The Atrocities of the Infamous Madame Lalaurie
Louisiana slave owner Madame Lalaurie was one of the most infamous slave owners in the state’s history. The conditions she subjected enslaved people to were so heinous and despicable that even other slave owners were appalled by her actions. Journalists of the time couldn’t even bring themselves to describe the awful things she did. Instead, the New Orleans Bee wrote, “We would shrink from the task of detailing the painful circumstances connected therewith, were it not that a sense of duty …. renders it indispensable to do so.” After Lalaurie’s home caught fire one day, a crowd came to fight the flames but soon discovered something so gruesome they couldn’t believe their eyes.
“Seven slaves more or less horribly mutilated, were seen suspended by the neck, with their limbs apparently stretched and torn from one extremity to the other. The slaves were the property of the demon, in the shape of a woman,” the Bee wrote
Louisiana Slave Owner Gouges Hole in Enslaved Man’s Stomach
The first appeal of a criminal conviction for cruelty to an enslaved person in Louisiana came with the case of State v. Morris. The court said the defendant beat the enslaved man to death “in a cruel and barbarous manner” and the enslaved man’s injuries would serve as proof. The enslaved man was not only found with a series of massive bruises and severe wounds on his thighs, loins and other parts of his body, but he also had a large hole in his abdomen. The court described the hole as being the size of a dollar which appeared to have been “gouged out.”
The Disembowelment and Decapitation of a Pregnant Maroon
Marie Jeanne was an enslaved female who was a part of a Maroon band in Guadeloupe. In 1743, an overseer of the plantation she escaped from spotted her bathing. Rather than capturing her and returning her to the plantation, Jeanne was subjected to a horrifying death. The overseer stabbed Jeanne twice with his sword before disemboweling her. Jeanne was believed to be pregnant at the time. After the gruesome murder, the overseer took things even further by slicing Jeanne’s head off and placing it on a spike to be displayed as a warning to other enslaved people who were considering trying to escape.
Enslaved Woman Forced to Watch the Beheading of Her Own Child
A former enslaved man from Georgia recalled a horrifying story during an interview in 1937 as a part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Slave Narrative Project. He revealed that an enslaved woman witnessed a white woman slice her own child’s head off because the baby belonged to the white woman’s husband.
“One white lady that lived near us at McBean slipped in a colored gal’s room and cut her baby’s head clean off ‘cause it belonged to her husband,” the unnamed former enslaved man said.
Benjamin J. Harris Whips and Burns Enslaved Teenage Girl to Death
Benjamin J. Harris was a wealthy tobacconist in Richmond, Virginia, and he was known for his cruel treatment of enslaved people, according to William Poe, a former slaveholder in Virginia whose grueling testimony of horrendous acts against enslaved people was captured in the book “American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses.” One of the most disturbing stories involves an enslaved girl who was only 15 years old and a man who was forced to go to extreme lengths to please Harris. Unfortunately, the treatment of the teenage girl was not unusual for enslaved people of the time. Harris whipped the girl while his wife was burning her body with a hot smoothing iron. Severe burns covered the girl’s body and those already incredibly painful whippings became even more unbearable. As the burns resulted in raw, scorched flesh, Harris kept whipping the severely burned girl until she died.
Benjamin J. Harris Forces Enslaved Man to Cut Off His Own Hand Before Whipping Him
The same tobacconist who whipped the young girl to death and scorched her skin began whipping another enslaved person shortly afterwards. This time, Harris seemed to be more interested in toying with the enslaved man. In another act of cringe-worthy cruelty, Harris gave this man an option. In order to please the slave owner, the enslaved man was ordered to cut off his own hand. The enslaved man did so but was still subjected to a severe whipping that testimonies claim left him in a pool of his own blood.
A Dual Punishment That Left a Mother’s Psyche and Child’s Flesh Torn Apart
Not all punishments only consisted of physical atrocities. Many enslaved people were subjected to especially harmful psychological punishments as well. One particularly gruesome example was the use of large, heavy chains that were placed on enslaved women in the Caribbean. In 1832, one woman who was only suspected of planning to escape not only had the large chain wrapped around her neck but it was also attached to her 6-year-old child as well. The chain was painful around the mother’s neck, but the real physical punishment came for the child whose sensitive flesh did not hold up to the grueling task of dragging around the chain. Slowly but surely the child’s flesh became battered and bloody as the heavy metal tore it apart. This was the mother’s real punishment — witnessing her child experience incredible pain due to the chain wrapped around her own neck. As the authors of “More Than Chattel: Black Women and Slavery in the Americas” wrote, “The impact of such a punishment on the slave woman’s psyche can only be imagined.”
Mistress Stomps Enslaved Woman’s Head Through a Hole
According to a report titled “Buried Landscapes: Enslaved Black Women, Sex, Confinement and Death in Colonial Bridgetown, Barbados and Charleston, South Carolina,” a British military officer recalled a horrifying story of a woman mercilessly beating an enslaved woman in Barbados in the late 1700s. The officer said the woman began beating the enslaved women with the heel of her shoe until “it was almost all of a jelly.” As if that wasn’t enough, the officer said the woman then threw the enslaved woman on the ground and started stomping on her head until the enslaved woman’s now severely disfigured head began to slip through a hole in the ground.