pronounced lah FEET,"The Corsair" by E.H. Suydam
Pirate and Patriot
| From about the time of the Louisiana Purchase
and into the 1820s. The
Lafitte brothers were as distinguished for how they earned
their income as well as how lavishly they spent it. Said to be
handsome, intelligent, and charming, the admiral of the pirate
fleet, Jean Lafitte was known as the "prince of
pirates," "the terror of the Gulf," and the "hero of
Jean, the commanded of a federation of ships larger than that of
the US Navy at times has been called "The Corsair," "The
Terror of the Gulf," and seemed to be brutal, ruthless
buccaneers. At other times, they appear as entrepreneurs and
savvy businessmen who skillfully navigate the borders of
legality during the most interesting days of America's historic
multicultural city and greatest Carnaval.
At three separate times, U.S. presidents have
condemned, exonerated and again condemned his actions. He is
known for his piracy in the Gulf of Mexico, and lauded for his
heroism in the Battle of New Orleans. Each personae seems
to balance the other. He hated being called "pirate," for, as he
saw it, he was a "privateer" serving an economic purpose in an
economically frugal time in a new country that needed to
economize. When he at last sailed away from American shores, he
felt betrayed by a country that didn’t understand the
From the Gulf of Mexico through a vast
uncharted maze of waterways to New Orleans, his name was legend
even in his day. Entrepreneur and astute diplomat, he took an
island-full of bloodied seafarers, rovers and fishermen and
turned them into an organization of buccaneers, smugglers and
wholesalers. From the ships they plundered off the Caribbean
Coast and in the Atlantic he and his "crew of a thousand men"
kept a constant cargo of black-marketed and very necessary
provisions (including Negro slaves, a very important "commodity"
to the early South) moving through the Mississippi Delta to help
feed and clothe a part of the nation that the government
overlooked. As a result, he won the praise of the local rich and
He never attacked an American ship. A man
without a country, he nevertheless respected the constitution of
American ideals and hoped that what he called his "kingdom by
the sea" might someday meld into like ideals.
His self-made kingdom, from the Gulf of Mexico
through the villages and plantations to and including New
Orleans, was a part of an untamed wilderness that came as part
of the package called the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. This delta
was a new and lusty territory, overgrown with willows and
wildlife. Within its miles and miles of marshlands a man could
get lost and wander until he maddened and died of starvation.
Unlike anything the government knew; the topography, coupled by
its habitation of misunderstood Cajuns and Creoles, confused and
perplexed Washington decision makers. Much more, overcome with
other, deepening international problems, the nation more or less
abandoned this wetland with its foreign cultures to fend for
Lafitte’s commerce of merchandise -- of
cloths and linens, spices and trinkets, furniture and utensils
-- sold at discount prices, avoiding high tariffs, to the
grateful citizens of New Orleans. In short, Lafitte’s piratical
methods, despite their negative connotation, proved to be a
survival factor for what was to become a major American city.
Jean Lafitte's diary states he was born in
Port-Au-Prince, Saint Domingue, in 1782. His mother died the
next year, so Jean and his siblings were raised by their
grandmother, the Sephardic Jew Zora Nadrimal. She told them of
her flight from Spain to France with their mother to escape the
Inquisition, which tortured and murdered their grandfather
Abhorad. The brothers later claimed the Bordeaux region of
France as their birthplace to snag French privateering
The family lived a peaceful life in Santo
Domingo until the
Slave Insurrection of 1791. The Lafitte/Laffite brothers
escaped to Martinique where they purchased a Letter of Marque
(makes it kosher to seize and loot enemy vessels). Jean married
a Danish Jewess, Cristiana Levine, and after four profitable
years of privateering the family left for France with everything
they owned. On the way their ship was taken by a Spanish Man of
War. They were stripped and dumped on a sand cay; days later an
American schooner picked them up and took them to New Orleans
where Cristiana shortly died of exhaustion and fever.
Meanwhile Jean's brother Pierre, also a privateer, was busted
for smuggling. Laffite's older brother
Pierre sold slaves openly through notaries in New Orleans,
Dominique You and Renato Beluche were his compatriots in what
German merchant Vincent Nolte described as a "colony of pirates"
infesting the shores of Louisiana. In 1811
Jean Laffite was invited to lead the privateer smuggling
Barataria Bay. The Baratarian Association formed shortly
afterward included Dominique You, Renato Beluche, Chigazola "Nez
Coupe" and Vincent Gambie. They obtained privateering
commissions from Cartagena to prey on Spanish shipping.
