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Delphine LaLaurie

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Delphine LaLaurie
Delphine LaLaurie.jpg
Marie Delphine Macarty

(1787-03-19)19 March 1787[1]
New Orleans, Louisiana
Died7 December 1849(1849-12-07) (aged 62)[2]
Paris, France
Other namesMarie Delphine LaLaurie, Marie Delphine Macarty LaLaurie, Delphine Macarty LaLaurie , Delphine Maccarthy LaLaurie, Madame LaLaurie
Known forTorturing and killing of numerous black slaves, discovered in 1834
Spouse(s)Don Ramón de Lopez y Angulo (married 1800 – died 1804)
Jean Blanque (married 1808 – died 1816)
Dr. Leonard Louis Nicolas LaLaurie (married 1825)
ChildrenMarie-Borja/Borgia Delphine Lopez y Angulo de la Candelaria, nicknamed "Borquita" (daughter by Don Ramón de Lopez y Angulo)
Marie Louise Pauline Blanque (daughter by Jean Blanque)
Louise Marie Laure Blanque (daughter by Jean Blanque)
Marie Louise Jeanne Blanque (daughter by Jean Blanque)
Jeanne Pierre Paulin Blanque (son by Jean Blanque)
Samuel Arthur Clarence Lalaurie (son by Louis Lalaurie, before marriage)
Three-storey rectangular building
The LaLaurie mansion, from a 1906 postcard

Marie Delphine Macarty or MacCarthy (March 19, 1787 – December 7, 1849), more commonly known as Madame Blanque, until her third marriage, when she became known as Madame LaLaurie, was a New Orleans Creole socialite and serial killer who tortured and murdered slaves in her household.

Born during the Spanish colonial period, Delphine Macarty married three times in Louisiana, and was twice widowed. She maintained her position in New Orleans society until April 10, 1834, when rescuers responded to a fire at her Royal Street mansion. They discovered bound slaves in her attic who showed evidence of cruel, violent abuse over a long period. LaLaurie's house was subsequently sacked by an outraged mob of New Orleans citizens. She escaped to France with her family.[3]

The mansion traditionally held to be LaLaurie's is a landmark in the French Quarter, in part because of its history and for its architectural significance. However, her house was burned by the mob, and the "LaLaurie Mansion" at 1140 Royal Street was in fact rebuilt after her departure from New Orleans.

Early life and family history[edit]

Marie Delphine Macarty was born in New Orleans on March 19, 1787, as one of five children. Her father was Louis Barthelemy de McCarty (originally Chevalier de MacCarthy), whose father Barthelemy (de) MacCarthy brought the family to New Orleans from Ireland around 1730, during the French colonial period.[4] (The Irish surname MacCarthy was shortened to Macarty or de Macarty.) Her mother was Marie-Jeanne L'Érable,[5] also known as "the widow Le Comte", as her marriage to Louis B. Macarty was her second.[4] Both were prominent in the town's European Creole community.[6] Delphine's uncle, by marriage, Esteban Rodríguez Miró, was Governor of the Spanish American provinces of Louisiana and Florida during 1785–1791, and her cousin, Augustin de Macarty, was Mayor of New Orleans from 1815 to 1820.[7]

First marriage[edit]

On June 11, 1800, Marie Delphine Macarty married Don Ramón de Lopez y Angulo, a Caballero de la Royal de Carlos, a high-ranking Spanish royal officer,[6][8] at the Saint Louis Cathedral in New Orleans.[6] Luisiana, as it was spelled in Spanish, had become a Spanish colony in the 1760s after France was defeated by Great Britain in the Seven Years War. In 1804, after the American acquisition of what was then again a French territory, Don Ramón had been appointed to the position of consul general for Spain in the Territory of Orleans.[6]

Also, in 1804, Delphine and Ramón Lopez traveled to Spain.[6]

Second marriage and death of husband[edit]

In June 1808, Delphine married Jean Blanque, a prominent banker, merchant, lawyer, and legislator.[6] At the time of the marriage, Blanque purchased a house at 409 Royal Street in New Orleans for the family, which became known later as the Villa Blanque.[6] Delphine had four children by Blanque, named Marie Louise Pauline, Louise Marie Laure, Marie Louise Jeanne, and Jeanne Pierre Paulin Blanque.[6] Blanque died in 1816.[9]

