Part 3 out of 5
It had been three hundred and seventy years under French rule, yet the
people were still, in speech and traditions, German. Those were not the
times to make them French. The land swept by Napoleon's wars, their
firesides robbed of fathers and sons by the conscription, the awful
mortality of the Russian campaign, the emperor's waning star,
Waterloo--these were not the things or conditions to give them comfort in
French domination. There was a widespread longing among them to seek
another land where men and women and children were not doomed to feed the
ambition of European princes.
In the summer of 1817 there lay at the Dutch port of Helder--for the great
ship-canal that now lets the largest vessels out from Amsterdam was not
yet constructed--a big, foul, old Russian ship which a certain man had
bought purposing to crowd it full of emigrants to America.
These he had expected to find up the Rhine, and he was not disappointed.
Hundreds responded from Alsace; some in Strasburg itself, and many from
the surrounding villages, grain-fields, and vineyards. They presently
numbered nine hundred, husbands, wives, and children. There was one family
named Thomas, with a survivor of which I conversed in 1884. And there was
Eva Kropp, _nee_ Hillsler, and her husband, with their daughter of
fifteen, named for her mother. Also Eva Kropp's sister Margaret and her
husband, whose name does not appear. And there were Koelhoffer and his
wife, and Frau Schultzheimer. There is no need to remember exact
relationships. All these except the Thomases were of Langensoultz.
As they passed through another village some three miles away they were
joined by a family of name not given, but the mother of which we shall
know by and by, under a second husband's name, as Madame Fleikener. And
there too was one Wagner, two generations of whose descendants were to
furnish each a noted journalist to New Orleans. I knew the younger of
these in my boyhood as a man of, say, fifty. And there was young Frank
Schuber, a good, strong-hearted, merry fellow who two years after became
the husband of the younger Eva Kropp; he hailed from Strasburg; I have
talked with his grandson. And lastly there were among the Langensoultz
group two families named Mueller.
The young brothers Henry and Daniel Mueller were by birth Bavarians. They
had married, in the Hillsler family, two sisters of Eva and Margaret. They
had been known in the village as lockmaker Mueller and shoemaker Mueller.
The wife of Daniel, the shoemaker, was Dorothea. Henry, the locksmith, and
his wife had two sons, the elder ten years of age and named for his uncle
Daniel, the shoemaker. Daniel and Dorothea had four children. The eldest
was a little boy of eight years, the youngest was an infant, and between
these were two little daughters, Dorothea and Salome.
And so the villagers were all bound closely together, as villagers are apt
to be. Eva Kropp's young daughter Eva was godmother to Salome. Frau
Koelhoffer had lived on a farm about an hour's walk from the Muellers and
had not known them; but Frau Schultzheimer was a close friend, and had
been a schoolmate and neighbor of Salome's mother. The husband of her who
was afterward Madame Fleikener was a nephew of the Mueller brothers, Frank
Schuber was her cousin, and so on.
SIX MONTHS AT ANCHOR.
Setting out thus by whole families and with brothers' and sisters'
families on the right and on the left, we may safely say that, once the
last kisses were given to those left behind and the last look taken of
childhood's scenes, they pressed forward brightly, filled with courage and
hope. They were poor, but they were bound for a land where no soldier was
going to snatch the beads and cross from the neck of a little child, as
one of Napoleon's had attempted to do to one of the Thomas children. They
were on their way to golden America; through Philadelphia to the virgin
lands of the great West. Early in August they reached Amsterdam. There
they paid their passage in advance, and were carried out to the Helder,
where, having laid in their provisions, they embarked and were ready to
But no sail was set. Word came instead that the person who had sold the
ship had not been paid its price and had seized the vessel; the delays of
the law threatened, when time was a matter of fortune or of ruin.
And soon came far worse tidings. The emigrants refused to believe them as
long as there was room for doubt. Henry and Daniel Mueller--for locksmith
Mueller, said Wagner twenty-seven years afterwards on the witness-stand,
"was a brave man and was foremost in doing everything necessary to be
done for the passengers"--went back to Amsterdam to see if such news could
be true, and returned only to confirm despair. The man to whom the passage
money of the two hundred families--nine hundred souls--had been paid had
They could go neither forward nor back. Days, weeks, months passed, and
there still lay the great hulk teeming with its population and swinging
idly at anchor; fathers gazing wistfully over the high bulwarks, mothers
nursing their babes, and the children, Eva, Daniel, Henry, Andrew,
Dorothea, Salome, and all the rest, by hundreds.
Salome was a pretty child, dark, as both her parents were, and looking
much like her mother; having especially her black hair and eyes and her
chin. Playing around with her was one little cousin, a girl of her own
age,--that is, somewhere between three and five,--whose face was
strikingly like Salome's. It was she who in later life became Madame Karl
Rouff, or, more familiarly, Madame Karl.
Provisions began to diminish, grew scanty, and at length were gone. The
emigrants' summer was turned into winter; it was now December. So pitiful
did their case become that it forced the attention of the Dutch
Government. Under its direction they were brought back to Amsterdam, where
many of them, without goods, money, or even shelter, and strangers to the
place and to the language, were reduced to beg for bread.
But by and by there came a word of great relief. The Government offered a
reward of thirty thousand gilders--about twelve thousand dollars--to any
merchant or captain of a vessel who would take them to America, and a
certain Grandsteiner accepted the task. For a time he quartered them in
Amsterdam, but by and by, with hearts revived, they began to go again on
shipboard. This time there were three ships in place of the one; or two
ships, and one of those old Dutch, flattish-bottomed, round-sided,
two-masted crafts they called galiots. The number of ships was
trebled--that was well; but the number of souls was doubled, and eighteen
hundred wanderers from home were stowed in the three vessels.
FAMINE AT SEA.
These changes made new farewells and separations. Common aims, losses, and
sufferings had knit together in friendship many who had never seen each
other until they met on the deck of the big Russian ship, and now not a
few of these must part.
The first vessel to sail was one of the two ships, the _Johanna Maria_.
Her decks were black with people: there were over six hundred of them.
Among the number, waving farewell to the Kropps, the Koelhoffers, the
Schultzheimers, to Frank Schuber and to the Muellers, stood the Thomases,
Madame Fleikener, as we have to call her, and one whom we have not yet
named, the jungfrau Hemin, of Wuertemberg, just turning nineteen, of whom
the little Salome and her mother had made a new, fast friend on the old
A week later the _Captain Grone_--that is, the galiot--hoisted the Dutch
flag as the _Johanna Maria_ had done, and started after her with other
hundreds on her own deck, I know not how many, but making eleven hundred
in the two, and including, for one, young Wagner. Then after two weeks
more the remaining ship, the _Johanna_, followed, with Grandsteiner as
supercargo, and seven hundred emigrants. Here were the Muellers and most of
their relatives and fellow-villagers. Frank Schuber was among them, and
was chosen steward for the whole shipful.
At last they were all off. But instead of a summer's they were now to
encounter a winter's sea, and to meet it weakened and wasted by sickness
and destitution. The first company had been out but a week when, on New
Year's night, a furious storm burst upon the crowded ship. With hatches
battened down over their heads they heard and felt the great buffetings of
the tempest, and by and by one great crash above all other noises as the
mainmast went by the board. The ship survived; but when the storm was over
and the people swarmed up once more into the pure ocean atmosphere and saw
the western sun set clear, it set astern of the ship. Her captain had put
her about and was steering for Amsterdam.
"She is too old," the travelers gave him credit for saying, when long
afterwards they testified in court; "too old, too crowded, too short of
provisions, and too crippled, to go on such a voyage; I don't want to lose
my soul that way." And he took them back.
They sailed again; but whether in another ship, or in the same with
another captain, I have not discovered. Their sufferings were terrible.
The vessel was foul. Fevers broke out among them. Provisions became
scarce. There was nothing fit for the sick, who daily grew more numerous.
Storms tossed them hither and yon. Water became so scarce that the sick
died for want of it.
One of the Thomas children, a little girl of eight years, whose father lay
burning with fever and moaning for water, found down in the dark at the
back of one of the water-casks a place where once in a long time a drop of
water fell from it. She placed there a small vial, and twice a day bore
it, filled with water-drops, to the sick man. It saved his life. Of the
three ship-loads only two families reached America whole, and one of these
was the Thomases. A younger sister told me in 1884 that though the child
lived to old age on the banks of the Mississippi River, she could never
see water wasted and hide her anger.
The vessels were not bound for Philadelphia, as the Russian ship had been.
Either from choice or of necessity the destination had been changed before
sailing, and they were on their way to New Orleans.
That city was just then--the war of 1812-15 being so lately over--coming
boldly into notice as commercially a strategic point of boundless
promise. Steam navigation had hardly two years before won its first
victory against the powerful current of the Mississippi, but it was
complete. The population was thirty-three thousand; exports, thirteen
million dollars. Capital and labor were crowding in, and legal, medical,
and commercial talent were hurrying to the new field.
Scarcely at any time since has the New Orleans bar, in proportion to its
numbers, had so many brilliant lights. Edward Livingston, of world-wide
fame, was there in his prime. John R. Grymes, who died a few years before
the opening of the late civil war, was the most successful man with juries
who ever plead in Louisiana courts. We must meet him in the court-room by
and by, and may as well make his acquaintance now. He was emphatically a
man of the world. Many anecdotes of him remain, illustrative rather of
intrepid shrewdness than of chivalry. He had been counsel for the pirate
brothers Lafitte in their entanglements with the custom-house and courts,
and was believed to have received a hundred thousand dollars from them as
fees. Only old men remember him now. They say he never lifted his voice,
but in tones that grew softer and lower the more the thought behind them
grew intense would hang a glamour of truth over the veriest sophistries
that intellectual ingenuity could frame. It is well to remember that this
is only tradition, which can sometimes be as unjust as daily gossip. It is
sure that he could entertain most showily. The young Duke of
Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, was once his guest. In his book of travels in
America (1825-26) he says:
My first excursion [in New Orleans] was to visit Mr. Grymes, who here
inhabits a large, massive, and splendidly furnished house.... In the
evening we paid our visit to the governor of the State.... After this we
went to several coffee-houses where the lower classes amuse themselves....
Mr. Grymes took me to the masked ball, which is held every evening during
the carnival at the French theater.... The dress of the ladies I observed
to be very elegant, but understood that most of those dancing did not
belong to the better class of society.... At a dinner, which Mr. Grymes
gave me with the greatest display of magnificence,... we withdrew from the
first table, and seated ourselves at the second, in the same order in
which we had partaken of the first. As the variety of wines began to set
the tongues of the guests at liberty, the ladies rose, retired to another
apartment, and resorted to music. Some of the gentlemen remained with the
bottle, while others, among whom I was one, followed the ladies.... We had
waltzing until 10 o'clock, when we went to the masquerade in the theater
in St. Philip street.... The female company at the theater consisted of
quadroons, who, however, were masked.
Such is one aspect given us by history of the New Orleans towards which
that company of emigrants, first of the three that had left the other
side, were toiling across the waters.
SOLD INTO BONDAGE.
They were fever-struck and famine-wasted. But February was near its end,
and they were in the Gulf of Mexico. At that time of year its storms have
lulled and its airs are the perfection of spring; March is a kind of May.
And March came.
