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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: black men now voted, held office, sat on juries, and served as policemen. Nervous whit 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: black men 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 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, John Baptiste Jourdain, 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 put two 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 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. 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 in true crime, the Civil War and its aftermath, and the history of New Orleans and the American South.


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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: black men now voted, held office, sat on juries, and served as policemen. Nervous whit 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: black men 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 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, John Baptiste Jourdain, 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 put two 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 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. 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 in true crime, the Civil War and its aftermath, and the history of New Orleans and the American South.

30 review for The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era

  1. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    One of the reviews on the cover says this book which is history reads like a novel and I agree. The story of two Afro-Creole women accused of kidnapping a white toddler is extraordinary because of when it occurred - 1871 during Reconstruction in New Orleans. Most Americans learn little about this historical period after the Civil War. Basically our textbooks devote a paragraph or so about Scalliwags, poor Southern whites who gained politcal power, and Carpetbaggers, corrupt Northerners who mov One of the reviews on the cover says this book which is history reads like a novel and I agree. The story of two Afro-Creole women accused of kidnapping a white toddler is extraordinary because of when it occurred - 1871 during Reconstruction in New Orleans. Most Americans learn little about this historical period after the Civil War. Basically our textbooks devote a paragraph or so about Scalliwags, poor Southern whites who gained politcal power, and Carpetbaggers, corrupt Northerners who moved South to take advantage of post Civil War chaos. The reality, or at least the history documented in this book, is that it was a period of racial cooperation, and the advancement of Afro-Creoles, mostly biracial, educated men and women who were middle class. The police force in New Orleans of the era included black police officers and detectives. Detectives were a "new breed" of police officer who investigated and examined evidence, inspired by French models, as well as literature. In fact, the detective in charge of this case was an Afro-Creole man named John Baptiste Jourdain. Afro-Creoles of the time in the pre Jim Crow South enjoyed a level of acceptance and freedom in New Orleans society that they soon lost when southern Democrats ended the Reconstruction era in 1877. This exceedingly well written book illuminates the advances and promise Reconstruction offered the South. However, many ex-Confederate southerners, and Democrats fought fiercely against these changes which promised to lift formerly enslaved African Americans. The author of the book joined my book club's discussion. He explained that the myths about Reconstruction as a chaotic period that was destined to block Southern progress was created by the so-called "Dunning School" https://cwcrossroads.wordpress.com/20... at the turn of 20th century. It is fascinating to consider what our history would have been if Reconstruction had continued and Jim Crow laws hadn't taken hold.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    In 1870, young Mollie Digby, just 17 months old, is kidnapped in broad daylight from in front of her New Orleans home by two black women. This was the Reconstruction Era, when black men (and only men) had gained the right to vote, hold office, and serve on juries. In New Orleans, some black men served on the police force, something that would not occur for many years in the north. The governor of Louisiana was a 28-year-old northerner named Henry Clay Warmoth. The new police chief of New Orleans In 1870, young Mollie Digby, just 17 months old, is kidnapped in broad daylight from in front of her New Orleans home by two black women. This was the Reconstruction Era, when black men (and only men) had gained the right to vote, hold office, and serve on juries. In New Orleans, some black men served on the police force, something that would not occur for many years in the north. The governor of Louisiana was a 28-year-old northerner named Henry Clay Warmoth. The new police chief of New Orleans was Algernon Sidney Badger, just 31 years old. Warmoth and Badger tried to use the Digby kidnapping case to prove themselves to the people of Louisiana as a whole and New Orleans in particular. They wanted to validate the newly integrated police force of New Orleans, where black men were not only patrolmen, but also detectives. In particular, Warmoth wanted to convince the white population of Louisiana that while things had changed since the end of the Civil War, they had also improved. Of course, it wasn't that simple. It never is. Ross does an excellent job of detailing the historical background of the case - the complex race relations in Louisiana, especially New Orleans; Afro-Creoles like the police detective, John Baptiste Jourdain, and the suspects, Ellen Follin and Louisa Murray; the new white immigrants, like the Digby family; and the changing times in Louisiana. This story is very complicated and definitely not cut and dried. It's really hard to say who's innocent and who's guilty, who's telling the truth and who's lying, because everybody is changing their story, and there doesn't seem to be a motive for the kidnapping, or at least a motive that doesn't sound like it's straight out of a penny dreadful. Even after the trial, it wasn't clear waht had actually happened or why. It's destined to remain a mystery. This is one of those stories that I am surprised is not better known. It would make an excellent historical novel. On a side note, the book is actually just 234 pages, though the type is small. There are numerous photos, though unfortunately none of Ellen Follin or Louisa Murray.

