American Horror Story: Coven Inspirations

While there is no ‘one event’ that series three centres around, it is still a richly inspired story. If you want to say the main thing it would be inspired by would be the city of New Orleans. Also, as this series revolves around witches – it is important to understand some of the histories that underpins the series.

WITCHES, THEMSELVES?

Miss Robicheaux’s Academy is also known as Buckner Mansion. Image: The Geographical Cure.

Salem Witch Trial

Though the show is not directly about the Salem Witch Trials, the show of course references the trials. During this time more than 200 people were accused of practising witchcraft and 20 were killed during the hysteria. It happened in the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1692.

The trials were a series of witchcraft cases that were brought before the local magistrates. The cause of the hysteria is unknown; however, some suggested theories have been onversion disorder, epilepsy, ergot poisoning, Encephalitis, Lyme disease, unusually cold weather, factionalism, socio-economic hardships, family rivalries and fraud.

Found Guilty and Executed:
Bridget Bishop (June 10, 1692)
Sarah Good (July 19, 1692)
Elizabeth Howe (July 19, 1692)
Susannah Martin (July 19, 1692)
Rebecca Nurse (July 19, 1692)
Sarah Wildes (July 19, 1692)
George Burroughs (August 19, 1692)
Martha Carrier (August 19, 1692)
John Willard (August 19, 1692)
George Jacobs, Sr (August 19, 1692)
John Proctor (August 19, 1692)
Alice Parker (September 22, 1692)
Mary Parker (September 22, 1692)
Ann Pudeator (September 22, 1692)
Wilmot Redd (September 22, 1692)
Margaret Scott (September 22, 1692)
Samuel Wardwell (September 22, 1692)
Martha Corey (September 22, 1692)
Mary Easty (September 22, 1692)

Refused to enter a plea and tortured to death:
Giles Corey (September 19th, 1692)

Found Guilty and Pardoned:
Elizabeth Proctor
Abigail Faulkner Sr
Mary Post
Sarah Wardwell
Elizabeth Johnson Jr
Dorcas Hoar

Pled Guilty and Pardoned:
Rebecca Eames
Abigail Hobbs
Mary Lacy Sr
Mary Osgood

Died in Prison:
Sarah Osburn
Roger Toothaker
Ann Foster
Lydia Dustin

Escaped from Prison:
John Alden Jr.
Edward Bishop Jr.
Sarah Bishop
Mary Bradbury
William Barker Sr.
Andrew Carrier
Katherine Cary
Phillip English
Mary English
Edward Farrington

Never Indicted:
Sarah Bassett
Mary Black
Bethiah Carter, Jr
Bethiah Carter, Sr
Sarah Cloyce
Elizabeth Hart
William Hobbs
Thomas Farrer, Sr
William Proctor
Sarah Proctor
Susannah Roots
Ann Sears
Tituba

Evaded Arrest:
George Jacobs Jr
Daniel Andrews

Other victims include two dogs who were shot or killed after being suspected of witchcraft.

THE INSPIRATIONS FOR THE SHOW

Papa Legba

Out of all the characters in American Horror Story: Coven, Papa Legba is the one that comes with the most creative licence. What they did borrow from Voodoo was that he is the keeper of the crossroads and that people sell their souls. That is where it ends. He serves as an intermediary between the spirit world and the human world. He is also seen as a trickster.

Marie Laveau

Marie was born on 10 September 1801. She was born, raised and lived in New Orleans, known as a Creole practitioner of Voodoo, herbalist and midwife. “Laveau was said to have travelled the streets like she owned them,” said one New Orleans boy who attended an event at St. John’s. After working up her reputation around the area, she soon became locally accepted as the Queen of Voodoo.

Throughout her career, people would seek her help with a wide variety of issues, these would include family disputes, health, finances, and more.

There were three main places where she performed her services, they were, her own home on St. Ann Street, within Go Square, and at Lake Pontchartrain.

The Axeman

The Axeman of New Orleans is an unidentified serial killer that was active from May 1918 to October 1919. At the height of the panic, the press reported that a similar murder happened in 1911. Though recent research has put these claims into question. He mainly tarted Italian immigrants and Italian-Americans. They may be responsible for 12 attacks and 6 victims. He was known for attacking at night and his primary modus operandi was to use an axe, it was never brought but always the victim’s own axe that the killer used.

One most notable occurrence happened when he announced that he was quite fond of jazz music. It was on 19 March 1919, that he said he would ‘pass over’ the city. For every household that had jazz music playing, he would spare the house occupants. That night it is reported you could not escape jazz. Every house had a record blasting and those that didn’t would find shelter in the local bars. True to his word, no one was killed that night.

Madame Delphine LaLaurie

Delphine was born into wealth, she was a socialite of the town. Accounts of her treatment of her slaves between 1831 and 1834 were mixed. Though it came out in writings by Harriet Martineau in 1836 that LaLaurie’s slaves were ‘singularly haggard and wretched;’. It is noted however that she would be polite to people of colour while she was out in public.

Funeral registers between 1830 and 1834 document the deaths of 12 enslaved people at the Royal Street mansion, although the causes of death are not mentioned and infectious diseases could easily have been the cause. 

One of the tales that Martineau recounted was that after visiting the lawyer of one of LaLaurie’s neighbours that the neighbour saw an eight-year-old enslaved girl fall to her death from the roof of the Royal Street mansion. The girl was trying to avoid punishment from the madam herself, who was wielding a whip to beat the woman. The body of the girl was buried on the mansion’s grounds.

This incident leads to an investigation of the family. They were found guilty of illegal cruelty and were forced to forfeit nine enslaved people, that were part of the household. Unfortunately, they were brought back to the house by an intermediary relative.

LaLaurie was also known for keeping her cook chained to the stove. On April 10, 1834, a fire broke out in the LaLaurie residence on Royal Street starting in the kitchen. When the police and fire marshals got there, they found the cook, a 70-year-old woman, chained to the stove by her ankle. She later said that she had set the fire as a suicide attempt because she feared being punished. She said that enslaved people taken to the uppermost room never came back.

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