They saw other ships now every day; many of them going their way. The
sight cheered them; the passage had been lonely as well as stormy. Their
own vessels, of course,--the other two,--they had not expected to see, and
had not seen. They did not know whether they were on the sea or under it.
At length pilot-boats began to appear. One came to them and put a pilot on
board. Then the blue water turned green, and by and by yellow. A fringe of
low land was almost right ahead. Other vessels were making for the same
lighthouse towards which they were headed, and so drew constantly nearer
to one another. The emigrants line the bulwarks, watching the nearest
sails. One ship is so close that some can see the play of waters about her
bows. And now it is plain that her bulwarks, too, are lined with emigrants
who gaze across at them. She glides nearer, and just as the cry of
recognition bursts from this whole company the other one yonder suddenly
waves caps and kerchiefs and sends up a cheer. Their ship is the
Do we dare draw upon fancy? We must not. The companies did meet on the
water, near the Mississippi's mouth, though whether first inside or
outside the stream I do not certainly gather. But they met; not the two
vessels only, but the three. They were towed up the river side by side,
the _Johanna_ here, the _Captain Grone_ there, and the other ship between
them. Wagner, who had sailed on the galiot, was still alive. Many years
afterwards he testified:
"We all arrived at the Balize [the river's mouth] the same day. The ships
were so close we could speak to each other from on board our respective
ships. We inquired of one another of those who had died and of those who
Madame Fleikener said the same:
"We hailed each other from the ships and asked who lived and who had died.
The father and mother of Madame Schuber [Kropp and his wife] told me
Daniel Mueller and family were on board."
But they had suffered loss. Of the _Johanna's_ 700 souls only 430 were
left alive. Henry Mueller's wife was dead. Daniel Mueller's wife, Dorothea,
had been sick almost from the start; she was gone, with the babe at her
bosom. Henry was left with his two boys, and Daniel with his one and his
little Dorothea and Salome. Grandsteiner, the supercargo, had lived; but
of 1800 homeless poor whom the Dutch king's gilders had paid him to bring
to America, foul ships and lack of food and water had buried 1200 in the
The vessels reached port and the passengers prepared to step ashore, when
to their amazement and dismay Grandsteiner laid the hand of the law upon
them and told them they were "redemptioners." A redemptioner was an
emigrant whose services for a certain period were liable to be sold to the
highest bidder for the payment of his passage to America. It seems that in
fact a large number of those on board the _Johanna_ had in some way really
become so liable; but it is equally certain that of others, the Kropps,
the Schultzheimers, the Koelhoffers, the Muellers, and so on, the
transportation had been paid for in advance, once by themselves and again
by the Government of Holland. Yet Daniel Mueller and his children were
among those held for their passage money.
Some influential German residents heard of these troubles and came to the
rescue. Suits were brought against Grandsteiner, the emigrants remaining
meanwhile on the ships. Mr. Grymes was secured as counsel in their cause;
but on some account not now remembered by survivors scarce a week had
passed before they were being sold as redemptioners. At least many were,
including Daniel Mueller and his children.
Then the dispersion began. The people were bound out before notaries and
justices of the peace, singly and in groups, some to one, some to two
years' service, according to age. "They were scattered,"--so testified
Frank Schuber twenty-five years afterwards,--"scattered about like young
birds leaving a nest, without knowing anything of each other." They were
"taken from the ships," says, the jungfrau Hemin, "and went here and
there so that one scarcely knew where the other went."
Many went no farther than New Orleans or its suburbs, but settled, some in
and about the old rue Chartres--the Thomas family, for example; others in
the then new faubourg Marigny, where Eva Kropp's daughter, Salome's young
cousin Eva, for one, seems to have gone into domestic service. Others,
again, were taken out to plantations near the city; Madame Fleikener to
the well-known estate of Maunsell White, Madame Schultzheimer to the
locally famous Hopkins plantation, and so on.
But others were carried far away; some, it is said, even to Alabama.
Madame Hemin was taken a hundred miles up the river, to Baton Rouge, and
Henry Mueller and his two little boys went on to Bayou Sara, and so up
beyond the State's border and a short way into Mississippi.
When all his relatives were gone Daniel Mueller was still in the ship with
his little son and daughters. Certainly he was not a very salable
redemptioner with his three little motherless children about his knees.
But at length, some fifteen days after the arrival of the ships, Frank
Schuber met him on the old customhouse wharf with his little ones and was
told by him that he, Mueller, was going to Attakapas. About the same time,
or a little later, Mueller came to the house where young Eva Kropp,
afterwards Schuber's wife, dwelt, to tell her good-bye. She begged to be
allowed to keep Salome. During the sickness of the little one's mother
and after the mother's death she had taken constant maternal care of the
pretty, black-eyed, olive-skinned godchild. But Mueller would not leave her
THE LOST ORPHANS.
The prospective journey was the same that we saw Suzanne and Francoise,
Joseph and Alix, take with toil and danger, yet with so much pleasure, in
1795. The early company went in a flatboat; these went in a round-bottom
boat. The journey of the latter was probably the shorter. Its adventures
have never been told, save one line. When several weeks afterwards the
boat returned, it brought word that Daniel Mueller had one day dropped dead
on the deck and that his little son had fallen overboard and was drowned.
The little girls had presumably been taken on to their destination by
whoever had been showing the way; but that person's name and residence, if
any of those left in New Orleans had known them, were forgotten. Only the
wide and almost trackless region of Attakapas was remembered, and by
people to whom every day brought a struggle for their own existence.
Besides, the children's kindred were bound as redemptioners.
Those were days of rapid change in New Orleans. The redemptioners worked
their way out of bondage into liberty. At the end of a year or two those
who had been taken to plantations near by returned to the city. The town
was growing, but the upper part of the river front in faubourg Ste. Marie,
now in the heart of the city, was still lined with brick-yards, and
thitherward cheap houses and opportunities for market gardening drew the
emigrants. They did not colonize, however, but merged into the community
about them, and only now and then, casually, met one another. Young
Schuber was an exception; he throve as a butcher in the old French market,
and courted and married the young Eva Kropp. When the fellow-emigrants
occasionally met, their talk was often of poor shoemaker Mueller and his
No clear tidings of them came. Once the children of some Germans who had
driven cattle from Attakapas to sell them in the shambles at New Orleans
corroborated to Frank Schuber the death of the father; but where Salome
and Dorothea were they could not say, except that they were in Attakapas.
Frank and Eva were specially diligent inquirers after Eva's lost godchild;
as also was Henry Mueller up in or near Woodville, Mississippi. He and his
boys were, in their small German way, prospering. He made such effort as
he could to find the lost children. One day in the winter of 1820-21 he
somehow heard that there were two orphan children named Miller--the
Muellers were commonly called Miller--in the town of Natchez, some
thirty-five miles away on the Mississippi. He bought a horse and wagon,
and, leaving his own children, set out to rescue those of his dead
brother. About midway on the road from Woodville to Natchez the
Homochitto Creek runs through a swamp which in winter overflows. In here
Mueller lost his horse. But, nothing daunted, he pressed on, only to find
in Natchez the trail totally disappear.
Again, in the early spring of 1824, a man driving cattle from Attakapas to
Bayou Sara told him of two little girls named Mueller living in Attakapas.
He was planning another and bolder journey in search of them, when he fell
ill; and at length, without telling his sons, if he knew, where to find
their lost cousins, he too died.
Years passed away. Once at least in nearly every year young Daniel
Miller--the "u" was dropped--of Woodville came down to New Orleans. At such
times he would seek out his relatives and his father's and uncle's old
friends and inquire for tidings of the lost children. But all in vain.
Frank and Eva Schuber too kept up the inquiry in his absence, but no
breath of tidings came. On the city's south side sprung up the new city of
Lafayette, now the Fourth District of New Orleans, and many of the
aforetime redemptioners moved thither. Its streets near the river became
almost a German quarter. Other German immigrants, hundreds and hundreds,
landed among them and in the earlier years many of these were
redemptioners. Among them one whose name will always be inseparable from
the history of New Orleans has a permanent place in this story.
One morning many years ago, when some business had brought me into a
corridor of one of the old court buildings facing the Place d'Armes, a
loud voice from within one of the court-rooms arrested my own and the
general ear. At once from all directions men came with decorous haste
towards the spot whence it proceeded. I pushed in through a green door
into a closely crowded room and found the Supreme Court of the State in
session. A short, broad, big-browed man of an iron sort, with silver hair
close shorn from a Roman head, had just begun his argument in the final
trial of a great case that had been before the court for many years, and
the privileged seats were filled with the highest legal talent, sitting to
hear him. It was a famous will case, and I remember that he was quoting
from "King Lear" as I entered.
"Who is that?" I asked of a man packed against me in the press.
"Roselius," he whispered; and the name confirmed my conjecture: the
speaker looked like all I had once heard about him. Christian Roselius
came from Brunswick, Germany, a youth of seventeen, something more than
two years later than Salome Mueller and her friends. Like them he came an
emigrant under the Dutch flag, and like them his passage was paid in New
Orleans by his sale as a redemptioner. A printer bought his services for
two years and a half. His story is the good old one of courage,
self-imposed privations, and rapid development of talents. From printing
he rose to journalism, and from journalism passed to the bar. By 1836, at
thirty-three years of age, he stood in the front rank of that brilliant
group where Grymes was still at his best. Before he was forty he had been
made attorney-general of the State. Punctuality, application, energy,
temperance, probity, bounty, were the strong features of his character. It
was a common thing for him to give his best services free in the cause of
the weak against the strong. As an adversary he was decorous and amiable,
but thunderous, heavy-handed, derisive if need be, and inexorable. A time
came for these weapons to be drawn in defense of Salome Mueller.
 The will of R.D. Shepherd.
MILLER _versus_ BELMONTI.
In 1843 Frank and Eva Schuber had moved to a house on the corner of
Jackson and Annunciation streets. They had brought up sons, two at
least, who were now old enough to be their father's mainstay in his
enlarged business of "farming" (leasing and subletting) the Poydras
market. The father and mother and their kindred and companions in long
past misfortunes and sorrows had grown to wealth and standing among the
German-Americans of New Orleans and Lafayette. The little girl cousin of
Salome Mueller, who as a child of the same age had been her playmate on
shipboard at the Helder and in crossing the Atlantic, and who looked so
much like Salome, was a woman of thirty, the wife of Karl Rouff.
One summer day she was on some account down near the lower limits of New
Orleans on or near the river front, where the population was almost wholly
a lower class of Spanish people. Passing an open door her eye was suddenly
arrested by a woman of about her own age engaged in some humble service
within with her face towards the door.
Madame Karl paused in astonishment. The place was a small drinking-house,
a mere _cabaret_; but the woman! It was as if her aunt Dorothea, who had
died on the ship twenty-five years before, stood face to face with her
alive and well. There were her black hair and eyes, her olive skin, and
the old, familiar expression of countenance that belonged so distinctly to
all the Hillsler family. Madame Karl went in.
"My name," the woman replied to her question, "is Mary." And to another
question, "No; I am a yellow girl. I belong to Mr. Louis Belmonti, who
keeps this 'coffee-house.' He has owned me for four or five years. Before
that? Before that, I belonged to Mr. John Fitz Mueller, who has the
saw-mill down here by the convent. I always belonged to him." Her accent
was the one common to English-speaking slaves.
But Madame Karl was not satisfied. "You are not rightly a slave. Your name
is Mueller. You are of pure German blood. I knew your mother. I know you.
