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Womens History Month: Madame Delphine LaLaurie

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For years, the infamous story of Madame Delphine Lalaurie has captured the attention of the general public. The speculations of her cruel past have followed her even long after death, resulting in her story being told in multiple television shows. As a result, Delphine and her mansion filled with tragic secrets have ultimately cemented themselves as notable figures in New Orleans history and lore. 

Her Early Life

Madame LaLaurie was born as Marie Delphine Maccarthy on March 19, 1787. Her family came from a wealthy background, including military and government officials, planters, merchants and landowners. Her father, Louis Barthelemy de Macarty, was knighted as the Chevalier of the Royal and Military of St. Louis. Her mother, Marie Jeanne Lerable, was known for throwing extravagant parties that lasted until the late hours of the night. 

Only seven years after her birth, her family had already owned 1,344 acres of land. Her neighbor? Count Pierre Philippe, who was famously wealthy. It is obvious that LaLaurie was raised around the finer things in life. 

Her First Husband 

Delphine entered into her first marriage when she was barely fourteen years old. Her husband, Ramon Lopez u Angulo, was a 35-year-old widow at the time of their ceremony. Ramon was an officer of the Spanish Crown and 2nd in command to the Louisiana governor. On June 11th of 1800, Ramon and Delphine were wed in a private ceremony. 

As he had lost his wife on the voyage from Spain, it is believed that Ramon bore some resentment towards the Crown. This can be linked to him asking for an postponement for the dangerous trip which was denied. As a result, he began to act out in rebellion which cost him his prominent position and ultimately his life. 

On January 11th of 1805, Ramon’s vessel hit a sandbar off the shores of Havana. He was killed, leaving his pregnant wife waiting for his return. Soon after, Delphine gave birth to her first daughter, Marie Dephine Francisca Borja López y Angulo de la Candelaria, naming her in part after Ramon’s deceased wife. 

Delphine only remained in Havana long enough to have her husband put the rest and her daughter baptized. When she finally returned to her home, she was met with a surprise. New Orleans was no longer under Spanish of French rule, but instead under American ownership. 

Her Second Husband 

As a young window, it was no surprise that Delphine quickly remarried. On her twentieth birthday, March 19, 1807, she wed Jean Paul Blanque, an older Frenchman and a widower. As Delphine had obtained estate from her mothers passing, it is believed that he viewed her inheritance as a financial opportunity. 

Blanque was a ruthless businessman. He was not known for being involved with the most ethical activities. In fact, he was often associated with two notorious pirate brothers, Jean and Pierre Lafitte. It is believed that he arrived in New Orleans with his own agenda, and Delphine’s hefty inheritance of $33,007 and a large plantation only encouraged him more. 

During their marriage, they would purchase a 2-story townhouse and produce five children, including her first child from her previous husband. The family was known to spend their time equally in the townhome and the plantation. From the outside, it appeared as if they lived a privileged life. But things are not always as they seem. 

Ten years after their marriage, Jean Blanque passed away at fifty-years-old, leaving Delphine to his supposed estate. This unfortunately consisted of large amounts of debt, totaling to over $2.5 million in today’s money. In order to keep her own personal property and asset safe, Delphine was forced to renounce their community properties to the court and forfeit all mutual assets. Delphine would go on to spend the next ten years trying to pay off his looming debt. As luck, or maybe un-luck, would have it, Delphine’s father passed away in 1824, leaving her a rather large inheritance. 

Her Third Husband 

Her next romance began like all the greats: at a chiropractor appointment. In 1825, Dr. Louis Lalaurie arrived from France with one mission in mind. He was determined to rid the world of crooked backs, destroying one hunch at a time. The two met in 1836 when one of her children needed help straightening out their back, ultimately leading to romance to bloom. 

Delphine became pregnant with his child, Jean Louis Leonard Lalaurie, before they were officially married. Only five months after his birth, they were at a notary negotiation for their marriage contact. This was important because Delphine was worth a whopping $66,389.58 at the time. Once the assets were settled, they arrived at the St. Louis Cathedral to make it official, but their marriage was postponed for six months.  It can be assumed that their child out of wedlock could have been the cause of this as it would have been frowned upon in their circle of high society. 

