From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

The White Slave, by Bartley Theo Campbell

The White Slave was a play written by Bartley Campbell, who was white. The play opened on April 3, 1882, at the Fourteenth Street Theatre in New York City.

The play's story is of a young woman, Lisa, who believes she is an octoroon slave. Lisa's white lover/previous owner helps her escape from her new owner, and Lisa learns that she is the illegitimate daughter of a white woman and an Italian man. Her mother was in Italy when she died after giving birth to Lisa, and Lisa's father then moved to France.

Lisa is delivered to her grandfather in the United States, Judge Hardin, who owns Big Bend Plantation in Kentucky.
Judge Hardin does not want anyone to know that his dead daughter had an illegitimate child by a foreigner, so he gives the baby to his quadroon slave, Nance, to be raised as her daughter.

Once Lisa knows the truth about her past, she marries her lover/former owner, who is also her grandfather's adopted son, Clay. The couple returns to Kentucky and regains ownership of the Big Bend Plantation and the slaves.

The White Slave was one of several racial melodramas in the late 1800s. It repeated the long-established plight of the tragic octoroon. Bartley Campbell's biggest success, it was performed on stage for more than 35 years.

The White Slave was written during more successful times for Bartley Campbell, who had been a journalist. He was born in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1840, and wrote for the Pittsburgh Post in the late 1850s. He had also worked for newspapers in Cincinnati, New Orleans, and Louisville, KY. Campbell was also an author while employed as a journalist. He gave up journalism in 1871 to become a playwright and was very successful. Campbell died in 1888; he had been declared insane in 1886 and was placed in State Hospital in New York.

For more on Bartley T. Campbell see The Cambridge History of American Theatre, by D. B. Wilmeth and C. W. E. Bigsby; and Bartley Campbell, by W. H. Claeren. For more on the history of the term "white slave" see Sisters in Sin, by K. N. Johnson. For more about the play, see "Re-Viewing The White Slave" in African American Performance and Theater History, by H. J. Elam, Jr. and D. Krasner; and The White Slave and Other Plays, by B. Campbell and N. Wilt.

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“The White Slave, by Bartley Theo Campbell,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed May 18, 2024,

Last modified: 2023-11-03 13:43:17