The Legend of ‘Leah’
One of the most famous stories of Madame LaLaurie’s cruelty is that of a young slave girl who she reportedly drove to her death. One of Harriet Martineau’s sources claims to have seen a whip-wielding Madame LaLaurie chasing a small girl up to the roof of the house. As her mistress closed in upon her, the terrified child threw herself down onto the courtyard below, where LaLaurie later ordered her burial. This incident resulted in city officials finally prosecuting LaLaurie. As a result, nine of her slaves were forcibly sold away from her. These slaves, the witness explained, were repurchased by a relative and eventually returned to LaLaurie.
This little girl was later identified by the name âLeah’ or “Lia.” She was reputedly Madame LaLauries’s maid and had enraged her mistress by accidentally snagging her hair while she was brushing it. However, Leah is not a name found in the records of LaLaurie’s slaves. Instead, her name, the particulars of her job and the source of LaLaurie’s rage come from the imaginative embellishments of Jeanne DeLavigne in her 1945 book Ghost Stories of Old New Orleans.
Likewise, there are no records of any prosecution or conviction for Cruelty of Madame LaLaurie in a New Orleans court. Also, the usually meticulous Boze makes no mention of the death of a child on the roof of the LaLaurie mansion to his employer, or any subsequent legal action. Nor do the post-fire newspaper reports, which were quick to pick up on tales of LaLaurie’s âindiscretions,’ mention the child’s death. So could it be the entire story of âLeah’ is a fiction?
While Madame LaLaurie did not own a slave called Leah, there are some children from her slave lists, not officially listed sold or dead, who seem to âdisappear from the records.’ Anyone could be a contender for Leah. Also, even though there are no legal records of a successful prosecution that resulted in the confiscation of slaves, it appears that in 1828, Madame LaLaurie suddenly sold six of her slaves to a family friend, Louis Brugniere. Brugniere, in turn, sold four of the slaves: Celestine, Edouard, Juliette, and Ben onto another family friend, Andre Dussemir who in 1830 sold all four back to LaLaurie. Three of those slaves, Juliette, Edouard, and Celestine, are recorded as dying in LaLaurie’s possession sometime between 1831-1834.
Could these be the slaves she was ordered to sell? Or was LaLaurie trying to temporarily rid herself of incriminating evidence until the heat of an investigation was off? For there could be another reason why New Orleans’ court minutes contain no trace of charges for cruelty against Madame LaLaurie.