  3. 5 out of 5

    robin friedman

    A Kidnapping In New Orleans Michael A. Ross' "The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Rage, Law and Justice in the Reconstruction Era" tells the story of a once famous crime that, until his retelling, was largely forgotten. The book has elements of a police procedural, a trial story, and a history of Reconstruction. Ross, an Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland, holds both a law degree and a PhD in history. Law and history, as well as suspense, play large roles in this book A Kidnapping In New Orleans Michael A. Ross' "The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Rage, Law and Justice in the Reconstruction Era" tells the story of a once famous crime that, until his retelling, was largely forgotten. The book has elements of a police procedural, a trial story, and a history of Reconstruction. Ross, an Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland, holds both a law degree and a PhD in history. Law and history, as well as suspense, play large roles in this book. Ross is the author of an outstanding book on Supreme Court Justice Samuel Miller which portrays on a national canvass Reconstruction history and the Supreme Court. Ross describes this new book as a "microhistory" because it focuses on a single event with characters who have largely disappeared from the historical record. Ross quotes the poet William Blake's injunction "to see the world in a grain of sand" as his goal in using a single historical episode for the insight it may provide on broader issues. On June 9, 1870, a seventeen-month old baby, Mollie Digby, was kidnapped from a poor, flood-prone area of New Orleans known as the "back of town". Young Mollie had been left together with her ten-year old brother in the custody of a teen-age babysitter. A young African American Creole woman and an older woman of a darker complexion distracted the sitter and young boy and abducted the baby. The Digby kidnapping created a sensation in New Orleans which ultimately spread through the United States. The Governor of Louisiana, and the police chief of New Orleans faced pressure from all sides to find the guilty parties and bring them to justice. Ross sets the story of the Digby kidnapping against the background of Reconstruction-Era New Orleans. Relations between the races had been somewhat different in the Crescent City than in the remainder of the deep South due to the large Creole population which antedated the Louisiana purchase. African American Creoles had achieved positions of education and influence and there had been a toleration of long-term sexual relationships, if not marriages, between people of different races. With the end of the Civil War, this relatively relaxed attitude came under pressure from supremacists. The state government at the time included Creole, white, and African American individuals and strong civil rights laws, but the situation was precarious. The Digby case, in which persons of color had abducted a white baby had potentially explosive racial implications. Ross adds detail to his picture of 1870 New Orleans. The Digby family consisted of Irish immigrants who had worked their way up the economic ladder but faced their own difficulties in the city. Then and now, the city was rife with crime and immorality, earning its moniker as the "big easy". Panicked citizens assumed that the Digby baby had been kidnapped for Voodoo rites, and Ross describes the nature of Voodoo and its presence. The book thus captures a strong sense of the New Orleans of the time. The book explores the police investigation of the crime and focuses on the efforts of an African Creole detective, Auguste Jourdain who became one of the first American sleuths to gain national recognition for his efforts in the case. After two months, the case led to the arrest of two African Creole sisters, Ellen Follin and Louisa Murray. Both women were attractive, elegant, middle-class and educated and conducted themselves with dignity during the judicial proceedings. There was substantial evidenced marshaled against them for the crime. Most of Ross' book describes in detail the three legal proceedings brought against the sisters. The first was a preliminary proceeding designed to determine whether the case should go further. This procedure was ordinarily routine, but it stretched into a mini-trial due to the notoriety the case had received. The case then had to be heard by a Grand Jury in what proved to be an extended proceeding before the case was cleared for a criminal trial. Finally the case was tried in January 1871. Ross tells the story of the investigation and the legal proceedings suspensefully and well. Although central to the book, the lengthy courtroom scenes tend to make the book bog down. Nevertheless, the story is told artfully. The outcome of the proceedings, in Ross' telling, remains in doubt until the jury foreman dramatically rises to announce the verdict. Unearthing the story of the Digby kidnapping required a great deal of laborious, patient historical research in obscure sources, as Ross makes clear. Beyond the interest of the case and the trial, the book has a broader point. The case was investigated meticulously and tried by capable counsel for both sides before impartial judges and a jury which had both white and African American members. Ross makes clear that the trials were fairly conducted with respect for the due process rights of the accused. The trial, counsel, and jury the defendants received was possible only for a brief historical moment during Reconstruction. Ross explores why the Digby case, amid all the publicity, could be tried and resolved fairly in contrast to the highly prejudicial court proceedings that followed the end of Reconstruction and continued well into the 20th Century. In his discussion of the near-forgotten event of the Digby trial and its aftermath, Ross does indeed "see the world in a grain of sand". "The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case" could well appeal to readers who enjoy reading about criminal trials. The more likely audience will be readers with a serious interest in Reconstruction history. Robin Friedman

