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Louisa Picquet, b. 1828?- and Hiram Mattison, 1811-1868
Louisa Picquet, the Octoroon, or, Inside Views of Southern Domestic Life
New York: The Author, 1861.

Summary

In 1828, Louisa Picquet (1828-1896) was born near Columbia, South Carolina to fifteen year old Elizabeth Ramsey, a quadroon slave, and John Randolph, Ramsey's white master, which made her an octoroon, or an individual with one black and seven white grandparents. At about two months old, Picquet and Ramsey were sold to David R. Cook from Jasper County, Georgia. When Cook got in trouble with creditors he fled with his slaves to Mobile, Alabama. Here, Picquet was hired out by Cook as a nurse and domestic help to a Mr. "Bachelor" whose wife ran the boarding house where Cook stayed. To settle his debts, the creditors made Cook sell his slaves, so at thirteen, Picquet was separated from her mother, who was sold to Colonel Albert Clinton Horton of Wharton, while Picquet went to New Orleans with Mr. John Williams. Williams made Picquet his concubine and she bore him four children, but only two survived enslavement. At Williams's death, in 1847, Picquet and her children were emancipated, but she had no way to leave the city, so Picquet moved in with Helen Hopkins, a black friend; by selling some of Williams' furniture, Picquet eventually acquired enough money to leave the South and got as far as Cincinnati, Ohio. Three years later, in 1850, Louisa married Henry Picquet. Their family included Henry's four year old daughter, Harriet, and Louisa's eight year old daughter, Eliza. After some time, they had two more children named Sarah and Thomas. In 1858, Picquet discovered that her mother was still alive and began corresponding with her and with Horton in regards to buying her Ramsey's freedom. Picquet solicited for donations to reach the one thousand dollar price, and in her travels asking for donations, she made it all the way to New York City where she met the Reverend Hiram Mattison. He accompanied her until she was successful in raising nine hundred dollars and bought her mother's freedom. To notify all her donors, in 1860, Louisa put a notice in the Daily Gazetter telling of her mother's safe arrival in Cincinnati. Later, her husband Henry served in the Union Army until receiving a medical discharge, leaving Louisa as the household's sole provider. In 1867, she moved her family to New Richmond, Ohio where she stayed until her death in 1896.

The Reverend Hiram Mattison (1811-1868) was born on February 8, 1811, in Norway, Herkimer County, New York. His parents, Solomon and Lydia Mattison, raised him and his eleven siblings in the Methodist Episcopal Church. When Mattison was twenty three, he experienced a profound conversion and shortly after felt called by God to the ministry. In 1835, the year after his conversion, he was a junior preacher in Oswego County, New York after serving as an agent of the American Bible Society in New Jersey. Mattison resumed pastoral work in Watertown, New York in 1842 and then in Rome, New York in 1844. In 1850, Mattison became a Professor of Astronomy at Falley Seminary in 1850. Upon his return to the ministry in 1856, Mattison took an active part in the anti-slavery movement. During this time, he wrote to Methodists in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales in an attempt to stamp out slavery from the Methodist Episcopal Church by circulating petitions to collect signatures. In May 1860, Mattison met with Picquet to help her raise money to free her mother from bondage. Part of his agenda in helping Picquet was to gain support for the abolitionist and temperance movement. He hoped to use Picquet's experiences to prove the moral corruption of slavery at the General Conference of the Methodist Church in Buffalo. Dissatisfied with ongoing Methodist support for slavery, on November 1st of 1861 Mattison formally withdrew from the church and became a pastor of St. John's independent Methodist church. Later, Mattison returned to the Methodist Episcopal Church in Jersey City and remained with the congregation until his death on November 24th, 1868.

Louisa Picquet, the Octoroon: or Inside Views of Southern Domestic Life (1861) is not so much a narrative as a series of Picquet's first-person answers to Mattison's questions, which seem to have transcribed verbatim, along with his own commentary. His design for the narrative was moralistic and therefore he focuses many of his questions on Picquet's identity as a sexual victim and concubine. The narrative begins with a description of Piquet's physical appearance as a passable mulatto to emphasize that despite "at first view, [looking like] an accomplished white lady," she was denied of any rights or liberty given to white women because of her African ancestry (p. 5).

The account starts with Louisa's birth in Columbia, South Carolina. She was born to a slave, but her father, Randolph, was a free man and her master. Picquet was born into a lineage of sexual victimization and strong maternal dedication. Because of her close appearance to the master's white infant child, she and her mother, Ramsey, were sold to Cook. During this time, Louisa's mother was repeatedly impregnated by Cook; her mother was "pretty white; not white for white people" though (p. 8). In Mobile, Picquet describes her love interest with a "colored man more white than [she was]" (p. 8.) Though he wanted her to run off and escape with him, she was too afraid of getting caught so he left without her.