The brothers had
briefly worked for U.S. Customs before back into
pirating. Jean bought a blacksmith shop on Bourbon Street to
assist in the moving of the purloined merchandise. Pierre and Jean were joined
by their brothers René/Renato Béluche and Dominique You, former
artillery gunner for Napoleon. They built a headquarters in
Battle of New Orleans 1815
By 1811, Barataria was a thriving community
with 32 armed warships, more ships than there was in the entire
American navy at the start of the War of 1812.
In 1813, Governor William Claiborne of
Louisiana offered $500 for Laffite's capture. Jean
Laffite responded with a parody proclamation in which he offered
$5,000 to anyone who delivered Governor Claiborne to him at Isle
au Chat. All efforts to take and prosecute Laffite under
the law failed.
In 1814, the British were at war with the United States. They
offered Laffite Lafitte 30,000 pounds sterling and a commission
in the British Navy if he would guide their troops through the
maze of waterways to New Orleans. He asked for two weeks to
consider the offer, informed the Louisiana government of the
plans, and offered the services of the Barataria smugglers to
the United States.
Instead of accepting Jean's help, governor
Claiborne let a Commodore Patterson attack Barataria. Patterson
destroyed the settlement including Lafitte’s Valhalla and stole
loot worth half a million dollars, claiming it as spoils of war
-- though none of it was ever seen by the government. He
imprisoned 80 of the pirates but most escaped to turn up later
at a nearby predetermined island.
Lafitte's men were needed to keep New Orleans
and the entire Mississippi River from enemy hands, if the
Governor could not see this perhaps the American Commander,
Andrew Jackson could be convinced.
The British General Pakenham's assault was
doomed from the beginning. His men made perfect targets as they
marched precisely across a quarter mile of open ground. Hardened
veterans of the Peninsular Campaign in Spain fell by the score,
including nearly 80 percent of a splendid Scottish Highlander
unit that tried to march obliquely across the American front.
Both of Pakenham's senior generals were shot early in the
battle, and the commander himself suffered two wounds before a
shell severed an artery in his leg, killing him in minutes. His
successor wisely disobeyed Pakenham's dying instructions to
continue the attack and pulled the British survivors off the
field. More than 2,000 British had been killed or wounded and
several hundred more were captured. The American loss was eight
killed and 13 wounded.
A grateful Jackson, not yet president,
saw to it that Lafitte and his family became American citizens.
He writes that contemporaries described
"(Lafitte) as ‘graceful and elegant in manners...accomplished in
conversation.’ And yet this was the man who was often described
in very different terms as the ‘Prince of Pirates’ or the
‘ferocious’ head of ‘desperadoes.’"
The spent as voraciously as they earned making
their rule of the gulf as precarious as a strong attack from the
US Navy. They left nothing behind but their legend which
continues to grow wherever people gather to enjoy pirate tales.
"He left a corsair’s name to
Linked one virtue to a thousand crimes."
-- Lord Byron
After being run out of New Orleans around
1817, Lafitte relocated to the island of Galveston, Texas
establishing another "kingdom" he named "Campeche". In
Galveston, Lafitte either purchased or set his claim to a
lavishly furnished mansion used by French pirate Louis-Michel
Aury, which he named "Maison Rouge". The building's upper level
was converted into a fortress where a cannon commanding
Galveston harbor were placed. Around 1820, Lafitte reportedly
married Madeline Regaud, possibly the widow or daughter of a
French colonist who had died during an ill-fated expedition to
Galveston. In 1821, the schooner USS Enterprise was sent to
Galveston to remove Lafitte's presence from the Gulf after one
of the pirate's captains attacked an American merchant ship.
Lafitte agreed to leave the island without a fight, and in 1821
or 1822 departed on his flagship, the Pride, burning his
fortress and settlements and reportedly taking immense amounts
of treasure with him. All that remains of Maison Rouge is the
foundation, located at 1417 Avenue A near the Galveston wharf.