  4. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    Ross looks at a once famous case that has been largely forgotten by people today. A kidnapping of a young child who is later found with a black Creole. In discussing the case, Ross shows how Reconstruction, racism, and changing times influenced the case and its outcome. A very interesting and engrossing read.

  5. 4 out of 5

    ♥ Sandi ❣

    whew! The detail in this book is astounding. There is more fact on one page in this book than all the facts in the normal book. I found myself reading it out loud to be able to take in all the information. It takes place in the 1870's and is the story of the kidnapping of a white baby, by two mulatto women, in the Garden District of New Orleans. It then gets into the make up of the police department and the newness of having Afro-Creole in their department and their first black detective - whic whew! The detail in this book is astounding. There is more fact on one page in this book than all the facts in the normal book. I found myself reading it out loud to be able to take in all the information. It takes place in the 1870's and is the story of the kidnapping of a white baby, by two mulatto women, in the Garden District of New Orleans. It then gets into the make up of the police department and the newness of having Afro-Creole in their department and their first black detective - which was way ahead of our more major cities. Then the trial and for just a few years having Afro-Creole men sit on a jury before it changed again preventing anyone except the elite white man to be a juror. I love New Orleans and I found myself seeing the places and scenes play out in my mind. The writing is great and the pictures just bloomed in my mind of the places that were detailed. Very informative book - wonderful descriptions and an enlightening view of the past difficulties of the black race and how progress made was stunted and reversed for so many following years

  6. 4 out of 5

    Redsteve

    Set in New Orleans during "Radical Reconstruction," this book is as much about race and politics as it is about police investigations and judicial procedure. While no one was ever convicted of the crime (the kidnapping and reappearance of a white toddler) and even during the trial no motive was officially advanced, the case became a sensational (and polarizing) event in post-Civil War Louisiana. In many decades in the South, the case would have been simple and the verdict of the crime a foregone Set in New Orleans during "Radical Reconstruction," this book is as much about race and politics as it is about police investigations and judicial procedure. While no one was ever convicted of the crime (the kidnapping and reappearance of a white toddler) and even during the trial no motive was officially advanced, the case became a sensational (and polarizing) event in post-Civil War Louisiana. In many decades in the South, the case would have been simple and the verdict of the crime a foregone (if not fair) conclusion; at the time, the amount of parties with axes to grind was far from simple. The victims family were Irish immigrants, the accused kidnappers well-off "Afro-Creoles", the police investigators included a detective from the same social strata as the accused; the governor and police chief were Republicans who hoped to prove to suspicious whites that an end to segregation and slavery did not mean that ex-slaves would run wild in the streets, committing crimes against whites; the main prosecutor and defense counsel were both former Confederates with their own motivations; witnesses for both sides were both black and white; local white-owned newspapers were strongly anti-Republican and pro-White supremacy and wanted a strong example made of the alleged kidnappers and, at the same time, wished for a failure of the state's case as an indictment of Republican government and mixed-race investigators; the jury included black men (no women, of course) as well as white. Well researched and very interesting.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Meredith (booksbythewater)

    I was so surprised at how this book genuinely captured my attention the whole way through. Probably the first non-fiction book I’ve ever enjoyed, definitely due to the apt storytelling techniques and the entertaining inclusion of dialogue from the actual trials.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Chris Jones

    An unexpected pleasure reading a class book, of a story I had never heard. Not only a interesting history lesson of New Orleans in Reconstruction era but a enthralling “who done it?”