Third marriage[edit]

On June 25, 1825,[9] Delphine married her third husband, physician Leonard Louis Nicolas LaLaurie, who was much younger than she.[10] In 1831, she bought property at 1140 Royal Street,[11] which she managed in her own name with little involvement of her husband.[10] In 1832 she had a 2-story mansion built there,[9] complete with attached slave quarters. She lived there with her third husband and two of her daughters,[10] and maintained a central position in New Orleans society.[3]

Torture and murder of slaves and 1834 LaLaurie mansion fire[edit]

Black and white drawing of an engraved door recessed several feet into a stone archway
An artist's depiction of the entryway to 1140 Royal Street, c. 1888

The LaLauries maintained several black slaves in slave quarters, attached to the Royal Street mansion. Accounts of Delphine LaLaurie's treatment of her slaves between 1831 and 1834 are mixed. Harriet Martineau, writing in 1838 and recounting tales told to her by New Orleans residents during her 1836 visit, claimed LaLaurie's slaves were observed to be "singularly haggard and wretched;" however, in public appearances LaLaurie was seen to be generally polite to black people and solicitous of her slaves' health.[10] Court records of the time showed that LaLaurie manumitted two of her slaves (Jean Louis in 1819 and Devince in 1832).[12] Martineau wrote that public rumors about LaLaurie's mistreatment of her slaves were sufficiently widespread that a local lawyer was dispatched to Royal Street to remind LaLaurie of the laws for the upkeep of slaves. During this visit, the lawyer found no evidence of wrongdoing or mistreatment of slaves by LaLaurie.[13]

Martineau also recounted other tales of LaLaurie's cruelty that were current among New Orleans residents in about 1836. She said that, subsequent to the visit of the local lawyer, one of LaLaurie's neighbors saw one of the LaLauries' slaves, a twelve-year-old girl named Lia (or Leah), fall to her death from the roof of the Royal Street mansion while trying to avoid punishment from a whip-wielding Delphine LaLaurie. Lia had been brushing Delphine's hair when she hit a snag, causing Delphine to grab a whip and chase her. The body was subsequently buried on the mansion grounds. According to Martineau, this incident led to an investigation of the LaLauries, in which they were found guilty of illegal cruelty and forced to forfeit nine slaves. These nine slaves were bought back by the LaLauries through an intermediary relative, and returned to the Royal Street residence.[14] Similarly, Martineau recounted stories that LaLaurie kept her cook chained to the kitchen stove, and beat her daughters when they attempted to feed the slaves.[15]

On April 10, 1834, a fire broke out in the LaLaurie residence on Royal Street, starting in the kitchen. When the police and fire marshals got there, they found the cook, a seventy-year-old woman, chained to the stove by her ankle. She later said that she had set the fire as a suicide attempt because she feared being punished. She said that slaves taken to the uppermost room never came back. As reported in the New Orleans Bee of April 11, 1834, bystanders responding to the fire attempted to enter the slave quarters to ensure that everyone had been evacuated. Upon being refused the keys by the LaLauries, the bystanders broke down the doors to the slave quarters and found "seven slaves, more or less horribly mutilated ... suspended by the neck, with their limbs apparently stretched and torn from one extremity to the other", who claimed to have been imprisoned there for some months.[16]

One of those who entered the premises was Judge Jean-Francois Canonge, who subsequently deposed to having found in the LaLaurie mansion, among others, a "negress ... wearing an iron collar" and "an old negro woman who had received a very deep wound on her head [who was] too weak to be able to walk." Canonge said that when he questioned Madame LaLaurie's husband about the slaves, he was told in an insolent manner that "some people had better stay at home rather than come to others' houses to dictate laws and meddle with other people's business."[17]

A version of this story circulating in 1836, recounted by Martineau, added that the slaves were emaciated, showed signs of being flayed with a whip, were bound in restrictive postures, and wore spiked iron collars which kept their heads in static positions.[15]

When the discovery of the abused slaves became widely known, a mob of local citizens attacked the LaLaurie residence and "demolished and destroyed everything upon which they could lay their hands".[16] A sheriff and his officers were called upon to disperse the crowd, but by the time the mob left, the Royal Street property had sustained major damage, with "scarcely any thing [remaining] but the walls."[18] The slaves were taken to a local jail, where they were available for public viewing. The New Orleans Bee reported that by April 12 up to 4,000 people had attended to view the slaves "to convince themselves of their sufferings."[18]