The film was released by Paramount Pictures Corp.,
in 1938. Impeccably French accented Fredric March’s Jean
Lafitte and his pirate gang (including a scene-stealing Akim
Tamiroff as a former Napoleonic gunner) trade amnesty for aid to
Andrew Jackson as a British invasion looms during the War of
This was a very good version and a colorful DeMille
swashbuckler topped by a spectacular recreation of the
Battle of New Orleans.
In the War of 1812, the British have sacked Washington and hope
to capture New Orleans, where pirate Jean Lafitte romances
blueblooded Annette de Remy and openly sells his loot in a
pirates' market. But he never attacks American ships.
Can the British bribe Lafitte to help them? Can Lafitte persuade
American authorities of his loyalty? Will a love triangle
between Annette and pretty Dutch girl Gretchen (survivor of a
pirates' prize) bring about Lafitte's undoing?
The Buccaneer, was DeMille's first attempt at this
tale of Jean Lafitte. Another version was done in 1958 and was
produced by Demille but due to his poor health was directed by
his son-in-law, Anthony Quinn.
Featured actors in the film included Frederic March, Franciska Gaal, Akim
Tamiroff, Margot Grahame, Walter Brennan and Anthony Quinn.
The DVD Missing in Action List @dvdjournal.com
immigrates from Haiti to New Orleans as Africans revolt in
France's most successful colonial enterprise
in the Caribbean
ties to Hispaniola; the first island discovered by
Columbus and long the most troubled island of the
Amercian hemisphere includes the story of the first
colony to declare independence.
(born Napoleone di
Buonaparte) (August 15, 1769 Ajaccio, Corsica - May 5, 1821
St. Helena) became
Toussaint Louverture's main enemy after he came to power in
1799. The French emperor tried to re-establish
slavery in the Caribbean colony
Saint-Domingue through his brother in law
General Leclerc. He had Toussaint Louverture captured by
deceit and transferred to a
dungeon in the French Alps where the Haitian revolutionary
leader later died.
The French after helping the fledging multicultural
nation of 13 states defeat the British in 1776 continued their
own quest for world domination under the great General Napoleon
until the new World's first slave revolt resulted in France's
2nd great gift to the dream of liberty in the Americas.
Napoleon was faced with the defeat of his
Saint-Domingue (present-day Republic of
where an expeditionary force under his brother-in-law
Charles Leclerc was attempting to reassert control over a
slave rebellion that threatened France's most profitable colony.
Political conflicts in
Guadeloupe and in Saint-Domingue grew with the restoration
1802, and the defection of leading French officers, like the
Jean-Jacques Dessalines and the
Alexandre Pétion in October 1802, within the context of an
guerrilla war. The French had successfully deported
Toussaint L'Ouverture to France in June 1802, but
yellow fever was destroying European soldiers and claimed
Leclerc in November.
The American negotiators were prepared to spend $10 million for
New Orleans but were dumbfounded when the entire region was
offered for $15 million. The treaty was dated
|Zorro meets Lafitte
-soon to be a major motion
|ZORRO - the first
American trickster hero
|While Lafitte aspired to be considered a hero
the facts get in the way of his compelling myth. As a pure work
of fiction this is not a problem for the early California hero
Zorro. His early years were delightfully reworked in 2005 by
author Isabel Allende who has Lafitte marry the great love of
Zorro's life following his capture at sea.
Allende's ZORRO is her version of the story that was originally
introduced in 1919. Zorro's beginnings is the focus of Allende's
novel, which is also going to be the basis of the third in the
ZORRO trilogy of movies starring Antonio Banderas. Allende stays
true to the original story, tracing Zorro's roots from his birth
in Alta California (as Diego De La Vega, the son of the Alcalde
of Pueblo de Los Angeles and an Indian woman) in the late
THE MARK OF ZORRO - The prototype of
future generations' comic-strip heroes
(DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS VERSION)
(1920, FRED NIBLO) Sword-slashed Z’s keep popping up on the bad
guys as the mysterious masked Zorro starts righting wrongs in
Olde California. The first of Douglas Fairbanks Sr.’s legendary
“Established Fairbanks as the first action hero — lightly
self-mocking, casually romantic and breathtakingly athletic —
and created a template for decades of films and film actors to
follow.” – Stephen Whitty, The Newark Star-Ledger
people of New Orleans are as strange and wondrous a mix as the
city itself, reveling in its French heritage and its segregation
from American culture. Early in its history, France would rid
itself of scoundrels and prostitutes by shipping them off to New
|"Some considered him a rapacious rogue, a man
of unmitigated violence. Others, many of whom were young women,
regarded him as a charming person. He was seductive, perhaps
deceptive, but always elegantly gracious."