Hired out by Cook to the Bachelor family, Picquet labored in Mrs. Bachelor's boarding house, where Cook roomed. Cook, who wanted to sleep with Picquet, asked her to wait on him at night, yet each time Picquet evaded his bedroom thanks to the protection of Mrs. Bachelor. For refusing to sleep with Cook, however, she was whipped constantly. Mattison glosses over this violence, stating that "it is too horrible and indelicate to be read in a civilized country" (p. 15). A short time later, Cook was taken to jail because of his debts, and all of his slaves were sold. Picquet recalls that slaves were stripped of their clothes to be appraised and then sold to the highest bidder. It is in this part of the narrative that Picquet is separated from Ramsey. Picquet was sold to Williams of New Orleans and her mother was sold to Texas. Picquet described it at as a moment that "seems fresh in my memory when I think of it - no longer than yesterday - my mother was right on her knees, prayin' to the Lord for me" (p. 18). Despite being physically separated, Picquet explains, "I often thought her prayers followed me, for I never could forget her" (p. 18).

In her new life with Williams, Picquet became a concubine and a housekeeper. Here Mattison asks what her feelings were living with Williams in sin and Picquet discusses her distress. She explains that she felt that because she was committing adultery, she'd "have to die and be lost" (p. 22). All Picquet wanted was to "get religion" (p. 22). After Williams sickened and died, Picquet describes her relief at his passing; to celebrate her freedom from sexual abuse and "sin", she attended church that very Sunday (p. 22). Although she and her children were free, Picquet was stuck in New Orleans until Williams' brother gave her a portion of the proceeds from selling Williams' furniture. This money was enough to transport her and her family the way to Cincinnati.

In Cincinnati, Picquet "began to think more about her mother" (p. 25). Despite her deep concern for Ramsey's welfare, she found happiness in her marriage to Henry Picquet, a mulatto. Like Louisa, Henry was born to an enslaved black mother used as a concubine by her white master, who freed his enslaved children and their mother.

The narrative goes on to recount an exchange of letters between Picquet, her mother, and Ramsey's slave owner in Texas. Learning that the owner would free Ramsey for one thousand dollars, "she resolved to make the attempt at all hazards," which included "saving every penny she could" and "soliciting money" abroad (p. 36). In order to ask for donations, Picquet travelled across the Northeast. During this time, she was "accused of being an imposter" and fraud because of her skin color (p. 43) On one particular occasion, some of the gentlemen Picquet inquired upon for donations sternly asked her, "You are a colored women? You're no negro" (p.43). This issue arose because at first glance Picquet looked to be "a white lady" (p. 5). At the time her narrative was transcribed, despite the kind donations of many people, Mattison explains to the reader that Picquet had been unable to raise enough money to free her mother. Therefore, Mattison implores the reader to contribute to the cause if they "can sympathize with this daughter of affliction and victim of relentless oppression, and will rejoice in the opportunity of doing something to help alleviate her sorrow" (p. 48). However, enough funds were raised between Mattison's interview with Picquet and the narrative's publication that Mattison includes, at the end, a notice published in the Cincinnati Daily Gazette on October 15, 1860 explaining that Ramsey had been freed from slavery.

At the end of the narrative Mattison includes his own "Conclusion and Moral of the Whole Story." Mattison wants the reader to remember that this story "is no fiction" and that what has been written is "worthy of the most implicit belief" (p. 49). Also, he emphasizes that the defining point of this "whole narrative is the deep moral corruption which it reveals in the families concerned, resulting from the institution of slavery" (p. 50). Mattison wants everyone to understand that those we think of as "southern gentlemen" are the cause of the "deep moral pollution of the Slave States" (p. 51). He concludes with a stern reminder that, "God never made man to be a slave" (p. 60).

Works Consulted: Barthelemy, Anthony G., ed. Collected Black Women's Narratives, New York: Oxford University Press, 1988; Minor, DoVeanna S. Fulton, and Reginald H. Pitts, Speaking Lives, Authoring Texts: Three African American Women's Oral Slave Narratives, Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010; Thomson, Edward, and N. Vansant, Work Here, Rest Hereafter: Or, The Life and Character of Rev. Hiram Mattison, New York: N. Tibbals and Son, 1870.

Meg McCarthy

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