  9. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    This is a great book for helping explain why Reconstruction COULD have saved the U.S. from a century of racial violence. It also shows some of the simple things that Republican officials did during Reconstruction that led to its downfall. It's also a fabulous story about one trial in New Orleans that defied convention during that time. New Orleans, with a Spanish and French background, was always one of the most open societies in the states. It gladly welcomed those of any color or nationality, w This is a great book for helping explain why Reconstruction COULD have saved the U.S. from a century of racial violence. It also shows some of the simple things that Republican officials did during Reconstruction that led to its downfall. It's also a fabulous story about one trial in New Orleans that defied convention during that time. New Orleans, with a Spanish and French background, was always one of the most open societies in the states. It gladly welcomed those of any color or nationality, who were given equal rights to citizenship and societal ranks. Therefore, many Afro Creoles (shortly after the founding of New Orleans, "creole" came to mean anyone born in the city, not a specific racial heritage) held important jobs and were high in New Orleanian society. During the time period leading up to the Civil War, this was beginning to turn around since American Southerners, with their tradition of racial hatred, began to become a majority of the city's residents. After the War, President Johnson basically decided that the South should not have to change its ways, just admit that slaves were free. No attitude changes or political changes necessary, thank you. However, after he left office, Republican officials began being appointed to governorships and other high offices who then began to affect the politics in Southern States. They wanted to "reconstruct" the South along more open ways and attitudes (good luck there!) Louisiana had such a governor: young, new to political office, naive and idealistic. He appointed a Republican as Police Chief in New Orleans who created an integrated police force, including a few black detectives. The governor hoped that as people saw how the quality of the force had improved and that blacks could perform on a highly professional level as law enforcement residents would begin to accept blacks in other positions again. However, he let the very prejudiced Democratic City Prosecutor keep his job. Then, a young white baby (19 months) was kidnapped. She was not taken from a rich family and held for ransom; she simply disappeared. She was last seen with two Afro Creole women who had stopped to admire her. A little over a month later, one of the town's respected and wealthy citizens appeared at the family's door indicating that he thought he had the child. The father wasn't sure he recognized his daughter, but the mother claimed it was. When asked where he got the child, the man said it was from an Afro Creole friend of the family who had been given the child but was afraid she would be arrested if she came forward. Indeed she was. After a huge police effort to find the girl, the city was happy to have a seemingly assured conviction. Eventually, the woman, her sister, and her son were charged with the kidnapping. They claimed however that a veiled white woman had asked them to keep the child while she ran an errand but she never came back. One of the major detectives was an Afro Creole and the author makes much of his contribution to the search and arrest. However, I never felt that that contribution was as much as the writer wanted it to be. It was certainly very important and quite prominent, but he didn't actually solve the case. I may have missed something. When the case eventually came to trial, the jury consisted of 10 white men and two Afro Creoles. The stunning verdict was "not guilty." The women quietly lived out the rest of their lives, and one of their daughters moved North and passed for white. (Which then led, of course, to the writer finding a part of the family who had no idea of their actual roots.) The case and the history are fascinating. The brief view of Reconstruction shows that, far from the "carpet baggers" we're told tried to "impose" things on the South, it could have succeeded if carried out correctly (i.e. if Lincoln had lived?) Unfortunately, not knowing what Lincoln would have done, and under a misguided effort to maintain Democratic office holders to prove "fairness," it failed and history is witness to the result. This is a relatively short book and its style makes it easy to read. Anyone interested in post-Civil War history, racial relations, the City of New Orleans, or the practice of law in 19th century U. S. should definitely take the time to read it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    With "The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Rage, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era," an initially exciting drama runs a little dry, as author Michael Ross reconstructs the process by which a pair of mulatta women were tried for the kidnapping of two-year old Molly Digby in New Orleans, circa 1871. Unlike the fiction writer, who enjoys the liberty of combining two legal proceedings into one, or jumps a few months to the chase, Ross has no such luxury. He is an academic setting out to pr With "The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Rage, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era," an initially exciting drama runs a little dry, as author Michael Ross reconstructs the process by which a pair of mulatta women were tried for the kidnapping of two-year old Molly Digby in New Orleans, circa 1871. Unlike the fiction writer, who enjoys the liberty of combining two legal proceedings into one, or jumps a few months to the chase, Ross has no such luxury. He is an academic setting out to properly document and verify the goings-on in New Orleans six years after the Civil War. But that's something we can expect from academic efforts. In exchange a reader proceeds with the knowledge that what they are reading, in fact, happened. The greatest merit to "The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case," is Ross's nuanced portrait of post-Civil War New Orleans, if not the entire United States generally. Here are blacks serving in the Confederate Army, southerners serving with the union, creoles burying their African-American pedigrees behind "bright" complexions and putting many miles between their past and present. Stereotypes are undermined at every turn revealing a nation not rent by a geographical Mason-Dixon Line so much as a trench through its collective soul. It is the story of a victorious Republican Party, fueld by Negro suffrage, trying to establish modern, biracial institutions in a reticent South, though not quite so reticent as it would end up being. The Democrats resist and you have to keep re-reading to absorb the complete values switch our two main political parties have done over the past 150 years. Equally nuanced is Ross's understanding of the Crescent City's complex racial code and the place African-American creoles occupied in its byzantine social structure. But, more than anything, "The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case," is a great window of vision on what might have been had John Wilkes Booth not killed Abraham Lincoln and, with him, a rigorous southern reconstruction based on integration, backed by the carrot of forgiveness and the stick of Federal troops. It is the story of two African-American women who are put on trial for kidnapping a white child and how a brief period where blacks were permitted to hold political office, vote, and sit in judgment, resulted in a true jury of their peers. Finally, it's a great rendering of a unique 19th Century city settled in Mississippi delta marshlands, populated by royalty and rogues alike. In short, this micro-history of a forgotten news event is more than a curio, it recuperates certain facts that change the narrative of race relations in the post-Civil War South and depicts the interactions that resulted from a flipping of the social pyramid.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Cateline