We came to this country together on the same ship, twenty-five years ago."
"No," said the other; "you must be mistaking me for some one else that I
But Madame Karl: "Come with me. Come up into Lafayette and see if I do not
show you to others who will know you the moment they look at you."
The woman enjoyed much liberty in her place and was able to accept this
invitation. Madame Karl took her to the home of Frank and Eva Schuber.
Their front door steps were on the street. As Madame Karl came up to them
Eva stood in the open door much occupied with her approach, for she had
not seen her for two years. Another woman, a stranger, was with Madame
Karl. As they reached the threshold and the two old-time friends exchanged
greetings, Eva said:
"Why, it is two years since last I saw you. Is that a German woman?--I
"Well," said Madame Karl, "if you know her, who is she?"
"My God!" cried Eva,--"the long-lost Salome Mueller!"
"I needed nothing more to convince me," she afterwards testified in court.
"I could recognize her among a hundred thousand persons."
Frank Schuber came in, having heard nothing. He glanced at the stranger,
and turning to his wife asked:
"Is not that one of the girls who was lost?"
"It is," replied Eva; "it is. It is Salome Mueller!"
On that same day, as it seems, for the news had not reached them, Madame
Fleikener and her daughter--they had all become madams in Creole
America--had occasion to go to see her kinswoman, Eva Schuber. She saw the
stranger and instantly recognized her, "because of her resemblance to her
They were all overjoyed. For twenty-five years dragged in the mire of
African slavery, the mother of quadroon children and ignorant of her own
identity, they nevertheless welcomed her back to their embrace, not
fearing, but hoping, she was their long-lost Salome.
But another confirmation was possible, far more conclusive than mere
recognition of the countenance. Eva knew this. For weeks together she had
bathed and dressed the little Salome every day. She and her mother and all
Henry Mueller's family had known, and had made it their common saying, that
it might be difficult to identify the lost Dorothea were she found; but if
ever Salome were found they could prove she was Salome beyond the shadow
of a doubt. It was the remembrance of this that moved Eva Schuber to say
to the woman:
"Come with me into this other room." They went, leaving Madame Karl,
Madame Fleikener, her daughter, and Frank Schuber behind. And when they
returned the slave was convinced, with them all, that she was the younger
daughter of Daniel and Dorothea Mueller. We shall presently see what fixed
The next step was to claim her freedom. She appears to have gone back to
Belmonti, but within a very few days, if not immediately, Madame Schuber
and a certain Mrs. White--who does not become prominent--followed down
to the cabaret. Mrs. White went out somewhere on the premises, found
Salome at work, and remained with her, while Madame Schuber confronted
Belmonti, and, revealing Salome's identity and its proofs, demanded her
Belmonti refused to let her go. But while doing so he admitted his belief
that she might be of pure white blood and of right entitled to freedom. He
confessed having gone back to John F. Mueller soon after buying her and
proposing to set her free; but Mueller, he said, had replied that in such a
case the law required her to leave the country. Thereupon Belmonti had
demanded that the sale be rescinded, saying: "I have paid you my money for
"But," said Mueller, "I did not sell her to you as a slave. She is as white
as you or I, and neither of us can hold her if she chooses to go away."
Such at least was Belmonti's confession, yet he was as far from consenting
to let his captive go after this confession was made as he had been
before. He seems actually to have kept her for a while; but at length she
went boldly to Schuber's house, became one of his household, and with his
advice and aid asserted her intention to establish her freedom by an
appeal to law. Belmonti replied with threats of public imprisonment, the
chain-gang, and the auctioneer's block.
Salome, or Sally, for that seems to be the nickname by which her kindred
remembered her, was never to be sold again; but not many months were to
pass before she was to find herself, on her own petition and bond of
$500, a prisoner, by the only choice the laws allowed her, in the famous
calaboose, not as a criminal, but as sequestered goods in a sort of
sheriff's warehouse. Says her petition: "Your petitioner has good reason
to believe that the said Belmonti intends to remove her out of the
jurisdiction of the court during the pendency of the suit"; wherefore not
_he_ but _she_ went to jail. Here she remained for six days and was then
allowed to go at large, but only upon _giving still another bond and
security_, and in a much larger sum than she had ever been sold for.
The original writ of sequestration lies before me as I write, indorsed as
Sally Miller ) Sequestration.
vs. ) Sigur, Caperton
Louis Belmonti. ) and Bonford.
Received 24th January, 1844, and on the 26th of the same
month sequestered the body of the plaintiff and committed her
to prison for safe keeping; but on the 1st February, 1844, she
was released from custody, having entered bond in the sum of
one thousand dollars with Francis Schuber as the security conditioned
according to law, and which bond is herewith returned
this 3d February, 1844.
B.F. LEWIS, d'y sh'ff.
Inside is the bond with the signatures, Frantz Schuber in German script,
and above in English,
[Illustration: THE COURT PAPERS.]
[Illustration: handwritten text]
Also the writ, ending in words of strange and solemn irony: "In the year
of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty-four and in the
sixty-eighth year of the Independence of the United States."
We need not follow the history at the slow gait of court proceedings. At
Belmonti's petition John F. Miller was called in warranty; that is, made
the responsible party in Belmonti's stead. There were "prayers" and rules,
writs and answers, as the cause slowly gathered shape for final contest.
Here are papers of date February 24 and 29--it was leap year--and April
1, 2, 8, and 27. On the 7th of May Frank Schuber asked leave, and on the
14th was allowed, to substitute another bondsman in his place in order
that he himself might qualify as a witness; and on the 23d of May the case
came to trial.
It had already become famous. Early in April the press of the city, though
in those days unused to giving local affairs more than the feeblest
attention, had spoken of this suit as destined, if well founded, to
develop a case of "unparalleled hardship, cruelty, and oppression." The
German people especially were aroused and incensed. A certain newspaper
spoke of the matter as the case "that had for several days created so much
excitement throughout the city." The public sympathy was with Salome.
But by how slender a tenure was it held! It rested not on the "hardship,
cruelty, and oppression" she had suffered for twenty years, but only on
the fact, which she might yet fail to prove, that she had suffered these
things without having that tincture of African race which, be it ever so
faint, would entirely justify, alike in the law and in the popular mind,
treatment otherwise counted hard, cruel, oppressive, and worthy of the
And now to prove the fact. In a newspaper of that date appears the
Hon. A.M. Buchanan, _Judge_.
Sally Miller _vs_. Belmonti. }--No. 23,041.
This cause came on to-day for trial before the court, Roselius
and Upton for plaintiff, Canon for defendant, Grymes and
Micou for warrantor; when after hearing evidence the same is
continued until to-morrow morning at 11 o'clock.
Salome's battle had begun. Besides the counsel already named, there were
on the slave's side a second Upton and a Bonford, and on the master's
side a Sigur, a Caperton, and a Lockett. The redemptioners had made the
cause their own and prepared to sustain it with a common purse.
Neither party had asked for a trial by jury; the decision was to come from
The soldier, in the tableaux of Judge Buchanan's life, had not dissolved
perfectly into the justice, and old lawyers of New Orleans remember him
rather for unimpeachable integrity than for fine discrimination, a man of
almost austere dignity, somewhat quick in temper.
Before him now gathered the numerous counsel, most of whose portraits have
long since been veiled and need not now be uncovered. At the head of one
group stood Roselius, at the head of the other, Grymes. And for this there
were good reasons. Roselius, who had just ceased to be the State's
attorney-general, was already looked upon as one of the readiest of all
champions of the unfortunate. He was in his early prime, the first full
spread of his powers, but he had not forgotten the little Dutch brig
_Jupiter_, or the days when he was himself a redemptioner. Grymes, on the
other side, had had to do--as we have seen--with these same redemptioners
before. The uncle and the father of this same Sally Miller, so called, had
been chief witnesses in the suit for their liberty and hers, which he
had--blamelessly, we need not doubt--lost some twenty-five years before.
Directly in consequence of that loss Salome had gone into slavery and
disappeared. And now the loser of that suit was here to maintain that
slavery over a woman who, even if she should turn out not to be the lost
child, was enough like to be mistaken for her. True, causes must have
attorneys, and such things may happen to any lawyer; but here was a cause
which in our lights to-day, at least, had on the defendant's side no moral
right to come into court.
One other person, and only one, need we mention. Many a New York City
lawyer will recall in his reminiscences of thirty years ago a small,
handsome, gold-spectacled man with brown hair and eyes, noted for
scholarship and literary culture; a brilliant pleader at the bar, and
author of two books that became authorities, one on trade-marks, the other
on prize law. Even some who do not recollect him by this description may
recall how the gifted Frank Upton--for it is of him I write--was one day
in 1863 or 1864 struck down by apoplexy while pleading in the well-known
Peterhoff case. Or they may remember subsequently his constant, pathetic
effort to maintain his old courtly mien against his resultant paralysis.
This was the young man of about thirty, of uncommon masculine beauty and
refinement, who sat beside Christian Roselius as an associate in the cause
of Sally Miller _versus_ Louis Belmonti.
 Long since burned down.
 The similarity in the surnames of Salome and her master is odd, but
is accidental and without significance.
We need not linger over the details of the trial. The witnesses for the
prosecution were called. First came a Creole woman, so old that she did
not know her own age, but was a grown-up girl in the days of the Spanish
governor-general Galvez, sixty-five years before. She recognized in the
plaintiff the same person whom she had known as a child in John F.
Miller's domestic service with the mien, eyes, and color of a white person
and with a German accent. Next came Madame Hemin, who had not known the
Muellers till she met them on the Russian ship and had not seen Salome
since parting from them at Amsterdam, yet who instantly identified her
"when she herself came into the court-room just now." "Witness says,"
continues the record, "she perceived the family likeness in plaintiff's
face when she came in the door."
The next day came Eva and told her story; and others followed, whose
testimony, like hers, we have anticipated. Again and again was the
plaintiff recognized, both as Salome and as the girl Mary, or Mary
Bridget, who for twenty years and upward had been owned in slavery, first
by John F. Miller, then by his mother, Mrs. Canby, and at length by the
cabaret keeper Louis Belmonti. If the two persons were but one, then for
twenty years at least she had lived a slave within five miles, and part
of the time within two, of her kindred and of freedom.
That the two persons were one it seemed scarcely possible to doubt. Not
only did every one who remembered Salome on shipboard recognize the
plaintiff as she, but others, who had quite forgotten her appearance then,
recognized in her the strong family likeness of the Muellers. This likeness
even witnesses for the defense had to admit. So, on Salome's side,
testified Madame Koelhoffer, Madame Schultzheimer, and young Daniel Miller
(Mueller) from Mississippi. She was easily pointed out in the throng of the
And then, as we have already said, there was another means of
identification which it seemed ought alone to have carried with it
overwhelming conviction. But this we still hold in reserve until we have
heard the explanation offered by John F. Miller both in court and at the
same time in the daily press in reply to its utterances which were giving
voice to the public sympathy for Salome.
