Allegations of Voodoo and human sacrifice in the Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case (Mobile Register 1870)
During the Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case of 1870, the rumor circulated that Voodoo practitioners had abducted Mollie Digby for use as a ceremonial human sacrifice. The rumor tapped into white New Orleanians’ longstanding fear of Voodoo priests and priestesses. Before the Civil War, government officials worried that Voodoo leaders such as Marie Laveau and her daughter Marie the Second could incite slave revolts. Their presence destabilized the racial status quo that had bolstered slave society.
After Appomattox, Voodoo men and women took advantage of freedom that came with Reconstruction to practice their religion openly. Although Voodoo practitioners considered themselves to be Catholics, many frightened white residents saw the postwar Voodoo renaissance as yet another example of impending social chaos. White reactionaries, vowing to fight the “Africanization” of the city, used sensationalized accounts of Voodoo rituals to malign black culture and to portray black people as unfit to vote or govern. White editors demanded that Voodoo priests and priestesses “be closely observed by the police to prevent the intolerable excesses to which their ignorance and fanaticism lead.” For many of the city’s white residents, the Digby rumors confirmed those fears. During Reconstruction, one commentator warned, black people had “passed so much out of, and beyond the influence of white civilization” that “Voudouism” was flourishing. “It is horrible to think,” he added, “that the little child of Mr. Digby has been sacrificed to this savage superstition.”
As the hysteria grew, one editor after another demanded that what became known as “The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case” be solved.