    The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case by Michael A. Ross The 1932 Lindbergh Kidnapping case was far from the first "sensational" kidnapping that took place in the States. Neither was the often credited 1874 abduction of Charley Ross in Philadelphia, although many historians claim it to be so. Little Mollie Digby was kidnapped in June of 1870 from what was then the 'back of town' in New Orleans, now just the edge of the Central Business District. The crime took place in broad daylight with a stree The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case by Michael A. Ross The 1932 Lindbergh Kidnapping case was far from the first "sensational" kidnapping that took place in the States. Neither was the often credited 1874 abduction of Charley Ross in Philadelphia, although many historians claim it to be so. Little Mollie Digby was kidnapped in June of 1870 from what was then the 'back of town' in New Orleans, now just the edge of the Central Business District. The crime took place in broad daylight with a street full of people milling about. It was a mixed neighborhood, blacks alongside white residents, many of whom were Irish immigrants, as was Mollie's family. Two Afro-Creole women were arrested for the crime, and this book tells, in great detail, of both the investigation and trial of these women. This took place only 5 years after the American Civil War, and a Radical Reconstruction government was in power over the defeated South. New Orleans was unique in many ways in their race relations. There were white Creoles and Afro-Creoles that had many familial ties and were closely tied together, making for convivial relations in more cases than not. It wasn't till 1877 when Reconstruction ended that so called White Supremacy became the "norm". Ross details much of these relationships and tells of one of the very first detectives in the country an Afro-Creole, John Baptiste Jourdain, considered the best. His methods were ahead of their time and effective, although sometimes contravened by circumstances. This is a fascinating look at the history of Reconstruction in this area, and puts some new light on the reality of what happened and why.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rel

    I always find that when I read things about The New Orleans Of The Past... well, it's like that Faulkner quotation -- "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past." The author makes a compelling case that this situation/trial in particular was not only a fascinating snapshot of what was going on in Reconstruction New Orleans (and the South in general), but also that it had a hand in influencing the outcome of Reconstruction. It was certainly a case on the cusp of a historical moment. This book was en I always find that when I read things about The New Orleans Of The Past... well, it's like that Faulkner quotation -- "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past." The author makes a compelling case that this situation/trial in particular was not only a fascinating snapshot of what was going on in Reconstruction New Orleans (and the South in general), but also that it had a hand in influencing the outcome of Reconstruction. It was certainly a case on the cusp of a historical moment. This book was entertaining and enjoyable. It was a quick, engaging read. The writing style makes the content easy to digest. Not a lot of big words. Fluid. He writes like a historian (not like a writer; he's a competent writer, though). He does a good job of removing personal opinion from his words and his narrative. It doesn't feel loaded or manipulative. The author is likable. You'd be pleased if he were your friend's boyfriend, or husband. The book taught me a fair bit about the Reconstruction-era in the South. Which (shock!) is depressing as hell. Not being from New Orleans, I didn't know that apparently there were a good 10 years when New Orleans was actually on the right track. Black people held government jobs! We had an integrated police force! In fact, there was an actual police force that was well-trained, well-equipped, and well-administrated. Rest assured, it didn't last long. Oh, and there's a nice shout-out to New Orleans Public Library in the Acknowledgements.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Darcia Helle