It seems that John Fitz Miller was a citizen of New Orleans in high
standing, a man of property, money, enterprises, and slaves. John Lawson
Lewis, commanding-general of the State militia, testified in the case to
Mr. Miller's generous and social disposition, his easy circumstances, his
kindness to his eighty slaves, his habit of entertaining, and the
exceptional fineness of his equipage. Another witness testified that
complaints were sometimes made by Miller's neighbors of his too great
indulgence of his slaves. Others, ladies as well as gentlemen,
corroborated these good reports, and had even kinder and higher praises
for his mother, Mrs. Canby. They stated with alacrity, not intending the
slightest imputation against the gentleman's character, that he had other
slaves even fairer of skin than this Mary Bridget, who nevertheless, "when
she was young," they said, "looked like a white girl." One thing they
certainly made plain--that Mr. Miller had never taken the Mueller family or
any part of them to Attakapas or knowingly bought a redemptioner.
He accounted for his possession of the plaintiff thus: In August, 1822,
one Anthony Williams, being or pretending to be a negro-trader and from
Mobile, somehow came into contact with Mr. John Fitz Miller in New
Orleans. He represented that he had sold all his stock of slaves except
one girl, Mary Bridget, ostensibly twelve years old, and must return at
once to Mobile. He left this girl with Mr. Miller to be sold for him for
his (Williams's) account under a formal power of attorney so to do, Mr.
Miller handing him one hundred dollars as an advance on her prospective
sale. In January, 1823, Williams had not yet been heard from, nor had the
girl been sold; and on the 1st of February Mr. Miller sold her to his own
mother, with whom he lived--in other words, _to himself_, as we shall see.
In this sale her price was three hundred and fifty dollars and her age was
still represented as about twelve. "From that time she remained in the
house of my mother," wrote Miller to the newspapers, "as a domestic
servant" until 1838, when "she was sold to Belmonti."
Mr. Miller's public statement was not as full and candid as it looked.
How, if the girl was sold to Mrs. Canby, his mother--how is it that
Belmonti bought her of Miller himself? The answer is that while Williams
never re-appeared, the girl, in February, 1835, "the girl Bridget," now
the mother of three children, was with these children bought back again by
that same Mr. Miller from the entirely passive Mrs. Canby, for the same
three hundred and fifty dollars; the same price for the four which he had
got, or had seemed to get, for the mother alone when she was but a child
of twelve years. Thus had Mr. Miller become the owner of the woman, her
two sons, and her daughter, had had her service for the keeping, and had
never paid but one hundred dollars. This point he prudently overlooked in
his public statement. Nor did he count it necessary to emphasize the
further fact that when this slave-mother was about twenty-eight years old
and her little daughter had died, he sold her alone, away from her two
half-grown sons, for ten times what he had paid for her, to be the
bond-woman of the wifeless keeper of a dram-shop.
But these were not the only omissions. Why had Williams never come back
either for the slave or for the proceeds of her sale? Mr. Miller omitted
to state, what he knew well enough, that the girl was so evidently white
that Williams could not get rid of her, even to him, by an open sale. When
months and years passed without a word from Williams, the presumption was
strong that Williams knew the girl was not of African tincture, at least
within the definition of the law, and was content to count the
provisional transfer to Miller equivalent to a sale.
Miller, then, was--heedless enough, let us call it--to hold in African
bondage for twenty years a woman who, his own witnesses testified, had
every appearance of being a white person, without ever having seen the
shadow of a title for any one to own her, and with everything to indicate
that there was none. Whether he had any better right to own the several
other slaves whiter than this one whom those same witnesses of his were
forward to state he owned and had owned, no one seems to have inquired.
Such were the times; and it really was not then remarkable that this
particular case should involve a lady noted for her good works and a
gentleman who drove "the finest equipage in New Orleans."
One point, in view of current beliefs of to-day, compels attention. One of
Miller's witnesses was being cross-examined. Being asked if, should he see
the slave woman among white ladies, he would not think her white, he
"I cannot say. There are in New Orleans many white persons of dark
complexion and many colored persons of light complexion." The question
"What is there in the features of a colored person that designates them to
"I cannot say. Persons who live in countries where there are many colored
persons acquire an instinctive means of judging that cannot be well
And yet neither this man's "instinct" nor that of any one else, either
during the whole trial or during twenty years' previous knowledge of the
plaintiff, was of the least value to determine whether this poor slave was
entirely white or of mixed blood. It was more utterly worthless than her
memory. For as to that she had, according to one of Miller's own
witnesses, in her childhood confessed a remembrance of having been brought
"across the lake"; but whether that had been from Germany, or only from
Mobile, must be shown in another way. That way was very simple, and we
hold it no longer in suspense.
THE CROWNING PROOF.
"If ever our little Salome is found," Eva Kropp had been accustomed to
say, "we shall know her by two hair moles about the size of a coffee-bean,
one on the inside of each thigh, about midway up from the knee. Nobody can
make those, or take them away without leaving the tell-tale scars." And
lo! when Madame Karl brought Mary Bridget to Frank Schuber's house, and
Eva Schuber, who every day for weeks had bathed and dressed her godchild
on the ship, took this stranger into another room apart and alone, there
were the birth-marks of the lost Salome.
This incontestable evidence the friends of Salome were able to furnish,
but the defense called in question the genuineness of the marks.
The verdict of science was demanded, and an order of the court issued to
two noted physicians, one chosen by each side, to examine these marks and
report "the nature, appearance, and cause of the same." The kindred of
Salome chose Warren Stone, probably the greatest physician and surgeon in
one that New Orleans has ever known. Mr. Grymes's client chose a Creole
gentleman almost equally famed, Dr. Armand Mercier.
Dr. Stone died many years ago; Dr. Mercier, if I remember aright, in 1885.
When I called upon Dr. Mercier in his office in Girod street in the summer
of 1883, to appeal to his remembrance of this long-forgotten matter, I
found a very noble-looking, fair old gentleman whose abundant waving hair
had gone all to a white silken floss with age. He sat at his desk in
persistent silence with his strong blue eyes fixed steadfastly upon me
while I slowly and carefully recounted the story. Two or three times I
paused inquiringly; but he faintly shook his head in the negative, a
slight frown of mental effort gathering for a moment between the eyes that
never left mine. But suddenly he leaned forward and drew his breath as if
to speak. I ceased, and he said:
"My sister, the wife of Pierre Soule, refused to become the owner of that
woman and her three children because they were so white!" He pressed me
eagerly with an enlargement of his statement, and when he paused I said
nothing or very little; for, sad to say, he had only made it perfectly
plain that it was not the girl Mary Bridget whom he was recollecting, but
He did finally, though dimly, call to mind having served with Dr. Stone
in such a matter as I had described. But later I was made independent of
his powers of recollection, when the original documents of the court were
laid before me. There was the certificate of the two physicians. And
there, over their signatures, "Mercier d.m.p." standing first, in a bold
heavy hand underscored by a single broad quill-stroke, was this
"1. These marks ought to be considered as _noevi materni_.
"2. They are congenital; or, in other words, the person was born with
"3. There is no process by means of which artificial spots bearing all the
character of the marks can be produced."
[Illustration: Handwritten conclusion number 3 and signatures of Mercier
dmp and Dr. Stone.]
On the 11th of June the case of Sally Miller _versus_ Louis Belmonti was
called up again and the report of the medical experts received. Could
anything be offered by Mr. Grymes and his associates to offset that? Yes;
they had one last strong card, and now they played it.
It was, first, a certificate of baptism of a certain Mary's child John,
offered in evidence to prove that this child was born at a time when
Salome Mueller, according to the testimony of her own kindred, was too
young by a year or two to become a mother; and secondly, the testimony of
a free woman of color, that to her knowledge that Mary was this Bridget or
Sally, and the child John this woman's eldest son Lafayette. And hereupon
the court announced that on the morrow it would hear the argument of
Salome's counsel besought the court for a temporary postponement on two
accounts: first, that her age might be known beyond a peradventure by
procuring a copy of her own birth record from the official register of her
native Langensoultz, and also to procure in New Orleans the testimony of
one who was professionally present at the birth of her son, and who would
swear that it occurred some years later than the date of the baptismal
record just accepted as evidence.
"We are taken by surprise," exclaimed in effect Roselius and his
coadjutors, "in the production of testimony by the opposing counsel openly
at variance with earlier evidence accepted from them and on record. The
act of the sale of this woman and her children from Sarah Canby to John
Fitz Miller in 1835, her son Lafayette being therein described as but five
years of age, fixes his birth by irresistible inference in 1830, in which
year by the recorded testimony of her kindred Salome Mueller was fifteen
But the combined efforts of Roselius, Upton, and others were unavailing,
and the newspapers of the following day reported: "This cause, continued
from yesterday, came on again to-day, when, after hearing arguments of
counsel, the court took the same under consideration."
It must be a dull fancy that will not draw for itself the picture, when a
fortnight later the frequenters of the court-room hear the word of
judgment. It is near the end of the hot far-southern June. The judge
begins to read aloud. His hearers wait languidly through the prolonged
recital of the history of the case. It is as we have given it here: no use
has been made here of any testimony discredited in the judge's reasons for
his decision. At length the evidence is summed up and every one attends to
catch the next word. The judge reads:
"The supposed identity is based upon two circumstances: first, a striking
resemblance of plaintiff to the child above mentioned and to the family of
that child. Second, two certain marks or moles on the inside of the thighs
[one on each thigh], which marks are similar in the child and in the
woman. This resemblance and these marks are proved by several witnesses.
Are they sufficient to justify me in declaring the plaintiff to be
identical with the German child in question? I answer this question in the
What stir there was in the room when these words were heard the silent
records lying before me do not tell, or whether all was silent while the
judge read on; but by and by his words were these:
"I must admit that the relatives of the said family of redemptioners seem
to be very firmly convinced of the identity which the plaintiff claims....
As, however, it is quite out of the question to take away a man's property
upon grounds of this sort, I would suggest that the friends of the
plaintiff, if honestly convinced of the justice of her pretensions, should
make some effort to settle _a l'aimable_ with the defendant, who has
honestly and fairly paid his money for her. They would doubtless find him
well disposed to part on reasonable terms with a slave from whom he can
scarcely expect any service after what has passed. Judgment dismissing the
suit with costs."
The white slave was still a slave. We are left to imagine the quiet air of
dispatch with which as many of the counsel as were present gathered up any
papers they may have had, exchanged a few murmurous words with their
clients, and, hats in hand, hurried off and out to other business. Also
the silent, slow dejection of Salome, Eva, Frank, and their neighbors and
kin--if so be, that they were there--as they rose and left the hall where
a man's property was more sacred than a woman's freedom. But the attorney
had given them ground of hope. Application would be made for a new trial;
and if this was refused, as it probably would be, then appeal would be
made to the Supreme Court of the State.
So it happened. Only two days later the plaintiff, through one of her
counsel, the brother of Frank Upton, applied for a new trial. She stated
that important evidence not earlier obtainable had come to light; that she
could produce a witness to prove that John F. Miller had repeatedly said
she was white; and that one of Miller's own late witnesses, his own
brother-in-law, would make deposition of the fact, recollected only since
he gave testimony, that the girl Bridget brought into Miller's household
in 1822 was much darker than the plaintiff and died a few years
afterwards. And this witness did actually make such deposition. In the six
months through which the suit had dragged since Salome had made her first
petition to the court and signed it with her mark she had learned to
write. The application for a new trial is signed--
The new trial was refused. Roselius took an appeal. The judge "allowed"
it, fixing the amount of Salome's bond at $2000. Frank Schuber gave the
bond and the case went up to the Supreme Court.
