My current work in progress, River Moon Don’t Cry is about a young Melungeon girl who is taken aboard a sex-trafficking steamboat in 1838 for the purpose of being sold to the highest bidder at a Quadroon ball in New Orleans. Those bidding are wealthy plantation owners in search of a plaçage, a “comfort woman” or “concubine.”
The term placage comes from the French placer meaning “to place with.” These women were not legal wives but their relationships were recognized as mariages de la main gauche, “left handed marriages.”
The word quadroon refers to people of color with one white parent and one half-white parent. These balls encouraged women of mixed race to form liaisons with a system of concubinage. Quadroons were often highly educated and socially refined women who were unable to find black men of their own social status.
The Quadroon Balls began in earnest in 1805 when a man named Albert Tessier rented a dance hall where he held elaborate, elegant dances twice a week for quadroon women and white men only. At the time, race mixing was against the law in New Orleans, but white men would steal away from their white balls to mingle with the quadroons.
However, it wasn’t unknown for a poorer white girl to be sent to the Americas from Europe for the express purpose of being a “comfort woman.”
A quadroon’s mother usually negotiated with the “sugar daddy” plantation owner for the price of her daughter, but it wasn’t unknown for women of color to be sold by other owners for a generous price.
A book I highly recommend on the subject is The Strange History of the American Quadroon.
A fairly decent movie regarding Quadroon Balls is The Courage To Love starring Vanessa Williams.
Sex trafficking is as old as time and unfortunately it continues today. The sex trafficking of children is particularly heinous. Please do your part to help educate others of these horrific crimes against humanity. And visit Operation Underground Railroad to learn more.