The Pittsfield Sun, citing the New Orleans Advertiser and writing several weeks after the evacuation of LaLaurie's slave quarters, claimed that two of the slaves found in the LaLaurie mansion had died since their rescue. It added, "We understand ... that in digging the yard, bodies have been disinterred, and the condemned well [in the grounds of the mansion] having been uncovered, others, particularly that of a child, were found."[19] These claims were repeated by Martineau in her 1838 book Retrospect of Western Travel, where she placed the number of unearthed bodies at two, including the child.[15]

Escape from justice and self-imposed exile in France[edit]

Black and white image of copper plate, bearing text reading "Madame Lalaurie, née Marie Delphine Macarty, décédée à Paris, le 7 Décembre, 1842, à l'âge de 6--."
Copper plate found in Saint Louis Cemetery #1, which claims that LaLaurie died in Paris in 1842

Delphine LaLaurie's life after the 1834 fire is not well documented. Martineau wrote in 1838, that LaLaurie fled New Orleans during the mob violence that followed the fire, taking a coach to the waterfront and traveling, by schooner, from there to Mobile, Alabama and then to Paris.[20] Certainly by the time Martineau personally visited the Royal Street mansion in 1836, it was still unoccupied and badly damaged, with "gaping windows and empty walls".[21]

Later life and death[edit]

The circumstances of Delphine LaLaurie's death are also unclear. George Washington Cable recounted in 1888 a popular but unsubstantiated story that LaLaurie had died in France, in a boar-hunting accident.[22] In the late 1930s, Eugene Backes, who served as sexton to St. Louis Cemetery #1 until 1924, discovered an old cracked, copper plate in Alley 4 of the cemetery. The inscription on the plate read "Madame Lalaurie, née Marie Delphine Maccarthy, décédée à Paris, le 7 Décembre, 1842, à l'âge de 6--."[23] The English translation of the inscription reads: "Madame Lalaurie, born Marie Delphine Mccarthy, died in Paris, December 7, 1842, at the age of 6-- "[24]

According to the French archives of Paris, however, Marie Delphine Maccarthy died on December 7, 1849, at the age of 62.[2]

LaLaurie mansion[edit]

Three-storey rectangular building
The former LaLaurie house at 1140 Royal Street, photographed September 2009

The New Orleans house occupied by Delphine LaLaurie does not survive. The impressive mansion at 1140 Royal Street, on the corner of Royal Street and Governor Nicholls Street (formerly known as Hospital Street), commonly referred to as the Lalaurie or Haunted house, is not the same building inhabited by LaLaurie. When she acquired the property in 1831 from Edmond Soniat Dufossat, a house was already under construction and finished for LaLaurie. However, this house was burned by the mob in 1834 and remained in a ruined state for at least another four years. It was then rebuilt by Pierre Trastour after 1838 and assumed the appearance that it has today. Over the following decades, it was used as a public high school, a conservatory of music, an apartment building, a refuge for young delinquents, a bar, a furniture store, and a luxury apartment building.[25] The dwelling had a third floor and rear building added later in the 19th century and the rear building on Governor Nicholls Street, which had only one floor until a second one was added in the 20th century, was remodeled in the 1970s when the second floor interior of the building was done over by Koch and Wilson, architects. At three stories high, it was described in 1928 as "the highest building for squares around", with the result that "from the cupola on the roof one may look out over the Vieux Carré and see the Mississippi in its crescent before Jackson Square".[26] The entrance to the building bears iron grillwork, and the door is carved with an image of "Phoebus in his chariot, and with wreaths of flowers and depending garlands in bas-relief".[26] Inside, the vestibule is floored in black and white marble, and a curved mahogany-railed staircase runs the full three stories of the building. The second floor holds three large drawing rooms connected by ornamented sliding doors, whose walls are decorated with plaster rosettes, carved woodwork, black marble mantle pieces and fluted pilasters.[26]

In April 2007, actor Nicolas Cage bought the "Lalaurie House" for a sum of $3.45 million.[25] To protect the actor's privacy, the mortgage documents were arranged in such a way that Cage's name did not appear on them.[27] On November 13, 2009, the property, then valued at $3.5 million, was listed for auction as a result of bank foreclosure and purchased by Regions Financial Corporation for $2.3 million.[27]

