Marie Catherine Laveau: Voodoo Queen of New Orleans (September 10, 1801 – June 15, 1881)
- Published: Monday, 05 March 2012 09:11
“…Marie Laveau’s name will not be forgotten in New Orleans.”
In recalling the famous names that have been attached to Louisiana’s history, Andrew Jackson, Jean Lafitte, Huey P. Long, none can compare to the popularity and fame of Marie Catherine Laveau. Marie was born on September 10, 1801, (although most accounts have her being born in 1794) the illegitimate child of Charles Laveau, a wealthy white planter and Marguerite Darcantrel, a Creole and free person of color. It is believe by some historians that Marie’s mother and grandmother, also named Marguerite were voodoo practitioners.
Voodoo arrived in Louisiana on board of the slave ships from the West African coast. The slaves had a working knowledge of which herbs, plants and roots found in nature had the power to heal and kill. Upon arrival, the slaves were christened Catholic and were orally taught the faith. In Catholicism the slaves found parallels in their own belief systems and in conjunction with their own religious practices involving naturalism, spiritualism and herbalism, voodoo practitioners would create amulets that had the power to heal or cause harm and perform rituals involving drums, prayer and dances designed to bring about a desired effect. Marie Laveau was one such voodoo practitioner.
Although very little is known about her early years, it is known that she was married on August 4, 1819 to Jacque Santiago Paris. The couple was married at St Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square and the service was performed by Father Antonio de Sedella, also known as Pere Antoine. Jacque and Marie’s life together was short lived as Jacque Paris died a year after their marriage. Wild speculation began to circulate throughout the French Quarter about the “mysterious death” of Paris. Marie took up occupation as a hairdresser to the New Orleans wealthy elite women. This gained her access to the gossip of the whites in the city, as well as their servants and slaves who, by that time, believed her to be a powerful voodoo priestess. By all outward appearances Marie Laveau seemed to know, magically, information about her clients and their lives. In a very short time she was thought to have “special powers” as a mystic. With the slave, free persons of color and white communities now believing in her powers, Marie became very popular and sought out by those individuals who wished her to help them.
A year after the death of Jacques Paris, Marie began a relationship with Louis Christophe Dominick Duminy de Glapion who had fought gallantly against the British in the defense of New Orleans. At that time she was being called the “Widow Paris”. For the next forty years Marie Laveau injected herself into every aspect of New Orleans life. She was sought after by members of every social scale within the city. It has been said that the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans had the power to put a person into or out of City Hall. She nurtured the sick through multiple epidemics, stood on the gallows ministering to the condemned and was accused of causing the deaths, through voodoo, of both a lieutenant governor and a governor. Many condemned her as a witch while others praised her as a saint.
By all accounts Marie stopped practicing voodoo publicly in the 1860’s, however legend states that she continued until the early 1870’s when her daughter, Marie Laveau II took up her position as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. Marie Laveau II was known for her wild rituals in the swamps around New Orleans and was said to have drowned in 1897 while crossing the flooded Lake Pontchartrain.
Marie Catherine Laveau, the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans passed this life on June 15, 1881, three days after her death, the New Orleans Daily Picayune printed this article:
Death of Marie Laveau
“Those who have passed by the quaint old house on St. Ann, between Rampart and Burgundy streets with the high frail looking fence in front over which a tree or two is visible, have been within the last few years, noticed through the open gateway a decrepid old lady with snow white hair, and a smile of peace and contentment lighting up her golden features. For a few years past she has been missed from her accustomed place. The feeble old lady lay upon her bed with her daughter and grand children around her ministering to her wants.
On Wednesday the invalid sank into the sleep, which knows no waking. Those whom she had befriended crowded into the little room where she was exposed, in order to obtain a last look at the features, smiling even in death, of her who had been so kind to them.
