The Attic of 1140 Royal Street
On April 10, 1834, a fire broke out in the kitchen in the service quarters of 1140 Royal Street. The LaLaurie household became a flurry of activity as Madame, and Dr. LaLaurie began to move their possessions to safety. The spectacle attracted a crowd, some who jumped to the LaLaurie’s assistance. Others, however, were concerned about the household slaves. They immediately enlisted one of LaLaurie’s neighbors, and the new Judge of the New Orleans criminal court, Judge Jacques Canonge, to find out what was happening to the slaves.
Judge Canonge made a deposition to the Parish Court regarding his findings later that day. This account and the subsequent newspaper reports in the New Orleans’s Courier and Bee can be used to recreate what happened- and what the rescuers found within 1140 Royal Street on April 10. Judge Canonge asked Dr. LaLaurie who was helping the slaves. Lalaurie answered rudely: “there are those who would be better employed if they would attend to their own affairs instead of officiously intermeddling with the concerns of other people.” As the Dr. had no concern for his people, Canonge sent two men to search the slave quarters.
By this time, the smoke in the service block was thick, and the pair declared they could find no one. However, a Felix Lefebvre claimed there were people in the attic. So a rescue party led by Canonge broke down the door. There they initially found two women, one wearing “an iron collar, very large and heavy and chained with heavy irons by the feet [who] walked with the greatest difficulty. “Elsewhere, they came across an elderly lady, lying on a bed with “a deep wound on her head.”
In all, the rescuers discovered seven slaves: four women, two men and one of unspecified gender. “Their limbs apparently stretched and torn from one extremity to the other, “according to the Bee. All were “covered with scars and loaded with chains.” They had all been imprisoned for several months and were extremely malnourished. Stretchers bore the victims to the City Hall where they were laid out in public view.
Reporters from both The Courier and the Bee commented on their condition, which even “the most savage heart could not have witnessed the spectacle unmoved.” Apart from being starved, confined and scarred, many of the victims had untreated open, maggot-ridden wounds. One man, according to the Courier had a large hole in his head.
These facts were horrifying enough to provoke a mob to attack and destroy the LaLaurie mansion. However, over the years, the story collected more salacious details.