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. The old racial order had been turned upside down and black men now voted, held office, sat on juries, and served as policemen. Nervous white residents fearing impeding chaos pointed to the Digby abduction as proof that no white childwas safe now that slavery had ended and the South had been "Africanized." Newspapers opposed to Louisiana's biracial Reconstruction government stoked those fears by reprinting rumors that the stolen Digby baby had been sacrificed in a Voodoo ceremony on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Louisiana's twenty-eight year old Reconstruction Governor Henry Clay Warmoth, in turn, hoped to use the kidnapping to prove that his newly integrated police force, trained in the latest investigative techniques from Boston and New York, could solve the crime.
He offered a huge reward for the return of Mollie Digby and the capture of her kidnappers, and his police chief put his best Afro-Creole detective, the dashing Jean Baptiste Jourdain, on the case. The Associated Press sent the story outon the wire and newspaper readers around the country began to follow the New Orleans mystery. Leads poured in from across the Gulf Coast and from as far north as Ohio and New York, and Jourdain became the first black detective in the United States to make national news.
Interest in the story onlygrew when police and prosecutors put two strikingly beautiful Afro-Creole women on trial for the crime and a tense courtroom drama unfolded against the backdrop of a yellow fever epidemic and the momentous events of Reconstruction in the South.A stunning work of historical recreation, Michael Ross's The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case is the first full account ever written about an event that electrified the South at one of the most critical moments in the history of American race relations. Ross brings the era back to life, leading readers into smoke filled concert saloons, Garden District drawing rooms, sweltering courthouses, and squalid prisons, and he uses the Digby kidnapping, investigation, and trial to offer important newinsights into the complexities and possibilities of the Reconstruction era.
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Michael A. Ross is Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland, College Park.
As the resurgence of white supremacy and segregation loom in the background, Ross's richly detailed account keeps readers engaged - and guessing.
Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
Mr. Ross decisively helms the story, introducing a sparkling cast of characters and turning the pages with just the right mix of action, suspense and intrigue.
Wall Street Journal
Michael Ross' The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case has all the elements one might expect from a legal thriller set in nineteenth-century New Orleans. Child abduction and voodoo. 'Quadroons.' A national headline-grabbing trial. Plus an intrepid creole detective.... A terrific job of sleuthing and storytelling, right through to the stunning epilogue.
Lawrence N. Powell, author of The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans
When little Mollie Digby went missing from her New Orleans home in the summer of 1870, her disappearance became a national sensation. In his compelling new book Michael Ross brings Mollie back. Read The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case for the extraordinary story it tells
and the complex world it reveals.
Michael Ross's account of the 1870 New Orleans kidnapping of a white baby by two African-American women is a gripping narrative of one of the most sensational trials of the post-Civil War South. Even as he draws his readers into an engrossing mystery and detective story, Ross skillfully illuminates some of the most fundamental conflicts of race and class in New Orleans and the region.
Dan T. Carter, University of South Carolina
The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case is a masterwork of narration, with twists, turns, cliff-hangers, and an impeccable level of telling detail about a fascinating cast of characters. The reader comes away from this immersive experience with a deeper and sadder understanding of the possibilities and limits of Reconstruction.
Stephen Berry, author of House of Abraham: Lincoln and The Todds, a Family Divided by War
The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case is such a great read that it is easy to forget that the book is a work of history, not fiction. Who kidnapped Mollie Digby? The book, however, is compelling because it is great history. As Ross explores the mystery of Digby's disappearance, he reconstructs the lives not just of the Irish immigrant parents of Mollie Digby and the women of color accused of her kidnapping, but also the broad range of New Orleanians who
became involved in the case. The kidnapping thus serves as a lens on the possibilities and uncertainties of Reconstruction, which take on new meanings because of Ross's skillful research and masterful storytelling.
Laura F. Edwards, Duke University
Ross adds mystery and intrigue to the historic Reconstruction era in New Orleans through his retelling of a sensational true crime tale... Impeccable research and crisp, compelling writing bring us to the case's resolution.
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 case's significance to American history.
[The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case] is a dazzling work of Reconstruction history, a page-turner to match the best police procedural or legal thriller, and a compelling portrait of a city in transition, a city in crisis.
The New Orleans Advocate
... Ross delivers a compelling, even intimate story that deals intelligently with broad regional and national political matters at the same time. Few if any historical treatments of Reconstruction have achieved the same measure of analytical clarity in such an attractive and compelling package.
The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case is as much a lively portrait of a unique city as it is a suspenseful mystery and a political history of an all-but-forgotten era. The exotic atmospherics include rumors of voodoo human sacrifices, yellow-fever epidemics, Mardi Gras parades, and the nuanced relationships of Afro- and white Creoles. Ross set out to mine 'a single historical moment for insights into both the history of New Orleans and the Reconstruction
era.' He succeeded.
Washington Independent Review of Books
Kidnapping - Louisiana - New Orleans - Case studies.|Trials (Kidnapping) - Louisiana - New Orleans.|New Orleans (La.) - Race relations.|New Orleans (La.) - History - 19th century.
Country of Publication
New York (State)
Number of Pages