Did Racial Hatred Motivate Delphine LaLaurie?
Some people have suggested that Madame LaLaurie’s cruelty stemmed from a deep dislike and distrust of slaves. The southern slave revolts of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries left plantation and slave owners in general deeply paranoid about their slaves. Some have gone so far as to suggest that Madame LaLaurie’s committed her crimes because of a similar paranoia, brought about by the murder of her mother and uncle by their own inbounded servants. However, although one of Delphine’s uncle’s slaves killed him in 1771 and two of her cousins were lost in the 1811 New Orleans’s slave revolt, her mother died naturally. There is nothing to suggest Madame LaLaurie hated slaves per se.
After the death of her second husband, Jean-Paul Blanque, Delphine liberated a slave, Jean Louis fulfilling her dead husband’s wishes. While this manumission was an obligation convention could not allow her to ignore, Delphine made manumissions of her own, based on gratitude for her slaves’ service to her. In 1828, She freed her children’s nurse, Helene for her ‘faithful service,” and in 1832, when the accusations of cruelty had already begun, she emancipated another slave, a skilled shoemaker called Devince, “to reward his fidelity and to stimulate other slaves to observe the like good condition.”
This behavior in itself proves nothing. However, there is also the fact that many of Delphine’s own family were of mixed race. Delphine’s paternal uncle and her McCarthy cousins all had free “mistresses of color,” with whom they had children. These children were acknowledged and provided for by their fathers. Far from distancing herself from these mixed race relatives, as many of her class would have done, Delphine had some involvement with them, acting as godmother at their christenings.
Godmother was a role she undertook for her half-sister, Emesie, the natural daughter of her father, Louis Barthelemy de McCarty and his free quadroon mistress. Louis de McCarty recognized Emesie and provided for her in his will, leaving her $5000 and two slaves. Delphine could have been expected to resent her half-sister, but this does not seem to have been the case. Far from cutting Emesie off after their father’s death, in 1834, Delphine and her brother Barthelemy made the eighteen-year-old a further gift of a slave from their estates as a “demonstration of their affection.”
Racial hatred seems an unlikely motive for LaLaurie’s crimes. Then there is the fact that rumors of cruelty only began when LaLaurie was approaching middle age.