The Fate of Madame LaLaurie
Accounts tell that as the mob assembled to attack her home and demand justice for the maimed slaves, Madame LaLaurie calmly drove away from Royal Street, as if for her habitual afternoon ride. However, she never returned to her home. Instead, she fled into legend. Accounts vary, but Madame LaLaurie supposedly continued to live in Louisiana under an assumed name, fled to New York, or lived in exile in France until she died, gouged to death during a wild boar hunt.
Documents, letters, and diary entries have allowed historians to piece together exactly what occurred after the flight from New Orleans. Initially, Delphine reunited with her husband, two unmarried daughters and a young son at the home of her niece. There, both LaLauries signed a power of attorney so that Delphine’s son in laws could handle their business affairs while they were in exile. Placide Forstall, the daughter of Borja, was Madame LaLaurie’s appointee while Auguste Delassus, the husband of Jeanne acted for Dr. LaLaurie.
In June 1834, the poet William Cullen Bryant was sailing to Le Havre, France on a ship from New York called Poland. He recalls encountering the LaLauries onboard and states that the other passengers recognized them too and shunned Madame as news of her activities had quickly spread north. Once in France, the LaLaurie’s sought refugee with Dr. LaLaurie’s family.
However, Madame LaLaurie found the experience a step down in life. Auguste and Jeanne Delassus visited their exiled relatives, causing Auguste to comment in a letter to his father how his “poor mother in law” was “confined…by that riff-raff LaLaurie family [to a house] without a bed to lie on.” The tension led to a final split between Dr and Madame LaLaurie, and Delphine and her children moved to Paris where they lived a comfortable life, well supplied with funds from Madame LaLaurie’s American assets.
The exact circumstances of Delphine LaLaurie’s death are not so easy to unravel. Letters from her son, Paulin, suggest she did wish to return home to New Orleans, but her children dissuaded her. Records show that she died in Paris on December 7, 1849, and was buried locally. However, it seems that her body was disinterred from her Paris grave on January 7, 1851, and, according to her descendants, reinterred in St Louis Cemetery No 1 that same year. So LaLaurie’s body at least returned to New Orleans. However, other evidence shows that she was alive and well in 1850, as there are documents which show she was challenging executors to her brother’s will in the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Either way, no one knows the exact location of her grave today. Nor do we know why a respectable socialite suddenly became an abuser of slaves. Or do we?