    The setting in old true crime cases is a vital aspect of helping readers understand how and why things happened as they did. Not all nonfiction authors are able to convey those details. Michael Ross has no such problem. He expertly weaves bits of history and sociology in with the kidnapping case of Mollie Digby, offering a clear view of both the crime and the culture. The picture painted here is not a pretty one in American history. In 1870, when this crime occurred, New Orleans was a city divide The setting in old true crime cases is a vital aspect of helping readers understand how and why things happened as they did. Not all nonfiction authors are able to convey those details. Michael Ross has no such problem. He expertly weaves bits of history and sociology in with the kidnapping case of Mollie Digby, offering a clear view of both the crime and the culture. The picture painted here is not a pretty one in American history. In 1870, when this crime occurred, New Orleans was a city divided by politics, class, and race. Radical Reconstruction was underway. Many whites were rebelling against the blacks' newfound roles in society, such as their placement on the police force and their ability to serve on juries. All this turmoil serves as a vital backdrop to the crime. The kidnapping itself is a bizarre case. Ross unravels it all in pieces, from start to finish, showing us how it plays out while allowing us to form our own opinions. This is by far one of the best nonfiction books I've read - ever.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Carolname

    Seeing as it dealt with a few of my ancestors I was totally engaged in this very interesting book--a true whodunit. Also fascinating was how New Orleans dealt with race issues after the reconstruction.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rick

    I'm an old lawyer, living in New Orleans, and just read - and was very impressed by - this book. It was informed with much social anthropology and gave readers a great gift: an enchanting story with the guts of the physical and social scene.

  16. 4 out of 5

    C. Frazier Jones

    Everything I thought I knew about New Orleans was rebuffed as I read this book. Fascinating and well written.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Caren

    Not a great book, does little to explain the case of the kidnapped child in the title. If you like boring backstories of the lawyers and police force, then I guess it would be interesting to you.

  18. 5 out of 5

    SundayAtDusk

    When I first started reading this book, I thought it was going to be a drag read, because the ARC looked like a dissertation typed up on an old typewriter. Surprisingly, after reading only a few pages, though, I was quickly pulled into a fascinating historical account of a kidnapping in New Orleans in the 1870s. By the time I got to the end of the book, which was only one day later, I was amazed at all the history I learned from this story. And I learned it so effortlessly. This book is an excel When I first started reading this book, I thought it was going to be a drag read, because the ARC looked like a dissertation typed up on an old typewriter. Surprisingly, after reading only a few pages, though, I was quickly pulled into a fascinating historical account of a kidnapping in New Orleans in the 1870s. By the time I got to the end of the book, which was only one day later, I was amazed at all the history I learned from this story. And I learned it so effortlessly. This book is an excellent example of how history should be taught. The story was also an interesting mystery that I am still thinking about. Why was Mollie kidnapped? Was that the real Mollie returned? I have various theories about the matter, and it's sad we all will never know the truth about the kidnapping. But at least we all know lots of historical facts about the Reconstruction period in New Orleans; thanks to an historian who knows how to write a good book; and how to educate readers who are hardly aware they are being educated. (Note: I received a free ARC of this book from Amazon Vine.)

  19. 4 out of 5

    shatine

    This was probably the most suspense I've ever felt reading a history book. Even if you know of the case, though, it's a (brief) snapshot of a handful of lives in Reconstruction-era New Orleans, which is an obviously interesting time in an interesting place, and that's probably a better reason to read it since (view spoiler)[the case was never definitively solved. (hide spoiler)] I'm glad I was absorbed enough to read the acknowledgements section, since without it the book didn't feel as finished This was probably the most suspense I've ever felt reading a history book. Even if you know of the case, though, it's a (brief) snapshot of a handful of lives in Reconstruction-era New Orleans, which is an obviously interesting time in an interesting place, and that's probably a better reason to read it since (view spoiler)[the case was never definitively solved. (hide spoiler)] I'm glad I was absorbed enough to read the acknowledgements section, since without it the book didn't feel as finished to me. (I think Goodreads recommended me this after The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction, so I guess now I'll see if adding this one gets me any recommendations for other books about kidnapped Irish kids turning into a minor flash point in a larger racial struggle, which is a weirdly specific genre.)

