Madame Delphine LaLaurie, A 19th Century Socialite with a taste for Torture and Murder.
LaLaurie's story is etched in Louisiana's history as a gruesome and tragic one. She was a socialite remembered for torturing and murdering her own slaves in the early 1800's.
LaLaurie, born Marie Delphine Macarty, was born on March 19th, 1787, in New Orleans, and was one of five children. Delphine's parents were both prominent in the town's European Creole society, and her uncle, Esteban Rodríguez Miró, was the governor of the Spanish-American provinces of Louisiana and Florida during 1785-1791. She also had a cousin named Augustin de Macarty, who was the mayor of New Orleans from 1815-1820.
There was no evidence of any sadistic behavior from the young socialite, and she was known to be courteous, kind and gentle to those who knew her.
LaLaurie was fourteen when she married her first husband, thirty-five year old Don Ramón López y Ángulo, on June 11th, 1800. Don Ramón was a high ranking Spanish royal officer, and second in command to the Louisiana governor.
After the American acquisition of then French territory in 1804, Don Ramón was appointed the position of consul general for Spain in the territory of Orleans, and was called to court in Spain. He took LaLaurie with him, and during the trip to Madrid, Don Ramón died suddenly in Havana. LaLaurie gave birth to their daughter, Marie-Borja, a few days after her husband's death. She stayed in Havana to bury her husband and have her daughter baptized, and soon travelled back to New Orleans.
In June 1808, LaLaurie married a man named Jean Paul Blanque, who was a prominent businessman in many aspects. Blanque purchased a home for the family on 409 Royal Street, New Orleans, and the couple went on to have four children together. Blanque died in 1816 at the age of fifty, and then twenty-eight year old LaLaurie was left to settle his estate.
On June 25th, 1825, Delphine married her third husband, Dr. Louis Lalaurie, who recently moved to New Orleans from France. LaLaurie was older than her husband; at the time of their marriage she was thirty-eight and he was twenty-three. In 1831, she purchased property at 1140 Royal Street, and by 1832 had constructed her two story mansion that included an attached slave quarters.
The LaLaurie's marriage was not a happy one; on November 16th, 1832, Delphine petitioned the courts for a bed and board separation from her husband, claiming that he "treated her in such a manner as to render their living together insupportable." Her son and two of her daughters supported her claims.
The LaLaurie Mansion Fire and Murder Discovery
On April 10th, 1834, a fire broke out inside the LaLaurie mansion, starting in the kitchen. The police and fire marshals that arrived on the scene discovered a seventy-year old slave cook chained to the stove. The cook told police that she intentionally started the fire as a suicide attempt because she and the other slaves could not stand to live under the gruesome conditions in the home anymore. This was the beginning of exposing the truth about Delphine LaLaurie.
Bystanders questioned LaLaurie about the safety of her slaves, and she told them straight out to mind their own business while she continued trying to save her valuables. The bystanders broke down the doors to the slave quarters, and what they found was enough to turn their stomachs. Seven slaves were chained and suspended by their necks, some were mutilated, and their limbs were stretched and torn. Some had their eyes gouged out, their skin flayed, and some even had their mouths filled with excrement and their lips sewn shut. The slaves told rescuers that they were held captive for months.
There was a report that one slave woman's bones had been broken and put back together so that she would resemble a crab, and another report stated that a slave woman was even wrapped up in human intestines. This witness also claimed to see slaves who had holes in their skulls, and wooden spoons nearby to be used to stir their brains.
A rumor soon circulated that there were mutilated dead bodies in the attic of LaLaurie's home, and that their organs were either missing or not intact.
The public became outraged by what they learned about LaLaurie and her sadistic habits, so they decided to loot and destroy her home. A sheriff and several officers were called to disperse the mob, and the slaves were taken to the public jail, where unfortunately they were put on public display so that people could solidify their beliefs that they had indeed suffered. Two of the slaves died in the following weeks, presumably from the injuries they received from torture. Additional bodies were dug up in LaLaurie's backyard.
This display of disregard to human life should have been noted from a previous incident Delphine had with a slave and the law. A few years prior to the mansion fire, a neighbour witnessed a young slave girl jump from
LaLaurie's mansion window to her death. It was revealed that the child, believed to be eight-years old, was running from severe punishment and decided to take her own life. LaLaurie then buried the child's body in her backyard. The LaLaurie's were charged and found guilty of illegal cruelty, and they were forced to give up their remaining nine slaves. The slaves were purchased back by a relative of LaLaurie, and returned to her mansion.
No one is sure what drove LaLaurie to commit her crimes. Some speculate that the death of her uncle at the hands of slaves in 1771 may have triggered her to torture her own slaves. Others say that reports of the killing of whites during the Haitian Slave Revolution in 1791 may have also triggered some fear of slaves and gave her the notion to keep them under control with her own evil methods.
Escape and Death
Delphine LaLaurie did have one loyal slave, and amidst the fire and chaos, her slave coachman brought her carriage around and she got inside confidently. The mob were stunned, and tried to stop her escape efforts. Unfortunately, the coachman was able to get through the crowd, and he delivered his master to a schooner that was waiting at the New Orleans Navigation Company dock. Not much is known of her initial destination; some say she went to Alabama, others say New York. What is known is that she eventually ended up in Paris. Her children also moved to Paris to live with her, with the exception of her son Louis, who opted to live in Havana.
She died on December 7th, 1849, in Paris at the age of 62, and her cause of death is unknown. Records in Paris state that LaLaurie was buried in the tomb of the Notta and Noel Families on December 9th, 1849. Her body was exhumed and sent back to be buried in New Orleans in January 1851.
LaLaurie Mansion Today
The original LaLaurie mansion did not survive the 1834 mobbing and fire. It was rebuilt in 1838 by a man named Pierre Trastour, and over the years was used as a school, bar, furniture store, apartments and a music conservatory.
This mansion was bought by actor Nicolas Cage in April 2007, for $3.45 million. The property was auctioned as a result of foreclosure, and was purchased for $2.3 million by Regions Financial Corporation.