JEAN LAFITTE
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Jean Lafitte (1776-c.a.1825) was born in Bordeaux, France but ran away from home at an early age to crew on a British frigate. He was the oldest and most adventurous of three brothers. Jean served for a few years with the British

 

navy, but deserted and eventually ended in Carthagena and Santa Martha.

Lafitte was referred to as privateer as opposed to a pirate. The difference being that the privateer is a legal position; one with papers from a government empowering that individual to perform duties, on behalf of his employer, against unfriendly nations. Lafitte used this to his advantage in raiding the ships of other countries throughout the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. And of course, the spoils from these raids were kept by Lafitte and used to amass a sizable sum for he and his band of followers. For this reason he was able to bribe many local and state officials in New Orleans and Louisiana government to overlook his questionable enterprise.

Eventually the lure of his move to the island of Grand Terre in Barataria Bay, 60 miles above the mouth of the Mississippi, brought him to New Orleans. He chose this particular area because of its remote and defensible position. However, riches collected from his raids needed a more accessible outlet because of the difficulties in traveling through the swamps to Grand Terre was next to impossible.

Lafitte set up a blacksmith business in an old 18th Century structure located in the French Quarter. There he and his brother Pierre ran a blacksmith shop which sold much of his stolen goods through the “back door”. This “illegal” enterprise irked the governor of Louisiana, W.C.C. Claiborne; but numerous attempts to thwart Lafitte’s actions failed due to bribes and gifts given to those expected to carry out the governor’s orders.

Eventually, Claiborne was successful in obtaining the assistance of U.S. President James Madison to send US Navy ships to Lafitte’s headquarters in Barataria. There, after a brief fight, Lafitte’s small legion of sailors fled into the swamps. Most all of the forty poorly-constructed homes were destroyed and those ships of Lafitte’s fleet not sunk were captured by the navy.

The ironic fact was that just a few days before this attack, Lafitte was offered a considerable sum and position in the British Navy to assist Great Britain (War of 1812) in capturing New Orleans from the United States. Lafitte delayed his decision and was relaying the British plan to Governor Claiborne in New Orleans at the same time the U.S. Navy was destroying his headquarters.

Lafitte’s patriotic heroism came to light when he chose to help defend New Orleans just a few months later in 1815 in the famous Battle of New Orleans. Here he and his men assisted General Andrew Jackson and a undermanned defense made up of local militia, Indians, Tennessee riflemen, and other volunteers in routing the invading British troops.

His efforts resulted in a pardon by the President and eventually, Lafitte left New Orleans and spent most of his remaining years around Galveston, TX.

His famous blacksmith shop is an historic building in the French Quarter today. It also happens to be a popular bar frequented by locals and visitors alike. If you have a chance, stop in for a cool respite from the warm New Orleans days and tell Pierre and Jean hello for me!