  20. 5 out of 5

    Michael Stogsdill

    Page turning historical account of the Kidnapping case of the 2 year old Molly Digby. Set in Reconstruction New Orleans, this book places the reader in the tumultuous time just after the Civil War where the political and social landscape was up for grabs between Republicans or Democrats, Blacks or Whites, Confederates or Unionists!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    Interesting read on New Orleans history

  22. 4 out of 5

    Behrooz

    I read this after what I had heard in New Orleans. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Very interesting.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Allie Forzani

    Read for my History of Louisiana class. Interesting and reads more like a novel. Highlights the struggles the South faced in the Refonstruction Era. Was a bit repetitive but still enjoyable.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Kennedy

    In 1870, Mollie Digby, a pretty little blond-haired, blue-eyed first-generation Irish girl was kidnapped from her home in a working-class neighborhood of New Orleans. The crime terrorized a population already living in fear and trepidation in the post-Civil War South. Author Michael Ross's story is as much about the times as it is about a single crime. In fact, the day of the kidnapping had its own long laundry list of crimes: stabbings, a drowning, thefts, a poisoning. Crime was rampant in this In 1870, Mollie Digby, a pretty little blond-haired, blue-eyed first-generation Irish girl was kidnapped from her home in a working-class neighborhood of New Orleans. The crime terrorized a population already living in fear and trepidation in the post-Civil War South. Author Michael Ross's story is as much about the times as it is about a single crime. In fact, the day of the kidnapping had its own long laundry list of crimes: stabbings, a drowning, thefts, a poisoning. Crime was rampant in this humid, swampy, disease-ridden city. However, the kidnapping of this child was more than just a passing crime: it became a touch point for all the fears, anger and suspicion harbored by the roiling mix of racial and ethnic groups living together in a tense and politically-charged atmosphere -- white, Creole, Afro-Creole and African Americans all trying to find their place, or hold onto their place, in this new and uneasy society. Angry former Confederates resented the new freedoms of the African American population and Unionists in government positions tried to delicately bring about the new order while suppressing racial violence. The first half of the story concerns the kidnapping and the early efforts of the police force to find the perpetrators and the child. The second half covers the trial of two black women who are accused of the deed. The outcome, although not entirely satisfying, pointed to a judicial system that had not yet hardened into the vitriolic white supremacy that marked the South in later years. "The outcome... suggests that in 1870 in New Orleans, Reconstruction remained a moment of possibility; that the rigid, and often rigged, justice of the Jim Crow era was not inevitable; that the minds of many white New Orleanians had not yet closed to the idea of legal justice for all." The book is highly readable for the lay reader. Those who would like more depth can wade through the numerous chapter notes. I would have given the book five stars except for the fact that at times I felt lost, wanting some simple bits of information that would have clarified some oft-repeated facts in the case. For example, the kidnapper is said to have been wearing a "seaside hat," but the author never describes what kind of hat that is. In addition, on the very first page, the Digby family is said to have three children, but from the second paragraph onward, only two children are mentioned, the child who is kidnapped and the child who witnesses the kidnapping. Also, I thought the author would examine in more detail the fact that the father in the story apparently couldn't recognize his own child. Did the family actually get their child back in the end? Or was another sort of crime committed altogether? Regardless, the case isn't neatly wrapped up in the end, but the author's speculations are even more interesting than the facts themselves. Another story of a crime that encapsulated an era is "The Shooting Salvationist: J. Frank Norris and the Murder Trial that Captivated America," although that author isn't as successful in drawing out the wider meaning inherent in a single crime.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

    "The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case" is a look at the Reconstruction Era through the lens of a famous trial. It's clear that the author put a lot of time into carefully researching the topic to fill in as many details as are available, but be warned that this is not a typical "true crime" book. Due to a certain lack of information, we're left with some loose ends that likely will never be solved. The author talked about the different people involved in the case--what they did during the Civil "The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case" is a look at the Reconstruction Era through the lens of a famous trial. It's clear that the author put a lot of time into carefully researching the topic to fill in as many details as are available, but be warned that this is not a typical "true crime" book. Due to a certain lack of information, we're left with some loose ends that likely will never be solved. The author talked about the different people involved in the case--what they did during the Civil War, how they were involved in the case, and what happened to the major players later in life. This was to show how things had been in New Orleans, what they could have been, and what actually happened in terms of white-black relations and laws. This was very interesting and made me want to know even more about this time period. He also described the details of the case--what happened, how it was investigated, the politics surrounding the case, and about the trial and how it turned out. The New Orleans police force was just then being modernized and integrated (though this didn't last long) and detectives were a new addition to the force. It was interesting to read how the detectives decided to go about their job since it wasn't clearly defined yet. This was an interesting book and a faster read than you might expect because quite a few of the pages were end notes. I'd recommend it to those interested in pivotal moments in history. I received this review copy from the publisher through Amazon Vine.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Autumn