In that court no witnesses were likely to be examined. New testimony was
not admissible; all testimony taken in the inferior courts "went up" by
the request of either party as part of the record, and to it no addition
could ordinarily be made. The case would be ready for argument almost at
BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT.
Once more it was May, when in the populous but silent court-room the clerk
announced the case of Miller _versus_ Louis Belmonti, and John F. Miller,
warrantor. Well-nigh a year had gone by since the appeal was taken. Two
full years had passed since Madame Karl had found Salome in Belmonti's
cabaret. It was now 1845; Grymes was still at the head of one group of
counsel, and Roselius of the other. There again were Eva and Salome,
looking like an elder and a younger sister. On the bench sat at the right
two and at the left two associate judges, and between them in the middle
the learned and aged historian of the State, Chief-Justice Martin.
The attorneys had known from the first that the final contest would be
here, and had saved their forces for this; and when on the 19th of May the
deep, rugged voice of Roselius resounded through the old Cabildo, a
nine-days' contest of learning, eloquence, and legal tactics had begun.
Roselius may have filed a brief, but I have sought it in vain, and his
words in Salome's behalf are lost. Yet we know one part in the defense
which he must have retained to himself; for Francis Upton was waiting in
reserve to close the argument on the last day of the trial, and so
important a matter as this that we shall mention would hardly have been
trusted in any but the strongest hands. It was this: Roselius, in the
middle of his argument upon the evidence, proposed to read a certain
certified copy of a registry of birth. Grymes and his colleagues instantly
objected. It was their own best gun captured and turned upon them. They
could not tolerate it. It was no part of the record, they stoutly
maintained, and must not be introduced nor read nor commented upon. The
point was vigorously argued on both sides; but when Roselius appealed to
an earlier decision of the same court the bench decided that, as then, so
now, "in suits for freedom, and _in favorem_ libertatis_, they would
notice facts which come credibly before them, even though they be _dehors_
the record." And so Roselius thundered it out. The consul for Baden at
New Orleans had gone to Europe some time before, and was now newly
returned. He had brought an official copy, from the records of the prefect
of Salome's native village, of the registered date of her birth. This is
what was now heard, and by it Salome and her friends knew to their joy,
and Belmonti to his chagrin, that she was two years older than her
kinsfolk had thought her to be.
Who followed Roselius is not known, but by and by men were bending the ear
to the soft persuasive tones and finished subtleties of the polished and
courted Grymes. He left, we are told, no point unguarded, no weapon
unused, no vantage-ground unoccupied. The high social standing and
reputation of his client were set forth at their best. Every slenderest
discrepancy of statement between Salome's witnesses was ingeniously
expanded. By learned citation and adroit appliance of the old Spanish laws
concerning slaves, he sought to ward off as with a Toledo blade the heavy
blows by which Roselius and his colleagues endeavored to lay upon the
defendants the burden of proof which the lower court had laid upon Salome.
He admitted generously the entire sincerity of Salome's kinspeople in
believing plaintiff to be the lost child; but reminded the court of the
credulity of ill-trained minds, the contagiousness of fanciful delusions,
and especially of what he somehow found room to call the inflammable
imagination of the German temperament. He appealed to history; to the
scholarship of the bench; citing the stories of Martin Guerre, the Russian
Demetrius, Perkin Warbeck, and all the other wonderful cases of mistaken
or counterfeited identity. Thus he and his associates pleaded for the
continuance in bondage of a woman whom their own fellow-citizens were
willing to take into their houses after twenty years of degradation and
infamy, make their oath to her identity, and pledge their fortunes to her
protection as their kinswoman.
Day after day the argument continued. At length the Sabbath broke its
continuity, but on Monday it was resumed, and on Tuesday Francis Upton
rose to make the closing argument for the plaintiff. His daughter, Miss
Upton, now of Washington, once did me the honor to lend me a miniature of
him made about the time of Salome's suit for freedom. It is a pleasing
evidence of his modesty in the domestic circle--where masculine modesty
is rarest--that his daughter had never heard him tell the story of this
case, in which, it is said, he put the first strong luster on his fame. In
the picture he is a very David--"ruddy and of a fair countenance"; a
countenance at once gentle and valiant, vigorous and pure. Lifting this
face upon the wrinkled chief-justice and associate judges, he began to set
forth the points of law, in an argument which, we are told, "was regarded
by those who heard it as one of the happiest forensic efforts ever made
before the court."
He set his reliance mainly upon two points: one, that, it being obvious
and admitted that plaintiff was not entirely of African race, the
presumption of law was in favor of liberty and with the plaintiff, and
therefore that the whole burden of proof was upon the defendants, Belmonti
and Miller; and the other point, that the presumption of freedom in such a
case could be rebutted only by proof that she was descended from a slave
mother. These points the young attorney had to maintain as best he could
without precedents fortifying them beyond attack; but "Adele _versus_
Beauregard" he insisted firmly established the first point and implied the
court's assent to the second, while as legal doctrines "Wheeler on
Slavery" upheld them both. When he was done Salome's fate was in the hands
of her judges.
Almost a month goes by before their judgment is rendered. But at length,
on the 21st of June, the gathering with which our imagination has become
familiar appears for the last time. The chief-justice is to read the
decision from which there can be no appeal. As the judges take their
places one seat is left void; it is by reason of sickness. Order is
called, silence falls, and all eyes are on the chief-justice.
He reads. To one holding the court's official copy of judgment in hand, as
I do at this moment, following down the lines as the justice's eyes once
followed them, passing from paragraph to paragraph, and turning the leaves
as his hand that day turned them, the scene lifts itself before the mind's
eye despite every effort to hold it to the cold letter of the time-stained
files of the court. In a single clear, well-compacted paragraph the court
states Salome's claim and Belmonti's denial; in another, the warrantor
Miller's denial and defense; and in two lines more, the decision of the
lower court. And now--
"The first inquiry," so reads the chief-justice--"the first inquiry that
engages our attention is, What is the color of the plaintiff?"
But this is far from bringing dismay to Salome and her friends. For hear
"Persons of color"--meaning of mixed blood, not pure negro--"are presumed
to be free.... The burden of proof is upon him who claims the colored
person as a slave.... In the highest courts of the State of Virginia ... a
person of the complexion of the plaintiff, without evidence of descent
from a slave mother, would be released even on _habeas corpus_.... Not
only is there no evidence of her [plaintiff] being descended from a slave
mother, or even a mother of the African race, but no witness has ventured
a positive opinion that she is of that race."
Glad words for Salome and her kindred. The reading proceeds: "The
presumption is clearly in favor of the plaintiff." But suspense returns,
for--"It is next proper," the reading still goes on, "to inquire how far
that presumption has been weakened or justified or repelled by the
testimony of numerous witnesses in the record.... If a number of witnesses
had sworn"--here the justice turns the fourth page; now he is in the
middle of it, yet all goes well; he is making a comparison of testimony
for and against, unfavorable to that which is against. And now--"But the
proof does not stop at mere family resemblance." He is coming to the
matter of the birth-marks. He calls them "evidence which is not
He turns the page again, and begins at the top to meet the argument of
Grymes from the old Spanish Partidas. But as his utterance follows his eye
down the page he sets that argument aside as not good to establish such a
title as that by which Miller received the plaintiff. He _exonerates_
Miller, but accuses the absent Williams of imposture and fraud. One may
well fear the verdict after that. But now he turns a page which every one
can see is the last:
"It has been said that the German witnesses are imaginative
and enthusiastic, and their confidence ought to be distrusted.
That kind of enthusiasm is at least of a quiet sort, evidently the
result of profound conviction and certainly free from any taint
of worldly interest, and is by no means incompatible with the
most perfect conscientiousness. If they are mistaken as to the
identity of the plaintiff; if there be in truth two persons about
the same age bearing a strong resemblance to the family of
Miller [Mueller] and having the same identical marks from their
birth, and the plaintiff is not the real lost child who arrived
here with hundreds of others in 1818, it is certainly one of the
most extraordinary things in history. If she be not, then nobody
has told who she is. After the most mature consideration
of the case, we are of opinion the plaintiff is free, and it is our
duty to declare her so.
"It is therefore ordered, adjudged, and decreed, that the
judgment of the District Court be reversed; and ours is that the
plaintiff be released from the bonds of slavery, that the defendants
pay the costs of the appeal, and that the case be remanded
for further proceedings as between the defendant and his
So ends the record of the court. "The question of damage," says the "Law
Reporter," "is the subject-matter of another suit now pending against Jno.
F. Miller and Mrs. Canby." But I have it verbally from Salome's relatives
that the claim was lightly and early dismissed. Salome being free, her
sons were, by law, free also. But they could only be free mulattoes, went
to Tennessee and Kentucky, were heard of once or twice as stable-boys to
famous horses, and disappeared. A Mississippi River pilot, John Given by
name, met Salome among her relatives, and courted and married her. As
might readily be supposed, this alliance was only another misfortune to
Salome, and the pair separated. Salome went to California. Her cousin,
Henry Schuber, tells me he saw her in 1855 in Sacramento City, living at
last a respected and comfortable life.
 Marie Louise _vs._ Marot, 8 La. R.
THE "HAUNTED HOUSE" IN ROYAL STREET.
AS IT STANDS NOW.
When you and----- make that much-talked-of visit to New Orleans, by all
means see early whatever evidences of progress and aggrandizement her
hospitable citizens wish to show you; New Orleans belongs to the living
present, and has serious practical relations with these United States and
this great living world and age. And yet I want the first morning walk
that you two take together and alone to be in the old French Quarter. Go
down Royal street.
You shall not have taken many steps in it when, far down on the right-hand
side, where the narrow street almost shuts its converging lines together
in the distance, there will begin to rise above the extravagant confusion
of intervening roofs and to stand out against the dazzling sky a square,
latticed remnant of a belvedere. You can see that the house it surmounts
is a large, solid, rectangular pile, and that it stands directly on the
street at what residents call the "upper, river corner," though the river
is several squares away on the right. There are fifty people in this old
rue Royale who can tell you their wild versions of this house's strange
true story against any one who can do this present writer the honor to
point out the former residence of 'Sieur George, Madame Delicieuse, or
Doctor Mossy, or the unrecognizably restored dwelling of Madame Delphine.
I fancy you already there. The neighborhood is very still. The streets are
almost empty of life, and the cleanness of their stone pavements is
largely the cleanness of disuse. The house you are looking at is of brick,
covered with stucco, which somebody may be lime-washing white, or painting
yellow or brown, while I am saying it is gray. An uncovered balcony as
wide as the sidewalk makes a deep arcade around its two street sides. The
last time I saw it it was for rent, and looked as if it had been so for a
long time; but that proves nothing. Every one of its big window-shutters
was closed, and by the very intensity of their rusty silence spoke a
hostile impenetrability. Just now it is occupied.
They say that Louis Philippe, afterwards king of the French, once slept in
one of its chambers. That would have been in 1798; but in 1798 they were
not building such tall buildings as this in New Orleans--did not believe
the soil would uphold them. As late as 1806, when 'Sieur George's house,
upon the St. Peter street corner, was begun, people shook their heads; and
this house is taller than 'Sieur George's. I should like to know if the
rumor is true. Lafayette, too, they say, occupied the same room. Maybe
so. That would have been in 1824-25. But we know he had elegant
apartments, fitted up for him at the city's charge, in the old Cabildo.
