Did Madame LaLaurie’s Accusers Have Ulterior Motives?
Many people, including Madame LaLaurie’s descendants, believe she has been unjustly accused. At the same time as Jeanne Delavigne was embellishing the LaLaurie legend with garlands of horror, people like Stanley Arthur, President of the Board of Curators at Louisiana State Museum were leaping to her defense. “I have always thought that Madame LaLaurie was the first victim of yellow journalism,” Stanley told the Times-Picayune in 1941. “There is nothing in the record to indicate that she was the type of a woman pictured by them. One must remember that there was much social jealousy in those days and that Madame Lalaurie occupied an enviable position socially.”
After France sold the state of Louisiana to America in 1805, tensions grew between the traditional Creole elite and the American newcomers. The Franco- Spanish Creoles immediately found themselves challenged for power by the English, Protestant Americans. The American Governor Claiborne privately confided to President Jefferson that the Creoles of New Orleans were: “illy fitted to be useful citizens of a republic.” Madame LaLaurie was a member of this Creole elite whose wealth and influence continued to linger. Stanley, along with other revisionists, suggests that as part of a campaign to discredit Creole’s in general, the American newspapers in New Orleans libeled Madame LaLaurie.
Stanley’s picture of a woman with a stainless reputation fails because of the evidence that Madame LaLaurie purchased her clean record. His suggestion that the American-run newspapers victimized her also falls apart because, according to Carole Morrow Long, the most damning reporting of the events of April 1834 came from the Creole-run newspapers, the Bee and the Courier, not the American press.
Some, unlike Stanley, recognize that there were murmurings against LaLaurie long before the fire. They pinpoint one individual, in particular, a Monsieur Barthelemy Montreuil as the source of these accusations. They claim Montreuil (who was involved in the rescue of the slaves from the fire at the house in Royal Street) had a grudge against Madame LaLaurie, who was a relative. LaLaurie was supposed to have cheated Montreuil out of his inheritance. There is, however, no evidence of this. Montreuil successfully inherited his family wealth. Madame LaLaurie cheated him out of nothing.
However, is it reasonable to assume that Madame LaLaurie acted alone? Most accounts at the time exonerated Dr. LaLaurie from any involvement. But is this true?