Jack C. Ramsay, Jr. from his excellent and concise Jean Laffite, Prince
It be nearing that time fer our ships to weigh anchor!"
|Birth of Jean Lafitte
|No authenticated record of Jean Lafitte's
birth has been found, but it is generally believed that he was
born sometime around 1780. The Lafitte Society of Galveston
Texas believes it likely that in 1772 on April 12 Pierre Laffite
was born in Bordeaux, France.
1774 May 6 Alexandre Laffite in Bordeaux who is believed by some
members of the Laffite Society to have been the French gunnery
officer Dominique You and in 1782
August 15--Birth of Jean Laffite in Bordeaux, France.
They point out the possibility that these may be a different set
of Lafitte brothers as the name was common.
"Our family, originally
named Lefitto, lived in the Iberian Peninsula for centuries.
When Ferdinand and Isabella reconquered Spain and expelled the
Muslims and the Jews in 1492, most of the Jews fled to North
Africa. Others went to the Balkans or to Greece and Turkey. But
some Sephardi Jews, my ancestors among them, crossed the
Pyrenees and settled in France, where Jean was born in about
1780. He moved to French Santo Domingo during the Napoleonic
period. However, a slave rebellion forced him to flee to New
Melvyn J. Lafitte to
Professor Edward Bernard Glick in a moment of serendipity [source]
When he applied for a French privateer
commission in 1813 he claimed to be 32 years old; Pierre was
believed to be about 40 in 1816. Their contemporaries nearly
always distinguished between the two Laffite brothers as "the
elder" and "the younger" The senior brother was considered the
brains of the operation. Pierre, was most likely born in
Bordeaux, France, around 1770. His half-brother Jean followed
about 12 years later.
Jean and Pierre Lafitte were known to have
been in New Orleans as early as 1805, some say that they were
natives of Marseilles, France, while others claim that they
hailed from Port au Prince in Santo Domingo. The brothers
claimed the Bordeaux region of France as their birthplace circa
1780-85 in order to be entitled to French privateer's
credentials, This may be true, since the eldest Lafitte brother,
Alexandre, known as Dominique You, was the famed diminutive
artillery officer of Napoleon.
Final Resting Place
one of the few buccaneers who didn't die in battle, in prison or
on the gallows
Did he die still
practicing his trade as a pirate in the Yucatan in the middle
1820s or as a middle-class American citizen of the 1850s?
Some say Jean Lafitte's Brother Pierre died in
Missouri in 1844 and was buried in St. Louis. Pierre's children
have been quoted as saying that their "esteemed" uncle changed
his name to Jon Lafflin and dropped out of sight
Wikipedia.org in 2007 claims Pierre Laffite's death is
well documented and that he perished on the northern coast of
the Yucatan peninsula in the fall of 1821. They also report Jean
Laffite disappeared into the "fog of history" after he escaped
from prison in Puerto Principe, Cuba, in February, 1822. Further
that an American historical group erected a monument to the pirate in
1976 at a grave-site at the village of Dzilam de Bravo, near
Merida, on the Yucatan peninsula. They believe that Jean died of
yellow fever off the coast of Yucatan in 1826
We tend to agree with the theory,
supported by republication of a "journal," is that when the
camp in Galveston was destroyed by a hurricane, Lafitte married
and moved up to Alton, Illinois. There he became passionate
about furthering the cause of the working man.
The Lafitte descendents also support this version of the final
chapter in the celebrated life of the Caribbean's most legendary
|In the nineteenth century it was popular practice for
notorious figures to fake their death, change identity and
location and then live a relatively normal life. So it was with
the Privateer Jean Lafitte. After his announced death in the
1820's he lived in several states in the U.S., raised a family
and wrote his journal.
At his request the publication of the journal was delayed for
100 years. In the 1950's the journal was translated from French
to English and published. The original manuscript was purchased
by Texas' Governor Price Daniel and is on display at the Sam
Houston Regional Library and Archives located in Liberty, Texas
The journal of Jean Laffite : the privateer-patriot's own
story. Hemphill, TX: Dogwood Press, 1994.