It was, they say, in those, its bright, early days, the property of the
Pontalbas, a noble Franco-Spanish family; and I have mentioned these
points, which have no close bearing upon our present story, mainly to
clear the field of all mere they-says, and leave the ground for what we
know to be authenticated fact, however strange.
The entrance, under the balcony, is in Royal street. Within a deep, white
portal, the walls and ceiling of which are covered with ornamentations,
two or three steps, shut off from the sidewalk by a pair of great gates of
open, ornamental iron-work with gilded tops, rise to the white door. This
also is loaded with a raised work of urns and flowers, birds and fonts,
and Phoebus in his chariot. Inside, from a marble floor, an iron-railed,
winding stair ("said the spider to the fly") leads to the drawing-rooms on
the floor even with the balcony. These are very large. The various doors
that let into them, and the folding door between them, have carved panels.
A deep frieze covered with raised work--white angels with palm branches
and folded wings, stars, and wreaths--runs all around, interrupted only by
high, wide windows that let out between fluted Corinthian pilasters upon
the broad open balcony. The lofty ceilings, too, are beautiful with raised
[Illustration: THE ENTRANCE OF THE HAUNTED HOUSE. From a Photograph.]
Measure one of the windows--eight feet across. Each of its shutters is
four feet wide. Look at those old crystal chandeliers. And already here is
something uncanny--at the bottom of one of these rooms, a little door in
the wall. It is barely a woman's height, yet big hinges jut out from the
jamb, and when you open it and look in you see only a small dark place
without steps or anything to let you down to its floor below, a leap of
several feet. It is hardly noteworthy; only neither you nor----can make
out what it ever was for.
The house is very still. As you stand a moment in the middle of the
drawing-room looking at each other you hear the walls and floors saying
those soft nothings to one another that they so often say when left to
themselves. While you are looking straight at one of the large doors that
lead into the hall its lock gives a whispered click and the door slowly
swings open. No cat, no draft, you and----exchange a silent smile and
rather like the mystery; but do you know? That is an old trick of those
doors, and has made many an emotional girl smile less instead of more;
although I doubt not any carpenter could explain it.
I assume, you see, that you visit the house when it is vacant. It is only
at such times that you are likely to get in. A friend wrote me lately:
"Miss ---- and I tried to get permission to see the interior. Madame said
the landlord had requested her not to allow visitors; that over three
hundred had called last winter, and had been refused for that reason. I
thought of the three thousand who would call if they knew its story."
Another writes: "The landlord's orders are positive that no photographer
of any kind shall come into his house."
The house has three stories and an attic. The windows farthest from the
street are masked by long, green latticed balconies or "galleries," one to
each story, which communicate with one another by staircases behind the
lattices and partly overhang a small, damp, paved court which is quite
hidden from outer view save from one or two neighboring windows. On your
right as you look down into this court a long, narrow wing stands out at
right angles from the main house, four stories high, with the latticed
galleries continuing along the entire length of each floor. It bounds this
court on the southern side. Each story is a row of small square rooms, and
each room has a single high window in the southern wall and a single door
on the hither side opening upon the latticed gallery of that floor. Wings
of that sort were once very common in New Orleans in the residences of the
rich; they were the house's slave quarters. But certainly some of the
features you see here never were common--locks seven inches across;
several windows without sashes, but with sturdy iron gratings and solid
iron shutters. On the fourth floor the doorway communicating with the main
house is entirely closed twice over, by two pairs of full length batten
shutters held in on the side of the main house by iron hooks eighteen
inches long, two to each shutter. And yet it was through this doorway that
the ghosts--figuratively speaking, of course, for we are dealing with
plain fact and history--got into this house.
Will you go to the belvedere? I went there once. Unless the cramped stair
that reaches it has been repaired you will find it something rickety. The
newspapers, writing fifty-five years ago in the heat and haste of the
moment, must have erred as to heavy pieces of furniture being carried up
this last cramped flight of steps to be cast out of the windows into the
street far below. Besides, the third-story windows are high enough for the
most thorough smashing of anything dropped from them for that purpose.
The attic is cut up into little closets. Lying in one of them close up
under the roof maybe you will still find, as I did, all the big iron keys
of those big iron locks down-stairs. The day I stepped up into this
belvedere it was shaking visibly in a squall of wind. An electric storm
was coming out of the north and west. Yet overhead the sun still shone
vehemently through the rolling white clouds. It was grand to watch these.
They were sailing majestically hither and thither southward across the
blue, leaning now this way and now that like a fleet of great ships of the
line manoeuvring for position against the dark northern enemy's already
flashing and thundering onset. I was much above any neighboring roof. Far
to the south and south-west the newer New Orleans spread away over the
flat land. North-eastward, but near at hand, were the masts of ships and
steamers, with glimpses here and there of the water, and farther away the
open breadth of the great yellow river sweeping around Slaughterhouse
Point under an air heavy with the falling black smoke and white steam of
hurrying tugs. Closer by, there was a strange confusion of roofs, trees,
walls, vines, tiled roofs, brown and pink, and stuccoed walls, pink,
white, yellow, red, and every sort of gray. The old convent of the
Ursulines stood in the midst, and against it the old chapel of St. Mary
with a great sycamore on one side and a willow on the other. Almost under
me I noticed some of the semicircular arches of rotten red brick that were
once a part of the Spanish barracks. In the north the "Old Third" (third
city district) lay, as though I looked down upon it from a cliff--a
tempestuous gray sea of slate roofs dotted with tossing green tree-tops.
Beyond it, not far away, the deep green, ragged line of cypress swamp half
encircled it and gleamed weirdly under a sky packed with dark clouds that
flashed and growled and boomed and growled again. You could see rain
falling from one cloud over Lake Pontchartrain; the strong gale brought
the sweet smell of it. Westward, yonder, you may still descry the old
calaboose just peeping over the tops of some lofty trees; and that bunch a
little at the left is Congo Square; but the _old_, old calaboose--the one
to which this house was once strangely related--is hiding behind the
cathedral here on the south. The street that crosses Royal here and makes
the corner on which the house stands is Hospital street; and yonder,
westward, where it bends a little to the right and runs away so bright,
clean, and empty between two long lines of groves and flower gardens, it
is the old Bayou Road to the lake. It was down that road that the mistress
of this house fled in her carriage from its door with the howling mob at
her heels. Before you descend from the belvedere turn and note how the
roof drops away in eight different slopes; and think--from whichever one
of these slopes it was--of the little fluttering, befrocked lump of
terrified childhood that leaped from there and fell clean to the paved
yard below. A last word while we are still here: there are other
reasons--one, at least, besides tragedy and crime--that make people
believe this place is haunted. This particular spot is hardly one where a
person would prefer to see a ghost, even if one knew it was but an optical
illusion; but one evening, some years ago, when a bright moon was mounting
high and swinging well around to the south, a young girl who lived near by
and who had a proper skepticism for the marvels of the gossips passed this
house. She was approaching it from an opposite sidewalk, when, glancing up
at this belvedere outlined so loftily on the night sky, she saw with
startling clearness, although pale and misty in the deep shadow of the
cupola,--"It made me shudder," she says, "until I reasoned the matter
out,"--a single, silent, motionless object; the figure of a woman leaning
against its lattice. By careful scrutiny she made it out to be only a
sorcery of moonbeams that fell aslant from the farther side through the
skylight of the belvedere's roof and sifted through the lattice. Would
that there were no more reality to the story before us.
On the 30th of August, 1831, before Octave de Armas, notary, one E. Soniat
Dufossat sold this property to a Madame Lalaurie. She may have dwelt in
the house earlier than this, but here is where its tragic history begins.
Madame Lalaurie was still a beautiful and most attractive lady, though
bearing the name of a third husband. Her surname had been first
McCarty,--a genuine Spanish-Creole name, although of Irish origin, of
course,--then Lopez, or maybe first Lopez and then McCarty, and then
Blanque. She had two daughters, the elder, at least, the issue of her
The house is known to this day as Madame Blanque's house,--which, you
notice, it never was,--so distinctly was she the notable figure in the
household. Her husband was younger than she. There is strong sign of his
lesser importance in the fact that he was sometimes, and only sometimes,
called doctor--Dr. Louis Lalaurie. The graces and graciousness of their
accomplished and entertaining mother quite outshone his step-daughters as
well as him. To the frequent and numerous guests at her sumptuous board
these young girls seemed comparatively unanimated, if not actually
unhappy. Not so with their mother. To do her full share in the upper
circles of good society, to dispense the pleasures of drawing-room and
dining-room with generous frequency and captivating amiability, was the
eager pursuit of a lady who nevertheless kept the management of her money
affairs, real estate, and slaves mainly in her own hands. Of slaves she
had ten, and housed most of them in the tall narrow wing that we have
We need not recount again the state of society about her at that time. The
description of it given by the young German duke whom we quoted without
date in the story of "Salome Muller" belongs exactly to this period.
Grymes stood at the top and front of things. John Slidell was already
shining beside him. They were co-members of the Elkin Club, then in its
glory. It was trying energetically to see what incredible quantities of
Madeira it could drink. Judge Mazereau was "avocat-general" and was being
lampooned by the imbecile wit of the singers and dancers of the calinda in
Congo Square. The tree-planted levee was still populous on summer evenings
with promenaders and loungers. The quadroon caste was in its dying
splendor, still threatening the moral destruction of private society, and
hated--as only woman can hate enemies of the hearthstone--by the proud,
fair ladies of the Creole pure-blood, among whom Madame Lalaurie shone
brilliantly. Her elegant house, filled with "furniture of the most costly
description,"--says the "New Orleans Bee" of a date which we shall come
to,--stood central in the swirl of "downtown" gayety, public and private.
From Royal into Hospital street, across Circus street--rue de la
Cirque--that was a good way to get into Bayou Road, white, almost as
snow, with its smooth, silent pavement of powdered shells. This road
followed the slow, clear meanderings of Bayou St. Jean, from red-roofed
and embowered suburb St. Jean to the lake, the swamp of giant, grizzly
bearded cypresses hugging it all the way, and the whole five miles teeming
with gay, swift carriages, some filled with smokers, others with ladies
and children, the finest equipage of all being, as you may recollect, that
of John Fitz Miller. He was at that very time master of Salome Muller, and
of "several others fairer than Salome." He belongs in the present story
only here in this landscape, and here not as a typical, but only as an
easily possible, slaveholder. For that matter, Madame Lalaurie, let it be
plainly understood, was only another possibility, not a type. The two
stories teach the same truth: that a public practice is answerable for
whatever can happen easier with it than without it, no matter whether it
must, or only may, happen. However, let the moral wait or skip it entirely
if you choose: a regular feature of that bright afternoon throng was
Madame Lalaurie's coach with the ever-so-pleasant Madame Lalaurie inside
and her sleek black coachman on the box.
"Think," some friend would say, as he returned her courteous bow--"think
of casting upon that woman the suspicion of starving and maltreating her
own house-servants! Look at that driver; his skin shines with good
keeping. The truth is those jealous Americans"--
There was intense jealousy between the Americans and the Creoles. The
Americans were just beginning in public matters to hold the odds. In
private society the Creoles still held power, but it was slipping from
them even there. Madame Lalaurie was a Creole. Whether Louisiana or St.
Domingo born was no matter; she should not be criticised by American envy!
