It was one of those incidents that must have occurred numerous times in a slave society. At a “slave mart” on Conti Street in New Orleans, there appeared a little girl, apparently very much white. Imagine the horror in such a stratified slave society like New Orleans. She was said to be the “property” of one Bievenute Duran, a Spaniard. He had lived in the First Municipality (roughly comparable to the area known today as the French Quarter), and had fallen on hard times. Mr. Duran then moved to the working class Third Municipality, a working class area. Duran ran a small grocery store. At his death, his only asset were his slaves, including one little girl named Madeline, perhaps nine years old. She was crying as she was paraded with the other Duran slaves.
J.C. Prendergast, the Irish editor of the Daily Orleanian, noted that it was poor practice to exhibit slaves on the open street. Prendergast found it “unsightly.” But, his larger concern was the apparent white girl being sold as a slave. Such an incident tended to upend their social mores regarding the institution of slavery. A citizen known for his benevolence, Mr. Charles Lovenskiold, took in the little girl. Free men of color (meaning free African-Americans) raised almost $200 to purchase the young girl’s freedom. The sale was stopped when it was made known that the little girl likely came from deceased white parents. Charles Lovenskiold lived in the 7th Ward. The New Orleans City Directory does not provide his occupation. But, a Charles Lovenskiold appears in the 1860 census in Nueces County, Texas working as a lawyer. This Lovenskiold was born in Denmark and had two daughters and one son. Madeline does not appear in that 1860 Nueces County census record.
In 1849, after the rescue of the girl, Prendergast met with Charles Lovenskiold and Madeline. Madeline was apparently nine years old. She had come to Duran with an older Negro woman who died soon after. Madeline had blue gray eyes and very fair skin, said Prendergast.
Lovenskiold believed the girl had been sold when she was six months old with her purported mother, “a very black old negro.” Prendergast believed Madeline was “Celtic,” meaning Irish. He theorized that her parents had likely died and left her with the old black woman. Slaves at the time had substantial freedom in the city. The older enslaved woman was probably friends or neighbors with Madeline’s parents. Prendergast noted that during the bad cholera epidemic of 1839, he had seen many such instances of parents dying and leaving their child with a friend or neighbor. The black woman, postulated Prendergast, likely ministered to the girl’s parents in their last hours.
Certainly, the ante bellum Southerners generally believed in the efficacy of slavery. They genuinely believed slavery was the only way black Americans could live. But, looking back, we have to wonder how at times like this, an almost-sale of a little white girl, they did not appreciate these inherent problems of a slave society. J.C. Prendergast himself, always ready to point out societal hypocrisies, did not reflect on the system that could lead to such a result.
New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Dec. 10, 1849, p. 2, col. 2