Delphine LaLaurie: Biography and History of the LaLaurie Mansion

'The Haunted House', New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, c18th century (1921).Artist: James Preston
'The Haunted House', New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, c18th century (1921). LaLaurie House was located at 1140 Royal Street in New Orleans. Plate taken from Famous Colonial Houses, by Paul M Hollister, published by David McKay (Philadelphia, 1921). Print Collector/Getty Images / Getty Images

Delphine LaLaurie, born in 1787, was a popular New Orleans socialite of Creole background. Married three times, her neighbors were shocked to learn that she had tortured and abused enslaved men and women in her French Quarter home. Although she escaped an angry mob and the hangman's noose, her home, LaLaurie Mansion, remains one of New Orleans' most famous structures.

Delphine LaLaurie Fast Facts

  • Born: March 17, 1787 in New Orleans, Spanish Territory
  • Died: December 7,1849 in Paris, France (alleged)
  • Parents: Louis Barthelemy Macarty and Marie-Jeanne L'Érable
  • Spouses: Don Ramón de Lopez y Angulo (1800—1804), Jean Blanque (1808—1816), Dr. Leonard Louis Nicolas LaLaurie (1825—unknown)
  • Children: Marie-Borja Delphine Lopez y Angulo de la Candelaria, Marie Louise Pauline Blanque, Louise Marie Laure Blanque, Marie Louise Jeanne Blanque, Jeanne Pierre Paulin Blanque, Samuel Arthur Clarence Lalaurie
  • Known For: Torture and possible murder of multiple enslaved persons at her French Quarter mansion; one of New Orleans' most notorious women.

Early Years

Born Marie Delphine Macarty in March 1787, young Delphine grew up fairly privileged. Her parents, Louis Barthelemy Macarty and Marie-Jeanne L'Érable, were prominent European Creoles, high up in New Orleans' society. Delphine's uncle was the governor of two Spanish-American provinces when she was born; later, a cousin would become mayor of the city of New Orleans.

At the time of Delphine's childhood, New Orleans and much of the rest of Louisiana were under Spanish control, from 1763 to 1801. In 1800 she married her first husband, Don Ramón de Lopez y Angulo, who was a highly ranked officer in Spain's royal army. As was common for people in their position, they traveled to Spain and its other territories, but Don Ramón fell ill within a few years and died in Havana, leaving Delphine a young widow with a baby.

Mme. Delphine LaLaurie
Delphine LaLaurie, portrait. Image public domain via Wikimedia Commons

In 1808, she married again, this time to a banker named Jean Blanque. Delphine had four children with Blanque, but he too died young, and she was a widow again in 1816.

Delphine married for a third and final time in 1825. This time, her husband, Dr. Leonard Louis Nicolas LaLaurie, was quite a bit younger than she was, and the two of them moved to a large mansion at 1140 Royal Street, in the heart of New Orleans' French Quarter. This lavish home became the site of her violent crimes.

Crimes and Accusations

There are numerous and varied accounts of Delphine LaLaurie's treatment of her slaves. What is for certain is that she and her husband did own a number of men and women as property. Although some contemporaries say she never mistreated them in public, and in general was civil to African Americans, it seems as though Delphine had a dark secret.

In the early 1830s, rumors began to make their way through the French Quarter, alleging that Delphine—and possibly her husband as well—were mistreating their slaves. While it was common, and legal, for slave masters to physically discipline the men and women they owned, there were certain guidelines laid out to discourage excessive physical cruelty. Laws were in place to maintain a certain standard of upkeep for enslaved peoples, but on at least two occasions, court representatives went to the LaLaurie home with reminders.

British social theorist Harriet Martineau was a contemporary of Delphine's and wrote in 1836 of Delphine's suspected hypocrisy. She related a tale in which a neighbor saw a small child "flying across the yard towards the house, and Madame LaLaurie pursuing her, cowhide in hand," until they ended up on the roof. At that, Martineau said, "she heard the fall and saw the child taken up, her body bending and limbs hanging as if every bone were broken... at night she saw the body brought out, a shallow hole dug by torchlight, and the body covered over."

After this incident, an investigation took place, and charges of unusual cruelty leveled against Delphine. Nine slaves were removed from her home, forfeit. However, Delphine managed to use her family's connections to get them all back to Royal Street.

There were also allegations that she beat her two daughters, particularly when they showed any semblance of kindness towards their mother's slaves.

The LaLaurie Mansion

Lalaurie House
Flickr Vision / Getty Images

In 1834, a fire broke out at the LaLaurie mansion. It began in the kitchen, and when authorities arrived on the scene, they found a 70-year-old black woman chained to the stove. That's when the truth about Delphine's atrocities came out. The cook told the fire marshal that she had set the fire in order to commit suicide, because Delphine kept her chained up all day, and punished her for the slightest infraction.

In the process of extinguishing the fire and evacuating the house, bystanders broke down the doors to the LaLaurie slave quarters, and found seven more enslaved people chained to walls, horribly mutilated and tortured. They told investigators they had been there for months. The next day, the New Orleans Bee wrote,

"Upon entering one of the apartments, the most appalling spectacle met their eyes. Seven slaves more or less horribly mutilated were seen suspended by the neck, with their limbs apparently stretched and torn from one extremity to the other... These slaves were the property of the demon, in the shape of a woman... They had been confined by her for several months in the situation from which they had thus providentially been rescued and had been merely kept in existence to prolong their suffering and to make them taste all that the most refined cruelty could inflict."

Martineau's account, written in 1838, indicates that the slaves had been flayed, and wore spiked iron collars to prevent movement of the head.

When questioned, Delphine's husband told investigators that they needed to just mind their own business. Delphine herself escaped the house, but an angry mob stormed the structure and destroyed it after the discovery of the abused slaves was made public. Following the fire, two of the rescued slaves died from their injuries. In addition, the backyard was excavated and bodies were disinterred. Although one was the child who had fallen from the roof, reports vary as to how many others were buried in the yard.

Not much is known about what became of Delphine after the fire. It is suspected that she fled to France, and according to archival records, is believed to have died in Paris in 1849. However, there is a plate on a tomb in New Orleans' St. Louis Cemetery 1 that reads Madame Lalaurie, Nee Marie Delphine Maccarthy decedee a Paris le 7 decembre 1842, indicating she in fact died seven years earlier than the French archives would have her.

Today, the LaLaurie house is one of New Orleans' most famous attractions. In the past decades it has served as a home for wayward boys, a school, an apartment building, and even a furniture store. In 2007, actor Nicolas Cage bought the house; allegedly he never even lived in it. Cage lost the home in foreclosure proceedings two years later. Although many visitors to New Orleans pass the house and view it from the outside, it is now a private residence and tourists are not permitted inside.

Sources

  • "The Conflagration at the House Occupied by the Woman Lalaurie." New Orleans Bee, 11 Apr. 1834, nobee.jefferson.lib.la.us/Vol-009/04_1834/1834_04_0034.pdf.
  • Harriet Martineau. Retrospect of Western Travel, Volume 2. lf-oll.s3.amazonaws.com/titles/1701/Martineau_0877.03_EBk_v6.0.pdf.
  • Nola.Com. “Epitaph-Plate of 'Haunted House' Owner Found Here (The Times-Picayune, 1941).” Nola.com, Nola.com, 26 Sept. 2000, www.nola.com/haunted/2000/09/epitaph-plate_of_haunted_house.html.