Poor Marie Laveau! She’s often remembered as either a sinner or a saint… and not too often as a multi-nuanced, very real woman who who held power at a time and place when powerful women were rare.
Marie’s story is a tangled web of myth, truth and half-truths with a whole lotta holes. She was illiterate so any record of her comes through legal documents, a few secondary sources and, well, that’s about it. Fun! (If your idea of “fun” is trying to detangle her tale.) Even her birthday comes with a disclaimer and was only (historically speaking) discovered recently. More fun! So what do we know for sure?
Marie was born around the beginning of the 1800s in New Orleans, Louisiana to a free woman of color, Marguerite D’Arcantel. The “father” line was blank but it’s presumed to be Charles Laveaux. (You caught that “x” didn’t you? Charles used it, Marie is usually referred to without it. See? What a tangled web.)
Marie lived in New Orleans her entire life, married as a teenager to Jacques Paris who disappeared from the narrative within just a few years. She entered a common law relationship with *deep breath* Louis-Christophe Dominic Dumesnil de Glapion and had between 5 and 15 children. She worked as a hairdresser, was a practicing Catholic and also a practicing Voodoo Queen.
She had a very philanthropic heart, was deeply tied to her community, led many public and private Voodoo services, made a nice living selling gris-gris and used her spiritual gifts to help people of all colors and social levels.
She died on June 15,1881. Although, quite mysteriously, it seemed as if she didn’t. Marie II (more than likely her daughter but not enough evidence to claim it as truth) took over Marie, Senior’s gig–rituals, clients and all, only the heart of Marie 2.0 wasn’t the same and the activities became a bit more…let’s go with “naughty.”
Wow, Chicks, that doesn’t look like enough solid intel for a full show.
Hahaha…have you not met us? We compare the myths and legends of not only Marie but Voodoo in general; we talk about life of women of color at that ever-changing (and not for the better) time in US history, and the unusual history of New Orleans (and gush, Susan knows what it means to miss New Orleans.)
Marie’s legend grew fast and hard after her death and the voodoo religion was turned into a tourist attracting industry. You guys! New Orleans has a lot of beauty and history (and not all of that is beautiful)–you should visit Marie’s tomb, but that’s just a short jaunt in a city FULL of long jaunts.
Time Travel with The History Chicks
If you aren’t with Susan on Anti-Website Music, maybe giving this ditty a play while you scroll around might be fun. Maybe.
We aren’t travel guides, but there is so much more to do in New Orleans than focus on the touristy voodoo, but you’ll probably want to do some type of tour since you now a bit about Marie and her times.
Highly recommended cemetery and French Quarter walking tours (and the name! Right?) Two Chicks Tours (recommended guides, Grey Sweeney Perkins or George “Loki” Williams specifically but all are good) and also the tour group, Friends of the Cabildo.
For some more information about early 19th century medicine, check out the Melnick Medical Museum
You may want to turn off your speakers, but there is a plethora of intel on here: French Creoles dot com
This is a good write up about how Ina Fandrich discovered what is now accepted as the birthdate of Marie. It will also give you a bit of insight into exactly how much work goes into the biographies that we devour in no time! How birth certificate was discovered
We didn’t talk about this but you might find some really great information about preservation and architecture of New Orleans at Preserving New Orleans.
Only two that are even remotely related that we would suggest, although you might keep your eye out for the 2017 release (still being filmed as we post) called, Laveau. You can follow the production on the IMDB page.