LaLaurie in folklore[edit]

Folk histories of LaLaurie's abuse and murder of her slaves circulated in Louisiana during the nineteenth century, and were reprinted in collections of stories by Henry Castellanos[28] and George Washington Cable.[29] Cable's account (not to be confused with his unrelated 1881 novel Madame Delphine) was based on contemporary reports in newspapers such as the New Orleans Bee and the Advertiser, and upon Martineau's 1838 account, Retrospect of Western Travel. He added some of his own synthesis, dialogue, and speculation.[29]

After 1945, accounts of the LaLaurie slaves became more explicit. Jeanne deLavigne, writing in Ghost Stories of Old New Orleans (1946), alleged that LaLaurie had a "sadistic appetite [that] seemed never appeased until she had inflicted on one or more of her black servitors some hideous form of torture" and claimed that those who responded to the 1834 fire had found "male slaves, stark naked, chained to the wall, their eyes gouged out, their fingernails pulled off by the roots; others had their joints skinned and festering, great holes in their buttocks where the flesh had been sliced away, their ears hanging by shreds, their lips sewn together ... Intestines were pulled out and knotted around naked waists. There were holes in skulls, where a rough stick had been inserted to stir the brains."[30] DeLavigne did not cite any sources for these claims, and they were not supported by the primary sources.

The story was further embellished in Journey Into Darkness: Ghosts and Vampires of New Orleans (1998) by Kalila Katherina Smith, the operator of a New Orleans ghost tour business. Smith's book added several more explicit details to the discoveries allegedly made by rescuers during the 1834 fire, including a "victim [who] obviously had her arms amputated and her skin peeled off in a circular pattern, making her look like a human caterpillar," and another who had had her limbs broken and reset "at odd angles so she resembled a human crab".[31] Many of the new details in Smith's book were unsourced, while others were not supported by the sources given.

Today, modern re-tellings of the LaLaurie legend often use deLavigne and Smith's versions of the tale as the basis for claims of explicit tortures, and number the slaves who died under LaLaurie's care at as many as one hundred.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Morrow Long, Carolyn (2012). Madame Lalaurie Mistress of the Haunted House. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida. ISBN 978-0813038063.
  2. ^ a b Paris Archives online; scroll over to page 26, retrieved 31 October 2015.
  3. ^ a b "A torture chamber is uncovered by arson - Apr 10, 1834",; Retrieved on 23 January 2017.
  4. ^ a b King (1921), pp. 368–373.
  5. ^ Archdiocese of New Orleans Sacramental Records Volume 01 (1718-1750), p. 167.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Arthur (1936), p. 148.
  7. ^ King (1921), p. 373.
  8. ^ King (1921), p. 359.
  9. ^ a b c Arthur (1936), p. 149.
  10. ^ a b c d Martineau (1838), p. 137.
  11. ^ Cable (1888), p. 200.
  12. ^ Orleans Parish Court, Index to Slave Emancipation Petitions, 1814–1843, City Archives and Special Collections, New Orleans Public Library.
  13. ^ Martineau (1838), p. 138.
  14. ^ Martineau (1838), pp. 138–139.
  15. ^ a b c Martineau (1838), pp. 139.
  16. ^ a b New Orleans Bee (April 11, 1834).
  17. ^ As quoted by Castellanos (1895), pp. 58–59.
  18. ^ a b The New Orleans Bee (April 12, 1834).
  19. ^ Pittsfield Sun (May 8, 1834).
  20. ^ Martineau (1838), pp. 141–142.
  21. ^ Martineau (1838), p. 142.
  22. ^ Cable (1888), p. 217.
  23. ^ Times-Picayune (January 28, 1941).
  24. ^ "Google Translate". Retrieved 2017-12-23.
  25. ^ a b Big Time Listings (April 24, 2007).
  26. ^ a b c Saxon (1928), p. 203.
  27. ^ a b CNN Money (November 16, 2009).
  28. ^ Castellanos (1895), pp. 52–62.
  29. ^ a b Cable (1888), pp. 200–219.
  30. ^ DeLavigne (1946), pp. 256–257.
  31. ^ Smith (1998), p. 19.
  32. ^ Taylor (2000).



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