Madame John's Legacy
Stop 9 of 9 in the Urban Slavery and Everyday Resistance tour
Madame John’s Legacy is a National Historic Landmark and a property of the Louisiana State Museum. Throughout its history the true stories of those families and individuals who owned or have been associated with this house and property are equaled only by the tenacious and colorful legends that have clung to it. With a history that stretches from the very beginning of colonial New Orleans through modern times, Madame John’s Legacy is an excellent prism through which to explore the history of New Orleans and Louisiana. The building that stands today was constructed in 1788, although a French colonist named Jean Pascal occupied and built other structures on this site as early as the 1720's. The house gained the name Madame John’s Legacy in the late nineteenth century, after a character in George Washington Cable’s story "‘Tite Poulette." Fire raged in New Orleans 1794, and this time the Spanish government designed building codes to insure that the newly constructed structures would be less prone to fire than their predecessors had been. The subsequent rebuilding gave the city an entirely new look. Madame John’s is the only extant house in the French Quarter that substantially resembles the architecture before the fire. Thus, the house’s appearance is an artifact of an earlier time and a rare example of Louisiana French colonial architecture. In 1812, a Belgian immigrant lawyer named Dominique Seghers purchased the home from the former's owners widow, and lived here with his wife, Dame Marie Anne Dotrange of Brussels and their children. After Madame Seghers death in 1819, the family’s property and household goods were inventoried for sale in order to pay off the family’s debts. Included in this inventory were four enslaved persons owned by the family: Manette and her daughter Delphine, and Maranthe and her daughter Louise. These, like so many other enslaved men, women, and children in New Orleans, performed a variety of duties including marketing and food preparation, caring for the family’s children, and for their extensive wardrobes and other possessions. By the 1930s the architectural significance of the house had become widely recognized. Many images of Madme John’s were created by local artists in this period, among them Morris Henry Hobbs, a noted engraver and, for a time, a tenant of Madame John’s. In 1947, in recognition of the importance of the house to the history of the state and to the people of Louisiana, its last private owner Mrs. Stella Hirsch Lemann donated Madame John’s Legacy to the Louisiana State Museum in whose ownership it remains today.