Location: F 374 .L123 (Special Collections)
His parents escaped from the
Inquisition of Spain to Bordeaux, France while he escaped from
the slave revolt of Haiti to the shores of the gulf.
|The accuracy of some accounts of his life are
open to doubt, and an autobiographical journal is suspected of
being a forgery by some historians. His father was said to be
French and his mother either a Spaniard, or Sephardi. His
mother's family allegedly fled from Spain to France in 1765
after his maternal grandfather was put to death for Judaism. In
his alleged journal, Lafitte describes childhood in the home of
his Jewish grandmother, who was full of stories about the
family's escape from the Inquisition.
|Pirates get more booty!
| "The past is never
dead. It's not even past."
"He left a corsair’s name to
Linked one virtue to a thousand crimes."
-- Lord Byron
"Audacity, more audacity,
and always audacity!"
-- Georges Jacques Danton
"Do your duty, and leave the
rest to the gods."
-- Pierre Corneille
"Gentlemen, the British are
below the city! We mist fight them tonight."
-- Gen. Andrew Jackson
of the Caribbean
"Bring me that horizon!
|Jack Sparrow is the Pirate Lord of the
Caribbean Sea and enjoys the freedom that his occupation
provides, drinking rum, and seducing women while searching for
supernatural treasures. Although he can be treacherous, Sparrow
survives mostly by using wit and negotiation over weapons and
force. He prefers to flee dangerous situations, but will fight
The thousands of islands in the Caribbean
made it almost impossible for authorities to police and very
easy for pirates to pounce.
| Actor Johnny Depp, who created
the character Captain Jack Sparrow, compared pirates to
rock stars in that their legendary status preceded them, which
may help fuel Sparrow's enormous ego
Initially, Sparrow was conceived for the first
film as a trickster who guides the
hero, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), but Johnny Depp's performance
changed that concept. His eccentric
characterization, partially inspired by Pepe LePew and Keith
Richards, turned Sparrow into the breakout character and earned
Depp his first Academy Award
An initial costume
concept for Jack Sparrow before Depp's ideas took
black eyes surrounded by kohl, beads in his hair, a
beard with tiny braids and enough gold and platinum
in his mouth to earn Dr. Rick Glassman, DDS, a
credit for "Dental Special Effects for Johnny Depp,"
the actor looks less the nautical outlaw than a
thrift store refugee about to go clubbing in
-Kenneth Turan -LA Times
nomination. Sparrow became an iconic
anti-hero, and in a case of life-imitates -art, Richards played
a cameo role as Sparrow's father in the third film. Depp partly
based the character on Pepe Le Pew, a womanising skunk from
Looney Tunes. Sparrow claims to have a "tremendous intuitive
sense of the female creature", although his conquests are often
left with a sour memory of him. Former flames, usually slap him
or anyone looking for him. His witty charm easily attracts
Johnny Depp talked about these 2 influences:
"he greatest rock n' roll star of
all time, the coolest rock n' roll star of all time is Keith
Richards, hands down. So, yeah, I kind of incorporated the idea
of Keith. Not like an imitation of Keith or anything but just
that wisdom that he carries, that sort of confidence that he
has, that attack that he has. So I got that on one side and on
the other side I took a little bit of this cartoon character
that I've always loved when I was a kid, his name was Pepe Le
Pew. Yeah, the skunk, Pepe Le Pew who was the skunk who smelled
horrible, but was absolutely convinced that he was the ultimate
ladies' man. You know the guy, he'd fall in love with this cat
the cat quite clearly despised him but Pepe Le Pew sort of read
it as, 'Oh she's just playing hard to get. Oh she's just shy.'
And then I thought of Jack as this constantly moving organism
that would shape himself to whatever situation you were in to
see what he would get out of the situation."
A survey of more than 3,000 people showed Jack
Sparrow was the most popular Halloween costume of 2006, and a
2007 poll held by the Internet Movie Database showed Sparrow to
be the second most popular live action hero, after Indiana Jones
the pirates treasure has been found by Disney with their Pirates
of the Caribbean franchise. On St. Vincent, the film’s set for
Port Royal, Jamaica is still standing at Wallilabou Bay. And on
Grand Bahama and in the Exumas, where film crews for the second
and third films set up camp for 10 months, you’ll find
pirate-themed meals and souvenirs. [see
wikipedia for more including