‘American Horror Story’ season 3: The history behind ‘Coven’

AHS Coven

In the newest season of American Horror Story, we’re going to delve into the realm of witchcraft in New Orleans, 300 years after the Salem Witch Trials. This season, there are two characters whose backstory is based in history. Today, we’ll take a look at some of the history behind American Horror Story: Coven.

The first character we are going to discuss is Delphine LaLaurie, who is being portrayed in Coven by Academy Awards winner Kathy Bates.

Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie (née Macarty) was born around 1775, and was one of five children born to Marie Jeanne Lovable and Barthelmy Louis Macarty. Madame LaLaurie even had family ties to the government in New Orleans. Her cousin Augustin de Macarty was the mayor of New Orleans from 1815-1820.

Madame LaLaurie was married three times during the course of her life. Her first husband was Don Ramon de Lopez y Angullo, a high ranking Spanish officer. In 1804, Madame LaLaurie and her husband left New Orleans and travelled to Spain; however, before their voyage could be completed, Don Ramon died of unknown causes in Havana en route to Madrid.

Madame LaLaurie bore on child as a result of her marriage to Don Ramon; a daughter named Marie Borgia Delphine Lopez y Angulla de la Candelaria, who she nicknamed “Borquita.”

In June of 1808, LaLaurie remarried; this time to Jean Blanque, a prominent banker, merchant, lawyer, and legislator. LaLaurie would have four children with Blanque; Marie Louise Pauline, Louise Marie Laure, Marie Louise Jeanne, and Jeanne Pierre Paulin Blanque.

Jean Blanque would pass away in 1816, opening the door for her third marriage.

In 1825 Madame LaLaurie married her third husband, Leonard Louis Nicholas LaLaurie. LaLaurie was a physician, and many years her junior.

The LaLaurie residence in 1140 Royal Street, New Orleans, photographed in September 2009.

The LaLaurie residence in 1140 Royal Street, New Orleans, photographed in September 2009.

In 1831, she purchased the property at 1140 Royal Street, and in 1832 had a three-story mansion built on the property.

This would be the location that would go down in infamy due to Madame LaLaurie’s violent vices.

Madame LaLaurie managed to hide her violent tendencies below the guise of her involvement in the many social circles of the time.

Due to her social status, little attention was paid to the evil that lay underneath the façade she created.

There are many reports that her slaves looked extremely distressed. Harriet Martineau wrote in 1838 recounting the stories that were told to her by residents of New Orleans during her visit in 1836. They claimed that Madame LaLaurie’s slaves were observed to be “singularly haggard and wretched.”

At one point, the rumors reached such a boiling point that a local lawyer was dispatched to her home to remind her of the laws relevant to the upkeep of slaves. During their visit, they found no evidence of wrongdoing on Madame LaLaurie’s part.

According to one of Martineau’s reports, a neighbor of LaLaurie’s witnessed a horrific tragedy unfold right before her eyes. Apparently, one of LaLaurie’s slaves, a young girl named Lia had been brushing Madame LaLaurie’s hair when she caught a snag. In response, LaLaurie grabbed a whip and began to chase her throughout the house. The neighbor claimed to have watched as she chased the slave from floor to floor before both of them emerged on the roof. According to the neighbor, the young child leapt to her death from the roof in order to avoid the beating at the hands of Madame LaLaurie.

It was said that the body of the young girl was buried on the property by torchlight in the middle of the night.

This incident sparked an investigation of the LaLaurie’s. After being found guilty of illegal cruelty, as punishment, they were forced to relinquish ownership of nine slaves.

Unfortunately, those slaves did not escape the clutches of Madame LaLaurie for very long. Those same slaves were acquired by a relative of the LaLauries, and subsequently returned to their original place at 1140 Royal Street.

On April 10th, 1834, Madame LaLaurie’s mistreatment of her slaves reached a boiling point. A fire broke out in her residence on Royal Street. Once the fire marshals arrived, they found a seventy-year-old woman who was the cook in the home, chained by her ankle to the blazing stove. After being questioned, she confessed that she had started the fire as a suicide attempt to avoid her punishment from Madame LaLaurie.

There are reports that state that after the fire had begun to gain strength, bystanders attempted to enter the slave quarters to prevent them from being engulfed by the fire. When they were denied entry by the LaLauries, the bystanders reportedly broke down the door and found something more horrible than they could have possibly imagined. It is reported that they were met with the vision of seven slaves that had been more or less horribly mutated. In the story that was recounted by Martineau in 1836, the slaves were all emaciated , showed signs of being flayed with a whip, bound in restrictive postures, and wore spiked iron collars that held their heads in static positions.

