Clotel; or, The President's Daughter Character List
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Written by Timothy Sexton
As a mixed-raced person of one-quarter African genetic heritage, Clotel is identified by a term in little use today, but instantly recognize at the time of the novel’s publication in 1853: a quadroon. The particular lineage makeup of female quadroons makes them especially prized by slaveowners looking for an exotic concubine. Her mulatto ancestry is represented by her mother, Currer. The rest of Clotel’s white ancestry is due to her father. The man who fathered Clotel with Currer is none other than Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and third President of the United States. Clotel is purchased in the slave trade by Horatio Green who takes her as a mistress. From that union is produced Clotel’s daughter. Eventually, Clotel makes a successful escape from slavery by disguising herself as a man only to be tracked down by those who make their living retrieving and returning runaway slaves. Rather than to back to the horror from which she briefly managed to break free, Clotel commits suicide.
Currer is the middle-aged mother of Clotel. For a time, Currer was a housekeeper within the Thomas Jefferson household. That position was lost when she was passed onto another household as a result of Jefferson having to leave for Washington, D.C. to fill some sort of government position. Jefferson fathered with Currer not only Clotel, but also Clotel’s younger sister, Althesa. Eventually, both daughters are sold away from Currer and she winds up moving to Natchez, Mississippi where she succumbs to Yellow Fever.
Currer and Thomas Jefferson’s youngest daughter, Althesa, is just fourteen years as the novel opens, but will grow up to experience being sold in New Orleans’ slave market. Purchased by a man named Henry Morton, she will ultimately become not only his property but his wife. Although, the actual difference there may be minimal at best. With Henry as the father, Althesa will give birth to two daughters of her own, Ellen and Jane. Before they can reach adulthood, however, both Althesa and Henry Morton will also become victims of Yellow Fever.
Horatio Green is white, from Virginia and wealthy enough to afford to buy the highly sought-after quadroon, Clotel. Being a white Virginian male wealthy enough to afford a highly sought-after quadroon, Horatio quite naturally further subjugates Clotel by making her his concubine. Nevertheless, Clotel comes to such a profound emotional attachment to Horatio that she actually descends into a deep depression when he marries a white woman whose jealousy of Clotel results in her being sold.
Mary is the daughter of Clotel and remains behind once her mother has been sold off as a result of Horatio marrying Gertrude. Left behind to fill the role of household slave in which she receives the full brunt of the white Mrs. Green’s residual jealousy toward her mother. The bad treatment that Mary receives as the Greens’ servant serves to inspire her to take the chance on helping a mulatto servant in the home named George to escape. As a result of this action, Mary is sold at the New Orleans slave market, but is rescued from sharing the same fate as his mother and grandmother by a Frenchman named Devenant with whom she escapes to Europe and marries. After the death of Devenant, George and Mary cross paths again and wind up marrying to bring the novel to the closest thing to a happy ending that is probably possible.
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