Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The LaLauries of New Orleans

My colleague Judith Martin (a life-long resident of New Orleans) forwarded the following narrative in order bring some facts to light in reference to the Lalauries:

This is the true story of LaLauries of the early 19th century in New Orleans. I learned of such things happening in the Black History course taught at the University of New Orleans by Raphael Cassimere, Ph.D. What the stories -- such as are promoted by various paranormal research sites -- are hogwash. The paranormal research groups do not understand the social background against which these ugly made-up stories were "created".

According to church records, the LaLauries were properly married by the Catholic Church in Santo Domingo. He was white and French. She was Creole (of mixed white and African). Mr. LaLaurie made a fortune with his business enterprises in the islands, which no doubt included slave trading, sugar, cotton, and dry goods.

He decided to expand his empire to North America, and moved himself and his wife to New Orleans, which was the "point-on" port between the Caribbean, and Central and South America, and the trade coming down the Mississippi River.

In New Orleans, though, the Catholic Church would not recognize the marriage. For a white man to marry a black woman was considered to be against the Bible, which speaks repeatedly of how the "chosen people" should not marry outside their Israelite group. The whites of the city saw themselves as the "chosen people".

Mixed race couples were not welcome in the all white French Quarter. The church claimed that such couples were "living in sin". They were expected to live in the so-called Creole Faubourgs (suburbs) below the Quarter and down the river.

So the locals chose to attack Madame LaLaurie. Thus began the fantastic and untrue stories about how Madame LaLaurie tortured her slaves in the attic of the couple's house. If you look at the pictures of the building, there is no way that such goings-on could have taken place without half the French Quarter knowing it. No proof was ever found to substantiate the stories. (It can be suspected that some of the household slaves may have been bribed to tell stories as well.)

Eventually, having had enough harassment, the LaLauries departed New Orleans and returned to Haiti/Santo Domingo.

Racism is what drove the LaLauries out, pure and simple. They were not the only mixed race couple that was subjected to these indignities. But other such couples were wiser, and settled in the Creole Faubourgs. (See the book New Orleans Architecture: Faubourg Tremé And The Bayou Road (New Orleans Architecture Series)) One such couple was Jean Baptiste Azereto (a survivor of Napoleon's ill-starred expedition to capture Haiti at the end of the 18th century), and his wife Marie Glesseau.

And that's the absolute truth. -- Judith Martin

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The following is a standard account of Delphine LaLaurie:

Madame Delphine Lalaurie was born Marie Delphine Macarty, circa 1775 to Louis Barthelemy McCarty and Vevue McCarty, prominent members of the New Orleans community. On June 12th, 1825, Marie Delphine Macarty married her third husband (the previous two had died), to Dr. Leonard Louis Lalaurie, a prominent dentist. In 1832, Dr. Lalaurie and his wife Delphine purchased the house at 1140 Rue Royale from another prominent member of New Orleans society, Edmond Soniet du Fossat who reportedly had the house constructed for the Lalaurie’s. Immediately Delphine Lalaurie began decorating the home with elaborate furnishings. Costly furniture, elaborate paintings by well known artists of the day amongst other fine appointments. Soon thereafter, weekly parties were held at the Lalaurie Mansion, where the most prominent citizens of New Orleans would attend, including a judge, Judge Caponage, a very dear friend of the Lalauries.

Although she would throw lavish parties with guest lists consisting of some of the most prominent people in the city, the manner in which Delphine LaLaurie tortured her slaves is probably the most widely known of the French Quarter’s macabre tales. In 1833, after several neighbors allegedly saw her cowhiding a young servant girl in the mansion’s courtyard, rumors began to spread around town that LaLaurie treated her servants viciously. According to one tale, a young slave girl was brushing LaLaurie’s hair in the upstairs bedroom when the comb hit a snag in her mistress’s hair, enraging LaLaurie.

LaLaurie whipped the 12-year-old slave girl, who tried to escape but fell to her death from a balcony overlooking the courtyard. The girl was quickly brought into the LaLaurie Mansion, but not before being observed by neighbors, who filed a complaint. The neighbors later asserted that the young girl was buried under a tree in the yard.

The legalities of the situation were handled by Judge Jean Francois Canonge, a friend of the LaLauries, who had visited the house on a previous occasion concerning the welfare of the LaLaurie servants. The LaLaurie slaves were confiscated and put up for auction, and the LaLauries were fined $500. Some of the LaLaurie relatives arranged to buy the slaves back and quickly returned them to her.

On April 10, 1834, during another party, a fire broke out in the kitchen of the mansion. The kitchen — as was the norm in Spanish mansions — was separate from the home and located over the carriageway building across the courtyard. The firemen entered the building through the courtyard. To their surprise, there were two slaves chained to the stove in the kitchen. It appeared as though the slaves had set the fire themselves in order to attract attention. The fire itself was soon subdued. It was then that the real horror of what had happened in the mansion became apparent.

Published on 11 April, 1834, the New Orleans newspaper, The Bee, described how, ”Upon entering the apartments the most appalling spectacle met their eyes. Several slaves more or less horribly mutilated were seen suspended from the neck, with their limbs apparently stretched and torn from one extremity to the other...the slaves belonged to a woman cast as demon, and they had merely been kept alive to prolong their suffering.” It was said that slaves had had their bones broken and their bodies re-shaped, their lips sewn together, that women had been found nailed to the floor, that crude attempts at sex change operations had taken place, and that buckets full of body parts and gore had been found – a Grand Guignol Horror! Surviving slaves later described how they trembled with fear at the prospect of being taken to the attic, because no one ever re-emerged from the attic.

LaLaurie escaped by horse and carriage to Bayou St. John, where she allegedly paid the captain of a schooner to carry her across to Mandeville or Covington. Many claimed they escaped to Paris. Others say they remained on the outskirts of New Orleans.

Several different accounts of the death of Delphine LaLaurie are given. One report said she was killed by a wild boar in a hunting accident in France. Another story, as reported in The Daily Picayune of March 1892, insisted she died among friends and family in Paris.

NOTE: Here are links to more information History of Delphine Lalaurie - New Orleans' Most Gruesome Location - For Sale: Haunted LaLaurie Mansion, Once Owned By Nicolas Cage.

Madame Lalaurie, Mistress of the Haunted House

Mad Madame Lalaurie: New Orleans's Most Famous Murderess Revealed