Beyond Freedom's Reach: A Kidnapping in the Twilight of Slavery
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Born into slavery in rural Louisiana, Rose Herera was bought and sold several times before being purchased by the De Hart family of New Orleans. Still a slave, she married and had children, who also became the property of the De Harts. But after Union forces captured New Orleans in 1862 during the American Civil War, Herera’s owners fled to Havana, taking three of her small children with them. Beyond Freedom’s Reach is the true story of one woman’s quest to rescue her children from bondage.
In a gripping, meticulously researched account, Adam Rothman lays bare the mayhem of emancipation during and after the Civil War. Just how far the rights of freed slaves extended was unclear to black and white people alike, and so when Mary De Hart returned to New Orleans in 1865 to visit friends, she was surprised to find herself taken into custody as a kidnapper. The case of Rose Herera’s abducted children made its way through New Orleans’ courts, igniting a custody battle that revealed the prospects and limits of justice during Reconstruction.
Rose Herera’s perseverance brought her children’s plight to the attention of members of the U.S. Senate and State Department, who turned a domestic conflict into an international scandal. Beyond Freedom’s Reach is an unforgettable human drama and a poignant reflection on the tangled politics of slavery and the hazards faced by so many Americans on the hard road to freedom.
Herera and her now three children—Ernest (6), Marie (4), and Josephine (20 months)—to his wife’s aunt, Carmelite Roland, who lived with the De Harts. A widow, Roland paid $900 f or the four slaves, $400 cash and the remainder to be paid in two installments of $250 plus interest, to be paid at six and twelve months.66 If legitimate, the sale was either an act of folly or an act of faith. Although substantially less than the $1,500 De Hart had paid Mercer less than two years earlier, $900 would
have been a lot of money for a widow of no apparent means, especially at a time when slaves might not have any value at all in New Orleans in six to twelve months. Rose Herera’s lawyers would later argue that the sale was a sham designed to protect De Hart from the seizure of his slaves. These transfers of property had become a 91 Beyond Fr eedom’s Reac h common tactic in New Orleans. “All the property of New Orleans is changing hands into foreigners and women, to avoid the consequences of the
slave. People of color clamored for civil and political rights, including the right to vote, but they faced powerful 115 Beyond Fr eedom’s Reac h opposition to their dream of equal citizenship.2 De Hart would not have been unaware of these sea changes. News from home arrived in Havana with every steamer from New Orleans. Yet she went back anyway. Two years is a l ong time to spend in exile, so it is understandable that she wanted to see her friends again. She could not have expected that she
of the law.80 De Hart’s lawyers, Buchanan and Gilman, pounced on Durant’s shaky argument. They argued, f utilely, that the provost court was not a “competent tribunal” for the prosecution of an offense against the criminal laws. More persuasively, they argued that the provisions of the slave code simply did not apply to the facts of the case. The Herera children had been born in 144 Just ice Louisiana, not brought from somewhere else, and they had not been sold apart from their mother. By law
from his own efforts to stop the slave trade to Cuba. He was part of a new breed of Spanish and Cuban reformers who believed that ending the slave trade and encouraging European immigration would civilize and whiten Cuba and allow Spain to keep its grip on the colony. The Civil War helped the reformers in one important way. With eleven slave states out of the Union, the Lincoln 179 Beyond Fr eedom’s Reac h administration negotiated a n ew antislave trade treaty with Great Britain in 1862 that