Unfortunately, their marriage did not result in a happy ever after. They were known to frequently fight and separate before later returning to each other. It is during this time that she began treating her slaves cruelly. In 1831, Madame Delphine Lalaurie purchased the available lots on Royal and Hospital. This would later become the infamous Haunted Lalaurie Mansion that we know today. This only proved that money cannot buy happiness or save a crumbling marriage. On November 16th of 1832, Delphine sent a petition to the courts asking for a separation from the bed and board of her husband on the claims he treated her poorly and even beat her once, rederning their living situation insupportable.  

The Lalaurie Mansion Mistreatments 

Surprisingly, accounts of Madame Delphine Lalaurie’s treatment of slaves varies. Writings from 1838 feature many New Orleans residents recounting that her slaves were haggard and wretched in appearance, but Lalaruie herself was often seen being generally polite to African-Americans and considerate of her slaves’ health. Regardless, it is obvious that her beautiful abode, The LaLaurie Mansion, was home to its fair share of cruel and ugly secrets. 

In the span of four years, twelve slaves were registered, but their causes of death were never mentioned. Rumor of her mistreatment of her slaves spread through the town rather quickly, resulting in a lawyer being dispatched to the mansion. Unfortunately, he was unable to find any evidence of mistreatment. This, however, did not stop tales of her cruel nature from spreading. 

Many residents recounted, following the visit from the lawyer, a young girl who fell from the roof of the mansion while trying to avoid punishment, resulting in her death. It is believed that this child’s name was Lia (or Leah). It is believed that while brushing Madame Lalaurie’s hair she hit a snag, resulting in the unfortunate act to unfold. One bright side to this horrible incident is that it did lead to an investigation of the LaLauries and they were ultimately found guilty of illegal cruelty. As a result, they were forced to forfeit nine slaves. Unfortunately, these slaves were bought back through an immediate relative and ultimately returned to the residence.

The Fire and The Major Reveal 

On April 10th of 1834, her horrible secret was finally revealed to the public. A fire had broken out at the residence, and both the police and fire marshals were not prepared for what they found next. A seventy-year-old woman, who served as the residents cook, was seen chained to the stove by her ankle. It was later discovered she purposely started the fire in order to avoid future punishment. 

The next day several bystanders attempted to enter the slave quarters, wanting to ensure that everyone had been evacuated. After being refused entry, the bystanders broke down the door. It was during this moment that the full story of the LaLaurie Mansion horrors came to light. Seven slaves were found imprisoned in the room, featuring their own set of scars and mutilations. 

After stories of her crimes had spread through town, a mob of local residents had formed, attacking the infamous LaLaurie mansion. They made it their personal mission to destroy anything they could get their hands on. Before officers could disperse the angry crowd, they had managed to inflict major damage to the property. In fact, it is believed that the walls alone were one of the few things that remained. 

Madame Lalaurie and the Great Escape 

It is confirmed that Madame Delphine Lalaurie did, in fact, have one loyal servant. Among the outbreak of mass chaos, her enslaved coachmen brought her carriage to the front of the house. Delphine stepped on with complete confidence, only angering the large crowd further. While the crowd attempted to stop her departure, she was able to get away. 

The ever faithful coachman then delivered her to an awaiting ship at the docks on Lake Pontchartrain. Delphine boarded the ship and fled from New Orleans. When the coachman arrived back at the mansion, however, the crowd quickly turned on him. They destroyed the carriage before taking their anger out on the horses, resulting in their unfortunate death. 

Her Later Life and Death 

Her life following this incident and her later death remain unclear, but there are several speculations. An American poet, William Cullen Bryant, wrote in his published journal that Madame Lalaurie spent time in Mobile before eventually travelling to New York.  

Later, it is believed that Delphine and her husband, Louis, eventually made their way to Paris, France. Eventually, Louis grew tired of living with Delphine, leaving her in Paris and relocating to Havana. While her children were believed to often visit their mother, they later all moved to Paris to live near her. Based on letters sent by her song, it is believed that she had planned to return to New Orleans, but her family had greatly disapproved of this. 

Delphine Macarty Lalaurie eventually passed away in Paris on December 7, 1849, but the details of her death are still unknown. Letters passed between her children speculate the idea of a possible lingering illness that could have been her undoing. 

Even from the afterlife, Delphine could not escape the rumors surrounding her. In 1941, a mysterious obituary plate was discovered in the famous St. Louis #1 Cemetery. What did the plate read? Madame Lalaurie, Nee Marie Delphine Maccarthy, decedee a Paris, le 7 decembre, 1942. This was later found to just be speculation as the dates of death did not match, therefore, the location of her actual body remains unknown.

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