors up to ourselves and to the legacies of prejudice in America that continue to haunt us as a society and nation.

Zoe Weinberg is a JD-MBA candidate at Yale Law School and the Stanford Graduate School of Business. This piece is based on her senior honors thesis, “The Blonde Blue-Eyed Slave: Alexina Morrison and the Legal and Scientific Construction of Race in Louisiana 1857-1862” in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. 



[1] Re-Examination of Seaman Hopkins, Morrison v. White, Louisiana Supreme Court case 442, 16 La. Ann. 100 (1861), Supreme Court of Louisiana Collection (Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans, New Orleans, La.), 88.

[2] Elijah Decrow answers to interrogatories; and Thomas Decrow answers to interrogatories. Morrison v. White, Louisiana Supreme Court case 442, 16 La. Ann. 100 (1861), 126, 127.

[3] Thomas Decrow answers to interrogatories, Morrison v. White, Louisiana Supreme Court case 442, 16 La. Ann. 100 (1861), 127.

[4] Elijah Decrow answers to interrogatories, Ibid., 126.

[5] Deposition of Moses Morrison, July 26, 1858. Morrison v. White, Louisiana Supreme Court case 442, 16 La. Ann. 100 (1861), 35.

[6] Testimony of James G. Anthony. Morrison v. White, Louisiana Supreme Court case 442, 16 La. Ann. 100 (1861). 42.

[7] Johnson writes, for slave masters, “near-white enslaved women symbolized the luxury of being able to pay for service, often sexual, that had no material utility.” Ibid.

[8] Testimony of William Dennison. Morrison v. White, Louisiana Supreme Court case 442, 16 La. Ann. 100 (1861), 84.

[9] Testimony of S. N. Cannon, Ibid., 79.

[10] Interrogatories to Moses Morrison from Christian Roselius and Alfred Philips, Morrison v. White, Louisiana Supreme Court case 442, 16 La. Ann. 100 (1861), 33.

[11] Testimony of William Dennison. Ibid., 105, 84.

[12] James White, Petition for Change of Venue. Ibid., 63.

[13] Testimony of R. Preston. Ibid, 29.

[14] Testimony of G. H. Lyons. Ibid, 24.

[15] Testimony of Samuel Choppin. Ibid, 101-102.

[16] Dr. Brickell testified that he had examined Alexina in Dr. Choppin’s office. Ariela Gross has suggested that Alexina was undressed in front of the courtroom, but I have not found evidence to support that assertion. (Testimony of Dr. Brickell. Ibid, 90.)

[17] Dr. Samuel Choppin. Ibid, 102.

[18] Testimony of G. A. Breaux. Morrison v. White, Louisiana Supreme Court case 442, 16 La. Ann. 100 (1861), 28.

[19] Re-Examination of Seaman Hopkins. Morrison v. White, Louisiana Supreme Court case 442, 16 La. Ann. 100 (1861), 88, 89.

[20] Charles Wesley Smiley, The American Monthly Microscopical Journal. Romyn Hitchcock, 1880.

[21] Testimony of J. L. Riddell Morrison v. White, Louisiana Supreme Court case 442, 16 La. Ann. 100 (1861), 93.

[22] Testimony of J. L. Riddell. Morrison v. White, Louisiana Supreme Court case 442, 16 La. Ann. 100 (1861), 93.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Testimony of J. B. Clawson. Morrison v. White, Louisiana Supreme Court case 442, 16 La. Ann. 100 (1861), 25.

[25] Cross Examination of H L. Clinch. Ibid, 89.

[26] In 1850, about 24 percent of the population of Louisiana was considered “colored,” and about 35 percent of that population was free.

[27] Testimony of J. B. Clawson. Morrison v. White, Louisiana Supreme Court case 442, 16 La. Ann. 100 (1861), 25.

[28] The article continued, “it would be well for the ‘poor whites’ to heed; but, unlikely, the class most likely to be victimized cannot read.” (The National Era. “An Arkansas White Girl Sold As A Slave.” June 9, 1859.)

[29] The National Era. “White Slavery in Alabama.” September 15, 1859.

[30] The witnesses included Paul E. Laresche, G. A. Breaux, and P. C. Perret. (Testimony of P. E. Laresche, 83., Testimony of G. A. Breaux, 28., Testimony of P. C. Perret, 80, Morrison v. White, Louisiana Supreme Court case 442, 16 La. Ann. 100 (1861).)

[31] Testimony of P. C. Perret Morrison v. White, Louisiana Supreme Court case 442, 16 La. Ann. 100 (1861), 80.

[32] Cross Examination of P. C. Perret. Ibid, 81.

[33] Cross Examination of P. C. Perret. Morrison v. White, Louisiana Supreme Court case 442, 16 La. Ann. 100 (1861), 81.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Witnesses included G. H. Lyons, S. N. Cannon, G. A. Breaux, R. Preston, P. C. Perret, P. E. Laresche, Seaman Hopkins, and Thomas D. Harper.

[36] Local attorney Henry L. Clinch assured the court he was born in the South, while Dr. Brickell mentioned that he was born in South Carolina. (Testimony of H. L. Clinch, 89. Testimony of Dr. Brickell, 89. Morrison v. White, Louisiana Supreme Court case 442, 16 La. Ann. 100 (1861).

[37] Testimony of Dr. Brickell. Ibid, 90.

[38] Cross Examination of J. L. Riddell. Ibid, 94.

[39] Testimony of Seaman Hopkins. Morrison v. White, Louisiana Supreme Court case 442, 16 La. Ann. 100 (1861), 87.

[40] G. A. Breaux, one of the “creole” witnesses, told the court that his father was “a planter and owned many slaves.” Perret said that he was “raised on a negro plantation among slaves and owned slaves [himself].” Lyons also told the court he owned slaves. Cannon claimed he had “considerable experience with slaves, tho [sic] he has never managed them.” Preston, Laresche, Clinch, and Harper also mentioned that they had spent time with slaves and with persons of all shades.

[41] See: William Z Ripley, “The Racial Geography of Europe.” Popular Science. Bonnier Corporation, 1897.; Winthrop D. Jordan, Slavery and the American South. Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2008.; Paul Gilroy, Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line. Harvard University Press, 2000.

[42] K. Anthony Appiah and Amy Gutmann have discussed the importance of locality in shaping racial meaning and ethnic identity. They write, “identities are created in family and community life. These—along with mass-mediated culture, the school, and the college—are, for most of us, the central sites of the social transmission of culture.” (K. Anthony Appiah and A. Gutmann, Color Conscious: The Political Morality of Race. Princeton University Press, 1998, 89)

[43] Verdict of the Jury, January 30, 1862. Ibid., 170.

[44] While there is no explicit evidence that Thomas or Elijah Decrow was the father of Jane Morrison’s children, it is entirely plausible given Jane’s youth, single status, and presumed restricted access to the outside world in her role as domestic slave.

Image from Flickr via John Tewell


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