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 story is of a young woman named Lisa, who believes that 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 moved on to France. Lisa was delivered to her grandfather, Judge Hardin in the United States. Judge Hardin, who owned Big Bend Plantation in Kentucky, did not want anyone to know that his dead daughter had had an illegitimate child by a foreigner. He gave 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 named 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, and it repeated the long established plight of the tragic octoroon. It was Bartley Campbell's biggest success and was performed on stage for more than 35 years. The White Slave was written during more successful times for Bartley Campbell, he 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 the entry "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.


Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: The Pittsburgh post (newspaper)
NKAA Source: The Cambridge history of American theatre
NKAA Source: Bartley Campbell : playwright of the gilded age
NKAA Source: Sisters in sin : brothel drama in America, 1900-1920
NKAA Source: African American performance and theater history: a critical reader
NKAA Source: The white slave, & other plays; by Bartley Campbell

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“The White Slave by Bartley Theo Campbell,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed June 3, 2020,

Last modified: 2018-04-04 03:03:51