On this day in 1834, a fire at the LaLaurie mansion in New Orleans, Louisiana, leads to the discovery of a torture chamber where slaves are routinely brutalized by Delphine LaLaurie. Rescuers found a 70-year-old black woman trapped in the kitchen during the fire because she was chained up while LaLaurie was busy saving her furniture. The woman later revealed that she had set the fire in an attempt to escape LaLaurie’s torture. She led authorities up to the attic, where seven slaves were tied with spiked iron collars.
After Delphine LaLaurie married her third husband, Louis LaLaurie, and moved into his estate on Royal Street, she immediately took control of the large number of slaves used as servants. LaLaurie was a well-known sadist, but the mistreatment of slaves by the wealthy and socially connected was not a matter for the police at the time.
However, in 1833, Delphine chased a small slave girl with a whip until the girl fell off the roof of the house and died. LaLaurie tried to cover up the incident, but police found the body hidden in a well. Authorities decided to fine LaLaurie and force the sale of the other slaves on the estate.
LaLaurie foiled this plan by secretly arranging for her relatives and friends to buy the slaves. She then sneaked them back into the mansion, where she continued to torture them until the night of the fire in April 1834.
Apparently her Southern neighbors had some standards when it came to the treatment of slaves, because a mob gathered in protest after learning about LaLaurie’s torture chamber. She and her husband fled by boat, leaving the butler (who had also participated in the torture) to face the wrath of the crowd.
Although charges were never filed against LaLaurie, her reputation in upper-class society was destroyed. It is believed that she died in Paris in December 1842.