At 5 o’clock yesterday evening Marie Laveau was buried in her family tomb in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Her remains were followed to the grave by a large concourse of people, the most prominent and the most humble joining in paying their last respects to the dead. Father Mignot conducted the funeral services. A year afterwards Mr. Paris disappeared, and knows one knows to this day what became of him. After waiting for a year for his return she married Capt. Christophe Glapion. The latter was also very prominent here, and served with distinction in the battalion of men of San Domingo, under D’Aquin, with Jackson in the war of 1815.
Fifteen children were the result of their marriage. Only one of these is now alive. Capt. Glapion died greatly registered, on the 26th of June, 1855. Five years afterwards Marie Laveau, became ill, and has been sick ever since, her indisposition becoming more pronounced and painful within the last two years.
Besides being very beautiful Marie also was very wise. She was skilled in the practice of medicine and was acquainted with the valuable healing qualities of the indigenous herbs.
She was very successful as a nurse, wonderful stories being told of her exploits at the sickbed. In yellow fever and cholera epidemics she was always called upon to nurse the sick, and always responded promptly. Her skills and knowledge earned her the friendship and approbation, of those sufficiently cultivated, but the ignorant attributed her success to unnatural means and held her in constant dread.
Notably in 1853 a committee of gentlemen, appointed at a mass meeting held at Globe Hall, waited on Marie and requested her on behalf of the people to minister to the fever stricken. She went out and fought the pestilence where it was thickest and many alive today owe their salvation to her devotion.
Not alone to the sick man was Marie Laveau a blessing. To help a fellow citizen in distress she considered a priceless privilege. She was born in the house where she died. Her mother lived and died there before her. The unassuming cottage has stood for a century and a half. It was built by the first French settlers of adobe and not a brick was employed in its construction. When it was erected it was considered the handsomest building in the neighborhood. Rampart street was not then in existence, being the skirt of a wilderness and latterly a line of entrenchment. Notwithstanding the decay of her little mansion, Marie made the sight of it pleasant to the unfortunate. At anytime of night or day one was welcome to food and lodging.
Those in trouble had but to come to her and she would make their cause her own after undergoing great sacrifices in order to assist them.
Besides being charitable, Marie was also very pious and took delight in strengthening the allegiance of souls to the church. She would sit with the condemned in their last moments and endeavor to turn their last thoughts to Jesus. Whenever a prisoner excited her pity Marie would labor incessantly to obtain his pardon, or at least commutation of sentence, and she generally succeeded.
A few years ago, before she lost control of her memory, she was rich in interesting reminiscences of the early history of the city. She spoke often of the young American Governor Claiborne, and told how the child-wife he brought with him from Tennessee died of yellow fever shortly after his arrival with the dead babe upon her bosom was buried in a corner of the old American Cemetery. She spoke sometimes of the strange little man with the beautiful bright eyes Aaron Burr, who was so polite and so dangerous. She loved to talk of Lafayette, who visited New Orleans over half a century ago. The great Frenchmen came to see her at her house, and kissed her on the forehead at parting.
She remembered the old French General, Humbert, and was one of the few colored people who escorted to the tomb long since dismantled in the catholic Cemetery, the withered and grizzly remains of Castlebar. Probably she knew Father Antoine better than any living in those days – for he the priest and she the nurse met at the dying bedside of hundreds of people – she to close the faded eyes in death, and he, to waft the soul over the river to the realms of eternal joy.
All in all Marie Laveau was a most wonderful woman. Doing good for the sake of doing good alone, she obtained no reward, oft times meeting with prejudice and loathing, she was nevertheless content and did not lag in her work. She always had the cause of the people at heart and was with them in all things. During the late rebellion she proved her loyalty to the South at every opportunity and fully dispensed help to those who suffered in defense of the “lost cause.” Her last days were spent surrounded by sacred pictures and other evidences of religion, and she died with a firm trust in heaven. While God’s sunshine plays around the little tomb where her remains are buried, by the side of her second husband, and her sons and daughters, Marie Laveau’s name will not be forgotten in New Orleans.”