Facts from My Fiction: Marie Laveau

This portrait of Marie Laveau, attributed to Frank Schneider, hangs in the Cabildo Museum

Let’s face it: you can’t write about 1830s New Orleans and leave out Marie Laveau. So yes, she appears in my forthcoming book, Bayou Fire.

Marie Laveau (1794-1881) was the second voodoo queen of New Orleans, having been trained by the previous queen, Sanité Dedé.  She was born in New Orleans to a free woman of color named Marguerite Henry and a white planter named Charles Laveau.  Children of color took on the freedom status of their mother, so Marie and her own subsequent children were free.  Her first husband, Jacques Paris, was a Haitian refugee.  The couple were married at St. Louis Cathedral by Père Antoine, a Capuchin priest (who is also mentioned in the text of my tale).

After Paris died, Marie took up with a man named Christophe Glapion.  History is unclear as to whether they actually married.  They had several children and grandchildren. One of their children, also named Marie, became voodoo queen after her mother’s passing. This gave rise to rumors that Marie Laveau was actually immortal.

One of the stories told about her is that she helped an influential man when his son was in trouble. This man went to Marie and said that his son was going on trial for a crime he did not commit and asked for her help.  Marie went to St. Louis Cathedral, where she sat for 24 hours praying while holding hot peppers in her mouth. She left the cathedral and went next door to the Cabildo, where court was held, and put those hot peppers under the judge’s seat. The son was acquitted of the crime, and the father was said to be so grateful that he deeded property at the corner of Royal and St. Ann to Marie and her family.  That property now has a marker citing the occasion.

Marie Laveau’s grave marker, photo by Sharon E. Cathcart

Marie Laveau is interred in the Paris family tomb at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. This may surprise some people, but Marie was a devout Catholic alongside her voodoo practice.

Marie Laveau has been elevated to the status of loa, or minor saint, in the voodoo religion.

If you would like to know more about her, I recommend Carolyn Morrow Long’s scholarly biography, A New Orleans Voodoo Priestess. She is one of the most fascinating women in American history.

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