Delphine LaLaurie: The Evil Socialite
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.
Life in the Mansion
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. [Source]
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.
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