    I read this in History class and I think the author did a really good job writing the events as though they were a novel. It was intriguing and educational about the time period, and I will definitely always remember the Digby Case after reading this book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    John

    A major disappointment. The crime story should have been interesting but is covered in a slow, dry, repetitive manner with little insight into what actually happened. Much more important to the author is his claim this case was somehow crucial to the outcome of Reconstruction and the creation of a bi-racial society in the South, (he ignores the racial situation in the North and puts a large burden on New Orleans). A tremendous stretch of imagination along with an interest in revisionist history A major disappointment. The crime story should have been interesting but is covered in a slow, dry, repetitive manner with little insight into what actually happened. Much more important to the author is his claim this case was somehow crucial to the outcome of Reconstruction and the creation of a bi-racial society in the South, (he ignores the racial situation in the North and puts a large burden on New Orleans). A tremendous stretch of imagination along with an interest in revisionist history and fantasy is required to make that jump in my opinion. It is really a superficial look at Reconstruction in New Orleans through this criminal investigation and trial. Perhaps most disturbing is the racism displayed in constructing his premise. Essentially, the Afro-Creole (his term)a very separate and distinct class is the key to future racial harmony. In the authors view, the superior personal qualities of this unique group thrust upon them a mission to convince the White public, elite, bourgeois and common that because of their superior qualities those "other" Blacks could and should be accepted as full citizens in the Republic. The book is largely a panegyric to the Afro-Creole, using racial theories largely abandoned for the past 80 years.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Melinda

    This was really interesting until the mid-point. Somewhere toward the middle of the book, the author began repeating himself and I found myself losing interest. The narrative seemed to disintegrate toward the end and I wasn't sure if that was because there wasn't enough concrete information for the author to be able to tie up his project or if it was because the book ran on much longer than necessary. I will say, however, that I learned several things about this period in history that I didn't k This was really interesting until the mid-point. Somewhere toward the middle of the book, the author began repeating himself and I found myself losing interest. The narrative seemed to disintegrate toward the end and I wasn't sure if that was because there wasn't enough concrete information for the author to be able to tie up his project or if it was because the book ran on much longer than necessary. I will say, however, that I learned several things about this period in history that I didn't know. I was drawn to the book in the first place because a portion of the novel I'm writing takes place in New Orleans during this era and I wanted to get a feel for some of the events of the time. I don't recall ever learning about the "black codes" in school or anything about the Creoles. For those reasons alone, I am giving this book 4 stars. I think the idea behind it was well planned, but the execution needed further research or better writing.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, but the thought of what might have been leaves me sad for our country. This book is aninteresting and well-written account of a long forgotten court case that proved, if just for a short time, that justice was possible for people of African background in the South after the Civil War. I will not recount the facts of the case, I leave that for Mr. Ross and goodreads.com reviewers who like to write book reports. As an attorney, I commend Mr. Ross for clearly I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, but the thought of what might have been leaves me sad for our country. This book is aninteresting and well-written account of a long forgotten court case that proved, if just for a short time, that justice was possible for people of African background in the South after the Civil War. I will not recount the facts of the case, I leave that for Mr. Ross and goodreads.com reviewers who like to write book reports. As an attorney, I commend Mr. Ross for clearly explaining judicial procedure and the differences in the laws of Louisiana from that of the rest of the states. He has given us back the unsung men and women who lived admirable and now not forgotten lives in adverse situations. I was reminded of a favorite book of mine, The Lost German Slave Girl, based on another court case of New Orleans of the nineteenth century.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Arwen Bicknell

    It runs a little dry in spots, but not enough to detract from the overall narrative. Ross does a good job with pulling the pieces together and presenting a cohesive story despite what must have been some pretty frustrating gaps in the available material. And you can tell he fell in love with the story and the people involved, which always helps a writer. He doesn't take sides or demonize any of the involved parties, and he a good job of maintaining tension and suspense up to the end. It's a litt It runs a little dry in spots, but not enough to detract from the overall narrative. Ross does a good job with pulling the pieces together and presenting a cohesive story despite what must have been some pretty frustrating gaps in the available material. And you can tell he fell in love with the story and the people involved, which always helps a writer. He doesn't take sides or demonize any of the involved parties, and he a good job of maintaining tension and suspense up to the end. It's a little disappointing there is no satisfying ending that offers definitive answers in a neat package with a well-tied bow -- but that's the problem with writing nonfiction. Sometimes you just don't have all the answers.

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