Tuesday, April 10, 2012

This Day in History: Apr 10, 1834: A torture chamber is uncovered by arson

On this day in 1834, a fire at the LaLaurie mansion in New Orleans, Louisiana, leads to the discovery of a torture chamber where slaves are routinely brutalized by Delphine LaLaurie. Rescuers found a 70-year-old black woman trapped in the kitchen during the fire because she was chained up while LaLaurie was busy saving her furniture. The woman later revealed that she had set the fire in an attempt to escape LaLaurie's torture. She led authorities up to the attic, where seven slaves were tied with spiked iron collars.

After Delphine LaLaurie married her third husband, Louis LaLaurie, and moved into his estate on Royal Street, she immediately took control of the large number of slaves used as servants. LaLaurie was a well-known sadist, but the mistreatment of slaves by the wealthy and socially connected was not a matter for the police at the time.

However, in 1833, Delphine chased a small slave girl with a whip until the girl fell off the roof of the house and died. LaLaurie tried to cover up the incident, but police found the body hidden in a well. Authorities decided to fine LaLaurie and force the sale of the other slaves on the estate.

LaLaurie foiled this plan by secretly arranging for her relatives and friends to buy the slaves. She then sneaked them back into the mansion, where she continued to torture them until the night of the fire in April 1834.

Apparently her Southern neighbors had some standards when it came to the treatment of slaves, because a mob gathered in protest after learning about LaLaurie's torture chamber. She and her husband fled by boat, leaving the butler (who had also participated in the torture) to face the wrath of the crowd.

Although charges were never filed against LaLaurie, her reputation in upper-class society was destroyed. It is believed that she died in Paris in December 1842.

 Also on this day: Apr 10, 1919: Zapata assassinated in Mexico

Emiliano Zapata, a leader of peasants and indigenous people during the Mexican Revolution, is ambushed and shot to death in Morelos by government forces.

Born a peasant in 1879, Zapata was forced into the Mexican army in 1908 following his attempt to recover village lands taken over by a rancher. After the revolution began in 1910, he raised an army of peasants in the southern state of Morelos under the slogan "Land and Liberty." Demanding simple agrarian reforms, Zapata and his guerrilla farmers opposed the central Mexican government under Francisco Madero, later under Victoriano Huerta, and finally under Venustiano Carranza. Zapata and his followers never gained control of the central Mexican government, but they redistributed land and aided poor farmers within the territory under their control.

Zapata's influence has endured long after his death, and his agrarian reform movement, known as zapatismo, remains important to many Mexicans today. In 1994, a guerrilla group calling themselves the Zapata Army of National Liberation launched a peasant uprising in the southern state of Chiapas.

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