The Strange History of the American Quadroon

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The Strange History of the American Quadroon: Free Women of Color in the Revolutionary Atlantic World Paperback – February 1, 2015
by Emily


Exotic, seductive, and doomed: the antebellum mixed-race free woman of color has long operated as a metaphor for New Orleans. Commonly known as a "quadroon", she and the city she represents rest irretrievably condemned in the popular historical imagination by the linked sins of slavery and interracial sex. However, as Emily Clark shows, the rich archives of New Orleans tell a different story. Free women of color with ancestral roots in New Orleans were as likely to marry in the 1820s as white women. And marriage, not concubinage, was the basis of their family structure. In The Strange History of the American Quadroon, Clark investigates how the narrative of the erotic colored mistress became an elaborate literary and commercial trope, persisting as a symbol that long outlived the political and cultural purposes for which it had been created. Untangling myth and memory, she presents a dramatically new and nuanced understanding of the myths and realities of New Orleans's free women of color.


Editorial Reviews



A book that historians of New Orleans and antebellum sexuality cannot ignore.--Journal of Southern History

A rich contribution to our understandings about the relationship between mythmaking and the creation of race, gender, and sex-based hierarchies in the Atlantic world.--The Historian

Clark has made a significant contribution to our understanding of the intertwined histories of race and gender in early New Orleans. Recommended for academic readers.--Library Journal

Clark tells a masterful story of the quadroon's migration from the Caribbean to the United States, surfacing in Philadelphia, and settling in New Orleans. . . . Scholars will find this book fascinating.--Early American Literature

Clark's thoroughly researched and beautifully written book replaces the simplistic and stereotypical accounts we have inherited from previous generations of scholars.--American Historical Review

Focused primarily on history but also incorporating literature, Clark creates a case study to explain the historical origins of New Orleans' reputation as the exotic home of the almost mythical American 'quadroon, ' often portrayed as the 'tragic mulatto.'--American Studies Journal

In her lively, comprehensive book, Clark broaches society's historical fascination with quadroons. . . . [She] weaves real-life examples with an encyclopedic overview of the widespread effects both the American and Haitian Revolutions had on cultural perceptions of a nebulous social class.--Publishers Weekly

Jump[ing] headlong into [the] intersection of history, memory and mythmaking. . . Clark offers a credible alternative history. . . [and] eloquent and persuasive evidence that race was not simply a byproduct of slavery's racism, but was diligently and deliberately produced. It will surely prove impossible to look at the American quadroon the same way again.--H-Law

Particularly well-written.--Journal of American History

Richly-researched and compelling. . . . Dr. Clark's work does not disappoint. Her scholarship clears away the smoke and pulls back the veils on much received wisdom, revealing just how empowered, and how impressive our women of color ancestors could be. . . . A page turner.--Huffington Post Blog




Absolutely riveting and nothing short of brilliant. This is a revelatory, important book.--Jane Dailey, University of Chicago


About the Author

Emily Clark is Clement Chambers Benenson Professor of American Colonial History and associate professor of history at Tulane University. She is author of Masterless Mistresses: The New Orleans Ursulines and the Development of a New World Society, 1727-1834.

Product details

  • Paperback: 292 pages
  • Publisher: University of North Carolina Press; Reprint edition (February 1, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1469622068
  • ISBN-13: 978-1469622064
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.7 ounces
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