The Lost Museum Archive

"The Octoroon Gone Home," New York Times, February 9, 1860

When Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon opened in New York in 1859 in the wake of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, the highly charged sectional atmosphere that gripped the nation ensured that a play about slaves and slavery would be imbued with political meaning far beyond that originally intended by the author. Some viewed Boucicault’s play as a patently abolitionist work, while others reviled its pro-slavery sympathies. In these two letters, originally printed in the New Orleans Picayune newspaper and reprinted by the New York Times, the Anglo-Irish Boucicault sought to impress upon southerners that he had intended The Octoroon to paint a picture of southern plantation life and nothing more, and denied that he had set out to send any sort of political message.

The Octoroon Gone Home.
The following interesting documents appear in the New-Orleans Picayune:

NEW-YORK, Jan. 17, 1860.

GENTLEMEN: My work, "The Octoroon; or, Life in Louisiana," has been attacked by the Press here -- some alleging that it is a rank pro-slavery drama, others that it is an Abolition play in disguise, and others that it is neither.

As for my political persuasion, I am a Democrat, and a Southern Democrat, but do not mix myself up with politics in any way; still when I found myself under an imputation of writing anything with the smallest tendency against my convictions, I withdrew the work not because I disowned it -- I withdrew it to send it down South that you might see for yourselves whether even inadvertently I could prostitute my abilities, my convictions and my feelings.

It is not probable that I shall ever visit the South again, so I am doubly anxious to retain the good opinion of the friends I made and left there. And I have no more honest, straight, and manly course to pursue than to send on the work as I do now, and prove by its representation that I am not unworthy to retain your kind rememberance.

I am, yours truly,

To His Excellency the Governor of the State of Louisiana:

SIR: I have the honor to place before you a work of fiction, called " The Octoroon; or, Life in Louisiana." It has been represented in this City, and the reception it has met with from many Southern families of distinction, has induced me to dedicate to your Excellency a picture of plantation life, not the less faithful because drawn by one who feels so warmly towards the sunny South.

If its merits be humble, I trust its honesty and truth will recommend it to your favor. And let the absence of flattery from its pages attest the sincerity of my conviction.

Your Excellency's obedient servant,

NEW-YORK, Jan. 17, 1860.

Source: New York Times, February 9, 1860, p. 2.