Nor would the Creoles themselves go nosing into the secretest privacy of
"Why, look you, it is her common practice, even before her guests, to
leave a little wine in her glass and hand it, with some word of kindness,
to the slave waiting at her back. Thin and hollow-chested--the slaves?
Yes, to be sure: but how about your rich uncle, or my dear old mother: are
they not hollow-chested? Well!"
But this kind of logic did not satisfy everybody, not even every Creole;
and particularly not all her neighbors. The common populace too had
"Do you see this splendid house? Do you see those attic windows? There are
slaves up there confined in chains and darkness and kept at the point of
A Creole gentleman, M. Montreuil, who seems to have been a neighbor, made
several attempts to bring the matter to light, but in vain. Yet rumors and
suspicious indications grew so rank that at length another prominent
citizen, an "American" lawyer, who had a young Creole studying law in his
office, ventured to send him to the house to point out to Madame Lalaurie
certain laws of the State. For instance there was Article XX. of the old
Black Code: "Slaves who shall not be properly fed, clad, and provided for
by their masters, may give information thereof to the attorney-general or
the Superior Council, or to all the other officers of justice of an
inferior jurisdiction, and may put the written exposition of their wrongs
into their hands; upon which information, and even ex officio, should the
information come from another quarter, the attorney-general shall
prosecute said masters," etc. But the young law student on making his
visit was captivated by the sweetness of the lady whom he had been sent to
warn against committing unlawful misdemeanors, and withdrew filled with
indignation against any one who could suspect her of the slightest
unkindness to the humblest living thing.
A TERRIBLE REVELATION.
The house that joined Madame Lalaurie's premises on the eastern side had a
staircase window that looked down into her little courtyard. One day all
by chance the lady of that adjoining house was going up those stairs just
when the keen scream of a terrified child resounded from the next yard.
She sprung to the window, and, looking down, saw a little negro girl about
eight years old run wildly across the yard and into the house, with Madame
Lalaurie, a cow-hide whip in her hand, following swiftly and close upon
They disappeared; but by glimpses through the dark lattices and by the
sound of the tumult, the lady knew that the child was flying up stairway
after stairway, from gallery to gallery, hard pressed by her furious
mistress. Soon she heard them rise into the belvedere and the next instant
they darted out upon the roof. Down into its valleys and up over its
ridges the little fugitive slid and scrambled. She reached the sheer edge,
the lady at the window hid her face in her hands, there came a dull,
jarring thud in the paved court beneath, and the lady, looking down, saw
the child lifted from the ground and borne out of sight, limp, silent,
She kept her place at the window. Hours passed, the day waned, darkness
settled down. Then she saw a torch brought, a shallow hole was dug,--as it
seemed to her; but in fact a condemned well of slight depth, a mere pit,
was uncovered,--and the little broken form was buried. She informed the
officers of justice. From what came to light at a later season, it is hard
to think that in this earlier case the investigation was more than
superficial. Yet an investigation was made, and some legal action was
taken against Madame Lalaurie for cruelty to her slaves. They were taken
from her and--liberated? Ah! no. They were sold by the sheriff, bid in by
her relatives, and by them sold back to her. Let us believe that this is
what occurred, or at least was shammed; for unless we do we must accept
the implication of a newspaper statement of two or three years
afterwards, and the confident impression of an aged Creole gentleman and
notary still living who was an eye-witness to much of this story, that all
Madame Lalaurie ever suffered for this part of her hideous misdeeds was a
fine. Lawyers will doubtless remind us that Madame Lalaurie was not
legally chargeable with the child's death. The lady at the window was not
the only witness who might have been brought. A woman still living, who
after the civil war was for years a domestic in this "haunted house," says
her husband, now long dead, then a lad, was passing the place when the
child ran out on the roof, and he saw her scrambling about on it seeking
to escape. But he did not see the catastrophe that followed. No one saw
more than what the law knows as assault; and the child was a slave.
Miss Martineau, in her short account of the matter, which she heard in New
Orleans and from eye-witnesses only a few years after it had occurred,
conjectures that Madame Lalaurie's object in buying back these slaves was
simply to renew her cruelties upon them. But a much easier, and even
kinder, guess would be that they knew things about her that had not been
and must not be told, if she could possibly prevent it. A high temper, let
us say, had led her into a slough of misdoing to a depth beyond all her
expectation, and the only way out was on the farther side.
Yet bring to bear all the generous conjecture one can, and still the fact
stands that she did starve, whip, and otherwise torture these poor
victims. She even mistreated her daughters for conveying to them food
which she had withheld. Was she not insane? One would hope so; but we
cannot hurry to believe just what is most comfortable or kindest. That
would be itself a kind of "emotional insanity." If she was insane, how
about her husband? For Miss Martineau, who was told that he was no party
to her crimes, was misinformed; he was as deep in the same mire as passive
complicity could carry him. If she was insane her insanity stopped
abruptly at her plump, well-fed coachman. He was her spy against all
others. And if she was insane, then why did not her frequent guests at
table suspect it?
All that society knew was that she had carried her domestic discipline to
excess, had paid dearly for it, and no doubt was desisting and would
henceforth desist from that kind of thing. Enough allowance can hardly be
made in our day for the delicacy society felt about prying into one of its
own gentleman or lady member's treatment of his or her own servants. Who
was going to begin such an inquiry--John Fitz Miller?
And so time passed, and the beautiful and ever sweet and charming Madame
Lalaurie--whether sane or insane we leave to the doctors, except Dr.
Lalaurie--continued to drive daily, yearly, on the gay Bayou Road, to
manage her business affairs, and to gather bright groups around her
tempting board, without their suspicion that she kept her cook in the
kitchen by means of a twenty-four-foot chain fastened to her person and to
the wall or floor.
And yet let this be said to the people's credit, that public suspicion
and indignation steadily grew. But they were still only growing when one
day, the both of April, 1834, the aged cook,--she was seventy,--chained as
she was, purposely set the house on fire. It is only tradition that,
having in a dream the night before seen the drawing-room window curtains
on fire, she seized the happy thought and made the dream a reality. But it
is in the printed record of the day that she confessed the deed to the
mayor of the city.
The desperate stratagem succeeds. The alarm of fire spreads to the street
and a hundred men rush, in, while a crowd throngs the streets. Some are
neighbors, some friends, some strangers. One is M. Montreuil, the
gentleman who has so long been watching his chance to bring the law upon
the house and its mistress. Young D----, a notary's clerk, is another. And
another is Judge Cononge--Aha! And there are others of good and well-known
The fire has got a good start; the kitchen is in flames; the upper stories
are filling with smoke. Strangers run to the place whence it all comes and
fall to fighting the fire. Friends rally to the aid of Monsieur and Madame
Lalaurie. The pretty lady has not lost one wit--is at her very best. Her
husband is as passive as ever.
"This way," she cries; "this way! Take this--go, now, and hurry back, if
you please. This way!" And in a moment they are busy carrying out, and to
places of safety, plate, jewels, robes, and the lighter and costlier
pieces of furniture. "This way, please, gentlemen; that is only the
The servants' quarters--but where are the servants?
Madame's answers are witty but evasive. "Never mind them now--save the
Somebody touches Judge Canonge--"Those servants are chained and locked up
and liable to perish."
"In the garret rooms."
He hurries towards them, but fails to reach them, and returns, driven back
and nearly suffocated by the smoke. He looks around him--this is no sketch
of the fancy; we have his deposition sworn before a magistrate next
day--and sees some friends of the family. He speaks to them:
"I am told"--so and so--"can it be? Will you speak to Monsieur or to
Madame?" But the friends repulse him coldly.
He turns and makes fresh inquiries of others. He notices two gentlemen
near him whom he knows. One is Montreuil. "Here, Montreuil, and you,
Fernandez, will you go to the garret and search? I am blind and half
smothered." Another--he thinks it was Felix Lefebre--goes in another
direction, most likely towards the double door between the attics of the
house and wing. Montreuil and Fernandez come back saying they have
searched thoroughly and found nothing. Madame Lalaurie begs them, with all
her sweetness, to come other ways and consider other things. But here is
Lefebre. He cries, "I have found some of them! I have broken some bars,
but the doors are locked!"
Judge Canonge hastens through the smoke. They reach the spot.
"Break the doors down!" Down come the doors. The room they push into is a
"den." They bring out two negresses. One has a large heavy iron collar at
the neck and heavy irons on her feet. The fire is subdued now, they say,
but the search goes on. Here is M. Guillotte; he has found another victim
in another room. They push aside a mosquito-net and see a negro woman,
aged, helpless, and with a deep wound in the head.
Some of the young men lift her and carry her out.
Judge Canonge confronts Doctor Lalaurie again:
"Are there slaves still in your garret, Monsieur?" And the doctor "replies
with insulting tone that 'There are persons who would do much better by
remaining at home than visiting others to dictate to them laws in the
quality of officious friends.'"
The search went on. The victims were led or carried out. The sight that
met the public eye made the crowd literally groan with horror and shout
with indignation. "We saw," wrote the editor of the "Advertiser" next day,
"one of these miserable beings. The sight was so horrible that we could
scarce look upon it. The most savage heart could not have witnessed the
spectacle unmoved. He had a large hole in his head; his body from head to
foot was covered with scars and filled with worms! The sight inspired us
with so much horror that even at the moment of writing this article we
shudder from its effects. Those who have seen the others represent them to
be in a similar condition." One after another, seven dark human forms were
brought forth, gaunt and wild-eyed with famine and loaded with irons,
having been found chained and tied in attitudes in which they had been
kept so long that they were crippled for life.
It must have been in the first rush of the inside throng to follow these
sufferers into the open air and sunlight that the quick-witted Madame
Lalaurie clapped to the doors of her house with only herself and her
daughters--possibly the coachman also--inside, and nothing but locks and
bars to defend her from the rage of the populace. The streets under her
windows--Royal street here, Hospital yonder--and the yard were thronged.
Something by and by put some one in mind to look for buried bodies. There
had been nine slaves besides the coachman; where were the other two? A
little digging brought their skeletons to light--an adult's out of the
soil, and the little child's out of the "condemned well"; there they lay.
But the living seven--the indiscreet crowd brought them food and drink in
fatal abundance, and before the day was done two more were dead. The
others were tenderly carried--shall we say it?--to prison;--to the
calaboose. Thither "at least two thousand people" flocked that day to see,
if they might, these wretched sufferers.
A quiet fell upon the scene of the morning's fire. The household and its
near friends busied themselves in getting back the jewelry, plate,
furniture, and the like, the idle crowd looking on in apathy and
trusting, it may be, to see arrests made. But the restoration was finished
and the house remained close barred; no arrest was made. As for Dr.
Lalaurie, he does not appear in this scene. Then the crowd, along in the
afternoon, began to grow again; then to show anger and by and by to hoot
and groan, and cry for satisfaction.
The Lady's Flight.
