Slaveowner Madame Lalaurie Tortured and Killed her Slaves for Fun
The story behind America's most cruel slaveowner
Madame LaLaurie whipped her slaves, gauged their eyes out, and poked holes in their skulls, leaving maggots to infest the openings. This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the sickening acts of torture this eighteenth-century slave owner committed against her slaves. Why she was so cruel remains a mystery to many and perhaps the most tragic aspect of Madame LaLaurie’s life is that she never faced justice for her heinous acts.
Who was Madame LaLaurie?
Madame LaLaurie was born Marie Delphine Macarty in New Orleans, Spanish Louisiana on 19 March 1787. She was born into a very affluent family that owned numerous slaves. Although there is nothing particularly interesting about her childhood, at the age of four, the Haitian Revolution erupted in 1791. During this revolution, her uncle was murdered by his slaves.
The revolution did cause slave owners to be a lot harsher to their slaves in the hopes of preventing further uprisings. We can speculate that witnessing the Haitian Revolution and the murder of her uncle by slaves may have ignited the evil in her. She may have treated her slaves so appallingly as a way to avenge her uncle. But, either way, it is very difficult to comprehend the reasons behind her cruelty. None of the slaves she murdered and tortured had been personally responsible for her uncle’s death thus did not deserve to suffer at her hands.
Madame LaLaurie was married three times to affluent men and had five children. Her first two husbands died. Her third husband was a young doctor named Leonard LaLaurie whose last name she took hence being infamously known as Madame LaLaurie. They lived together with their slaves at 1140 Royal Street in the French Quarter in a three-story mansion Madame LaLaurie had purchased.
The LaLaurie’s were an affluent family who constantly threw lavish parties. They were well-respected members of society. Madame LaLaurie was somewhat of a socialite and many women wanted to be her. She was beautiful and courteous. No one knew what happened behind the closed doors of her home.
Her wicked ways seem to have started while married to her third husband. There is no evidence that Madam LaLaurie tortured or murdered any of her slaves before becoming Mrs. LaLaurie. It is also unclear as to whether her husband was also actively involved in the torture and murder of the slaves. However, one thing is for sure the mansion at 1140 Royal Street was hell for the slaves that called it home.
Rumored mistreatment of slaves
Rumors about Madame LaLaurie’s wicked ways began to spread when people started noticing that many of her slaves would mysteriously disappear. Although slaves were often treated as lesser humans during that time, there were still laws that prohibited the unusually cruel treatment of slaves. Without concrete proof of any malpractice, people could do nothing about their suspicions.
Things soon changed when a neighbor heard some screaming coming from 1140 Royal Street. It was one of Madame LaLaurie’s youngest slaves, eight-year-old Lia running away from her to avoid being whopped. In her attempt to avoid the cruel punishment the little girl had fallen to her death from the mansion’s rooftop. The girl was subsequently buried on the mansion grounds.
The incident involving Lia ultimately led to authorities impounding all of Madame LaLaurie’s slaves. They were auctioned off to the public. However, being the cunning woman she is, Madame LaLaurie got a relative to purchase the slaves at the auction and later return them to her.
The torture and murder of slaves
The extend of Madame LaLaurie’s ill-treatment of slaves was unknown until 10 April 1834. On this day, a fire broke out at the LaLaurie residence. The fire had started in the kitchen. When the police and fire marshals arrived at the scene they found the house cook, an elderly woman, chained to the stove. Upon questioning her they discovered that she had started the fire in an attempt to commit suicide. Why had the old lady decided to take her life this way?
Well, upon further interrogations the woman explained that Madame LaLaurie had threatened to take her to the top room. According, to the cook, no one who went to the top room ever came back. The lady had thought it best to take her own life than suffer at the hands of Madame LaLaurie.
This revelation led to the top room being broken into to investigate the claims made by the cook. And for sure the top room was hell on earth for the slaves that found themselves there. People found the dead bodies of several slaves in the top room, but that was not the worst of it.
In the top room, slaves were tortured. The slaves found alive were deathly thin, a sign that they had not been given food in ages. A woman was found wrapped with her intestines, another was found with their mouth sewn shut with feces in it. The slaves had metal bars with spikes around their necks to prevent them from moving their heads while others were put into small cages and their bones broken to fit in.
People were beyond shocked. The discovery of Madame LaLurie’s wicked ways made it to a local newspaper which reported that witnesses had seen,
seven slaves, more or less horribly mutilated… suspended by the neck, with their limbs apparently stretched and torn from one extremity to the other.
The pleasant, beautiful and seemingly kind woman was a sadistic murderer. People had never witnessed slaves being treated so horribly. This says a lot given that during this time it was okay to treat your slaves badly, but Madame LaLaurie had crossed the line and the whole community agreed on this.
The LaLaurie’s flee from justice
The extremely cruel treatment of slaves in the LaLaurie house was illegal and therefore warranted criminal sanctions. More importantly, the New Orleans community was extremely outraged by the cruel nature of the LaLaurie’s. This led to many wanting to serve justice themselves. Mobs destroyed the mansion and all its property at 1140 Royal Street. In doing so they also uncovered numerous graves on the property. The graves belonged to the slaves that had been murdered by Madame LaLaurie.
But, before the mob could get to Madame LaLaurie and her family, they fled the area and were never seen in New Orleans again. Less is known about Madame LaLaurie after the fire. However, it is believed that she fled to Paris where she died in 1849.
Having slaves is in itself horrible. Madame LaLaurie was beyond evil because not only did she have slaves but she tortured and murdered them for no other reason than her sadistic pleasure. What is even more concerning is that Madame LaLaurie is unlikely to have been the only slave owner who treated slaves so badly, she just happened to be the only one who got caught. It is unfathomable that slaves were subjected to such vile treatment.
It is important to continue discussions around black suffering to prevent history from repeating itself. Sadly, black lives didn’t matter then and centuries later black people still have to fight for their lives to matter.
Originally published on Medium at https://historyofyesterday.com/slaveowner-madame-lalaurie-tortured-and-killed-her-slaves-for-fun-231571ba1f7f