The tale of Delphine LaLaurie

Western civilisation has regarded women as morally superior to men since at least the Middle Ages. Even a cursory review of history shows that this isn’t so with women throughout the ages demonstrating their willingness and capacity to harm others. We know from recent research that queens regnant were more likely to start wars and more likely to continue the wars of their predecessors than were kings. And we have a prime example in Mary I of England. She was called Bloody Mary because of her penchant for burning her subjects alive when they disagreed with her religious stance.

Delphine LaLaurie wasn’t a queen though, she was just a slave-owning socialite. Born in to privilege in New Orleans in 1787 she was to live most of her life in the city.

LaLaurie outlived two husbands before marrying again. In 1831 she purchased a block of land at 1140 Royal Street, New Orleans. The following year she had a two-story mansion built. Contemporary reports suggest that her husband had little to do with the running of the property as he was a practising physician.

Still in 1832 LaLaurie petitioned the court for legal separation from her husband. She continued to live at the Royal Street house with some of her children. Around this time rumours of her mistreatment of slaves started to circulate in polite New Orleans society. Between 1831 & 1834 twelves slaves were recorded as having died at the Royal Street address.

Harriet Martineau, a sociologist, visited New Orleans in 1836 and heard the rumours about LaLaurie, later publishing them in England. Martineau noted that local authorities had taken notice of the reports and investigated but had found no evidence of mistreatment at the time.

In her writing Martineau recounted various stories of cruelty by LaLaurie including one in which a young slave girl accidentally fell to her death from the roof of the mansion while being chased by a whip-wielding LaLaurie. This was reportedly witnessed by a neighbour. The death apparently led to an investigation in which LaLaurie was found to have been unlawfully cruel to her slaves.

In 1834 a fire broke out at 1140 Royal Street. Locals rushed in to the building to rescue anyone they could. Reports from the time indicate that LaLaurie refused to hand over the key to the slave quarters to rescuers so they had to break in. A local newspaper, the New Orleans Bee reported that they 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”

Rescuers also found that LaLaurie kept her cook, a slave, chained to the stove. The cook subsequently admitted to starting the fire as a suicide attempt.

As news spread after the fire, the citizens of New Orleans became so incensed at the treatment of slaves meted out by LaLaurie that a mob formed and attacked her house. LaLaurie fled, first going to Mobile, Alabama and then on to France where she apparently lived for the rest of her life. LaLaurie was never brought to justice for her crimes. The date of her death is unknown but may have been as early as 1842.

Over the decades stories about the cruelty of LaLaurie have grown and this may have even been true in her own time. While some of the stories are of questionable veracity, it is clear that LaLaurie was unusually cruel to her slaves and that she exceeded the norms of her time.

There are many elements in this story that contradict the feminist historical narrative.

LaLaurie legally separated from her husband. She was able to petition the courts and they accepted her arguments and granted the legal separation. Feminists will tell you that at this time women were the property of their husbands. LaLaurie wasn’t property but the slaves she owned were. LaLaurie made her own decisions. Alas she was never held accountable for them.

Harriet Martineau was a social theorist and sociologist. She seems to have been largely responsible for disseminating information about LaLaurie outside of New Orleans. That Martineau was writing books on sociology, being published and earning enough to live from her work flies in the face of the feminist historical narrative. When faced with examples such as Martineau feminists sometimes weakly argue that some women were exceptions to the rule of systemic female oppression. A simpler explanation is that the oppression feminists talk about didn’t exist. History is replete with examples such as Martineau.

That LaLaurie was also in charges of these slaves and able to inflict cruelty on them goes against the feminist historical narrative which paints women as helpless pawns under the control of men, completely lacking agency.

History is also replete with examples such as LaLaurie. Cruel women that deliberately harmed those in their charge, whether they were children, servants or slaves.

Even LaLaurie’s separation speaks to a level agency for women often denied by feminists.

And the fact that the residents of New Orleans sought to hold LaLaurie accountable for her actions also speaks to views on women at the time.

Both Martineau & LaLaurie were mistresses of their own destiny, not mere pawns of The Patriarchy as feminists would have us believe.

Much of modern feminism rests on the feminist historical narrative. Feminism is built on a stack of lies. Lies about how men lived and acted in the past. Lies about how women lived and acted in the past. Feminism has to claim that women were oppressed historically. If it didn’t make this claim then there would have been nothing for feminism to rescue women from. By revealing the historical truth we attack feminism at its base.

The house can still be seen 1140 Royal Street, New Orleans however it was extensively renovated after 1838 and is described as unrecognisable in comparison to how it looked when LaLaurie lived there.

Further Reading

ThoughtCo

Murderpedia

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