The old Bayou Road saw a strange sight that afternoon. Down at its farther
end lay a little settlement of fishermen and Spanish moss gatherers,
pot-hunters, and shrimpers, around a custom-house station, a lighthouse,
and a little fort. There the people who drove out in carriages were in the
habit of alighting and taking the cool air of the lake, and sipping
lemonades, wines, and ices before they turned homeward again along the
crowded way that they had come. In after years the place fell into utter
neglect. The customs station was removed, the fort was dismantled, the gay
carriage people drove on the "New Shell Road" and its tributaries,
Bienville and Canal streets, Washington and Carrollton avenues, and sipped
and smoked in the twilights and starlights of Carrollton Gardens and the
"New Lake End." The older haunt, once so bright with fashionable
pleasure-making, was left to the sole illumination of "St. John Light" and
the mongrel life of a bunch of cabins branded Crabtown, and became, in
popular superstition at least, the yearly rendezvous of the voodoos. Then
all at once in latter days it bloomed out in electrical, horticultural,
festal, pyrotechnical splendor as "Spanish Fort," and the carriages all
came rolling back.
So, whenever you and----visit Spanish Fort and stroll along the bayou's
edge on the fort side, and watch the broad schooners glide out through the
bayou's mouth and into the open water, you may say: "Somewhere just along
this bank, within the few paces between here and yonder, must be where
that schooner lay, moored and ready to sail for Mandeville the afternoon
that Madame Lalaurie, fleeing from the mob," etc.
For on that afternoon, when the people surrounded the house, crying for
vengeance, she never lost, it seems, her cunning. She and her sleek black
coachman took counsel together, and his plan of escape was adopted. The
early afternoon dinner-hour of those times came and passed and the crowd
still filled the street, but as yet had done nothing. Presently, right in
the midst of the throng, her carriage came to the door according to its
well-known daily habit at that hour, and at the same moment the charming
Madame Lalaurie, in all her pretty manners and sweetness of mien, stepped
quickly across the sidewalk and entered the vehicle.
The crowd was taken all aback. When it gathered its wits the coach-door
had shut and the horses were starting. Then her audacity was understood.
"She is getting away!" was the cry, and the multitude rushed upon her.
"Seize the horses!" they shouted, and dashed at the bits and reins. The
black driver gave the word to his beasts, and with his coach whip lashed
the faces of those who sprung forward. The horses reared and plunged, the
harness held, and the equipage was off. The crowd went with it.
"Turn the coach over!" they cry, and attempt it, but fail. "Drag her out!"
They try to do it, again and again, but in vain; away it rattles! Away it
flashes! down Hospital street, past Bourbon, Dauphine, Burgundy, and the
Rampart, with the crowd following, yelling, but fast growing thin and
"Stop her! Stop her! Stop that carriage! Stop that _carriage_!"
In vain! On it spins! Out upon the Bayou Road come the pattering hoofs and
humming wheels--not wildly driven, but just at their most telling
speed--into the whole whirling retinue of fashionable New Orleans out for
its afternoon airing. Past this equipage; past that one; past half a
dozen; a dozen; a score! Their inmates sit chatting in every sort of mood
over the day's sensation, when--what is this? A rush from behind, a whirl
of white dust, and--"As I live, there she goes now, on her regular drive!
What scandalous speed! and--see here! they are after her!" Past fifty gigs
and coaches; past a hundred; around this long bend in the road; around
that one. Good-bye, pursuers! Never a chance to cut her off, the swamp
forever on the right, the bayou on the left; she is getting away, getting
away! the crowd is miles behind!
The lake is reached. The road ends. What next? The coach dashes up to the
bayou's edge and stops. Why just here? Ah! because just here so near the
bayou's mouth a schooner lies against the bank. Is Dr. Lalaurie's hand in
this? The coachman parleys a moment with the schooner-master and hands him
down a purse of gold. The coach-door is opened, the lady alights, and is
presently on the vessel's deck. The lines are cast off, the great sails go
up, the few lookers-on are there without reference to her and offer no
interruption; a little pushing with poles lets the wind fill the canvas,
and first slowly and silently, and then swiftly and with a grateful
creaking of cordage and spars, the vessel glides out past the lighthouse,
through the narrow opening, and stands away towards the northern horizon,
below which, some thirty miles away, lies the little watering-place of
Mandeville with roads leading as far away northward as one may choose to
fly. Madame Lalaurie is gone!
The brave coachman--one cannot help admiring the villain's
intrepidity--turned and drove back towards the city. What his plan was is
not further known. No wonder if he thought he could lash and dash through
the same mob again. But he mistook. He had not reached town again when the
crowd met him. This time they were more successful. They stopped the
horses--killed them. What they did with the driver is not told; but one
can guess. They broke the carriage into bits. Then they returned to the
They reached it about 8 o'clock in the evening. The two daughters had
just escaped by a window. The whole house was locked and barred;
"hermetically sealed," says "L'Abeille" of the next morning. The human
tempest fell upon it, and "in a few minutes," says "The Courier," "the
doors and windows were broken open, the crowd rushed in, and the work of
destruction began." "Those who rush in are of all classes and colors"
continues "The Courier" of next day; but "No, no!" says a survivor of
to-day who was there and took part; "we wouldn't have allowed that!" In a
single hour everything movable disappeared or perished. The place was
rifled of jewelry and plate; china was smashed; the very stair-balusters
were pulled piece from piece; hangings, bedding and table linen were
tossed into the streets; and the elegant furniture, bedsteads, wardrobes,
buffets, tables, chairs, pictures, "pianos," says the newspaper, were
taken with pains to the third-story windows, hurled out and
broken--"smashed into a thousand pieces"--upon the ground below. The very
basements were emptied, and the floors, wainscots, and iron balconies
damaged as far as at the moment they could be. The sudden southern
nightfall descended, and torches danced in the streets and through the
ruined house. The debris was gathered into hot bonfires, feather-beds were
cut open, and the pavements covered with a thick snow of feathers. The
night wore on, but the mob persisted. They mounted and battered the roof;
they defaced the inner walls. Morning found them still at their senseless
mischief, and they were "in the act of pulling down the walls when the
sheriff and several citizens interfered and put an end to their work."
It was proposed to go at once to the houses of others long suspected of
like cruelties to their slaves. But against this the highest gentility of
the city alertly and diligently opposed themselves. Not at all because of
sympathy with such cruelties. The single reason has its parallel in our
own day. It was the fear that the negroes would be thereby encouraged to
seek by violence those rights which their masters thought it not expedient
to give them. The movement was suppressed, and the odious parties were
merely warned that they were watched.
Madame Lalaurie, we know by notarial records, was in Mandeville ten days
after, when she executed a power of attorney in favor of her New Orleans
business agent, in which act she was "authorized and assisted by her
husband, Louis Lalaurie." So he disappears.
His wife made her way to Mobile--some say to the North--and thence to
Paris. Being recognized and confronted there, she again fled. The rest of
her story is tradition, but comes very directly. A domestic in a Creole
family that knew Madame Lalaurie--and slave women used to enjoy great
confidence and familiarity in the Creole households at times--tells that
one day a letter from Prance to one of the family informed them that
Madame Lalaurie, while spending a season at Pau, had engaged with a party
of fashionable people in a boar-hunt, and somehow meeting the boar while
apart from her companions had been set upon by the infuriated beast, and
too quickly for any one to come to her rescue had been torn and killed. If
this occurred after 1836 or 1837 it has no disagreement with Harriet
Martineau's account, that at the latter date Madame Lalaurie was supposed
to be still "skulking about some French province under a false name."
The house remained untouched for at least three years, "ornamented with
various writings expressive of indignation and just punishment." The
volume of "L'Abeille" containing this account seems to have been
abstracted from the city archives. It was in the last week of April or the
first week of May, 1836, that Miss Martineau saw the house. It "stands,"
she wrote about a year later, "and is meant to stand, in its ruined state.
It was the strange sight of its gaping windows and empty walls, in the
midst of a busy street, which excited my wonder, and was the cause of my
being told the story the first time. I gathered other particulars
afterwards from eye-witnesses."
So the place came to be looked upon as haunted. In March, 1837, Madame
Lalaurie's agent sold the house to a man who held it but a little over
three months and then sold it at the same price that he had paid--only
fourteen thousand dollars. The notary who made the earlier act of sale
must have found it interesting. He was one of those who had helped find
and carry out Madame Lalaurie's victims. It did not change hands again for
twenty-five years. And then--in what state of repair I know not--it was
sold at an advance equal to a yearly increase of but six-sevenths of one
per cent, on the purchase price of the gaping ruin sold in 1837. There is
a certain poetry in notarial records. But we will not delve for it now.
Idle talk of strange sights and sounds crowded out of notice any true
history the house may have had in those twenty-five years, or until war
had destroyed that slavery to whose horridest possibilities the gloomy
pile, even when restored and renovated, stood a ghost-ridden monument. Yet
its days of dark romance were by no means ended.
A NEW USE.
The era of political reconstruction came. The victorious national power
decreed that they who had once been master and slave should enter into
political partnership on terms of civil equality. The slaves grasped the
boon; but the masters, trained for generations in the conviction that
public safety and private purity were possible only by the subjection of
the black race under the white, loathed civil equality as but another name
for private companionship, and spurned, as dishonor and destruction in
one, the restoration of their sovereignty at the price of political
copartnership with the groveling race they had bought and sold and
subjected easily to the leash and lash.
What followed took every one by surprise. The negro came at once into a
larger share of power than it was ever intended he should or expected he
would attain. His master, related to him long and only under the imagined
necessities of plantation government, vowed the issue must and should be,
not How shall the two races share public self-government in prosperous
amity? but, Which race shall exclusively rule the other, race by race?
The necessities of national authority tipped the scale, and the powers of
legislation and government and the spoils of office tumbled, all together,
into the freedman's ragged lap. Thereupon there fell upon New Orleans,
never well governed at the best, a volcanic shower of corruption and
And yet when history's calm summing-up and final judgment comes, there
must this be pointed out, which was very hard to see through the dust and
smoke of those days: that while plunder and fraud ran riot, yet no serious
attempt was ever made by the freedman or his allies to establish any
un-American principle of government, and for nothing else was he more
fiercely, bloodily opposed than for measures approved by the world's best
thought and in full harmony with the national scheme of order. We shall
see now what these things have to do with our strange true story.
In New Orleans the American public school system, which recognizes free
public instruction as a profitable investment of the public funds for the
common public safety, had already long been established. The negro adopted
and enlarged it. He recognized the fact that the relation of pupils in the
public schools is as distinctly a public and not a private relation as
that of the sidewalk, the market, the public park, or the street-car. But
recognizing also the impracticabilities of place and time, he established
separate schools for whites and blacks. In one instance, however, owing
mainly to smallness of numbers, it seemed more feasible to allow a common
enjoyment of the civil right of public instruction without separation by
race than to maintain two separate schools, one at least of which would be
very feeble for lack of numbers. Now, it being so decided, of all the
buildings in New Orleans which one was chosen for this experiment but the
"haunted house" in Royal street!
I shall never forget the day--although marked by no startling
incident--when I sat in its lofty drawing-rooms and heard its classes in
their annual examination. It was June, and the teachers and pupils were
clad in recognition of the special occasion and in the light fabrics
fitted to the season. The rooms were adorned with wreaths, garlands, and
bouquets. Among the scholars many faces were beautiful, and all were fresh
and young. Much Gallic blood asserted itself in complexion and feature,
generally of undoubted, unadulterated "Caucasian" purity, but sometimes of
visible and now and then of preponderating African tincture. Only two or
three, unless I have forgotten, were of pure negro blood. There, in the
rooms that had once resounded with the screams of Madame Lalaurie's little
slave fleeing to her death, and with the hootings and maledictions of the