There is not much information available regarding Madame LaLaurie’s life after the fire that brought all of her indiscretions to light. According to a report by Harriet Martineau in 1838, when the mob violence began to ravage through New Orleans, violence that also left her home at 1140 Royal Street stripped of its former glory and nearly destroyed, she fled New Orleans for Mobile, Alabama and later to Paris.

While the true circumstances behind Madame LaLaurie’s death are widely unclear, there was a copper plate found in Alley 4 of the St. Louis Cemetery #1. The inscription on the plate reads “”Madame LaLaurie, née Marie Delphine Maccarthy, décédée à Paris, le 7 Décembre, 1842, à l’âge de 6–.”

Madame Delphine LaLaurie is still spoken about in Louisiana folklore to this day. People recount the stories of the horrific things that she did to her slaves They recount the discovery of everything from having their eyes gouged out, to great holes in their flesh, to having their fingernails torn out by the roots and their lips sewn together. The evil in the heart of Madame LaLaurie truly knew no bounds.

It will be interesting to see how this sadistic woman will be incorporated to the storyline of American Horror Story: Coven. If I had to venture a guess, I would say that at some point during the season, we are sure to see some sort of a confrontation between Madame LaLaurie and Fiona, the Supreme of the Coven who will be portrayed by series staple Jessica Lange.

If you ask my personal opinion, I don’t think they could have picked a more perfect person than Kathy Bates to portray Madame LaLaurie. She has certainly played her fair share of villains in her career. If you are ever in doubt, please note her performance in the film Misery.


There is another character in this season of American Horror Story that is based on a real person. Marie Laveau, who will be portrayed in Coven by Angela Bassett, was known as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans.

Marie Laveau, circa 1920s, oil on canvas by Frank Schneider after George Catlin.

Marie Laveau, circa 1920s, oil on canvas by Frank Schneider after George Catlin.

According to reports, Marie Laveau lived within a very close proximity of Madame LaLaurie. While there is no documented record of any interaction between the two, it would be hard to believe that their destinies never crossed.

It is believed that Marie Laveau was born free in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1794.She was the daughter of a white planter and a free Creole woman of color.

On August 4, 1819, Marie married Jacques Paris, a free person of color who emigrated from Haiti.

Paris was a part of a much larger immigration to New Orleans in 1809 after the Haitian Revolution of 1804.

Her husband died of unexplained circumstances in 1820.

After his death, Marie became a hairdresser who catered to wealthy white females. She reportedly took a lover named Christophe (Louis Christophe Dumesnil de Glapion). She entered into a plaçage and lived with Christophe until his death in 1835.

Their relationship reportedly bore 15 children; including Marie Laveau II who was born in 1827.

There is not a lot of information about the magical career of Marie Laveau that can be substantiated. It is believed that the occult part of her magic mixed the beliefs of Roman Catholicism, including saints, with African spirits and religious concepts.

Some believe that her feared powers of divination were based on her network of informants that she developed while working in the households of her prominent clients as a hairdresser.

There are conflicting reports as to how the people of New Orleans viewed Marie. While there are people that feared her, there were also those who sought her assistance. There are reports that she was also very skilled in the healing arts, especially in the healing properties of indigenous herbs, and that many prominent people sought her advice.

Between the 1820’s and the 1860’s, nearly 40 years, she was referred to as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans.

On June 16th, 1881 newspapers in New Orleans reported that she has passed away. This is interesting because many people reported seeing Marie in town after reports of her passing began to circulate. Many people believe that her daughter Marie Laveau II, at some point shortly before or just after her death took over for her mother and assumed the Voodoo Queen identity.

There are many historical accounts of her life that confuse Marie Laveau with her daughter.

Marie Laveau was buried in the St. Louis Cemetery #1, the same as Madame LaLaurie. She was reportedly buried in the Glapion family crypt.

In voodoo it is believed that when a Voodoo Queen dies her spirit re-enters the river of life and moves to the next realm, adjacent to this one.

To this day, people still visit the crypt of the Voodoo Queen; some on a pilgrimage hoping that the spirit of the Voodoo Queen will grant them a wish, and others out of respectful curiosity about a woman so deeply ingrained in New Orleans history.

It will be very interesting to see which side of Marie Laveau that producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk plan to use in Coven. Will they concentrate more on the person who used her spirit and knowledge of indigenous herbs to heal the sick, or will they show the side that many believe dabbled in darkness and fear?

The only thing we can do is tune in and watch for ourselves.

American Horror Story: Coven debuts on Wednesday, October 9th at 10:00 p.m. on FX.

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