Jean Lafitte bigraphy, stories - United States (Louisiana) pirate

Jean Lafitte : biography

1780 - 1826

Jean Lafitte ( – ) was a French pirate and privateer in the Gulf of Mexico in the early 19th century. He and his elder brother, Pierre, spelled their last name Laffite, but English-language documents of the time used "Lafitte". The latter has become the common spelling in the United States, including for places named for him.

Lafitte is believed to have been born either in France or the French colony of Saint-Domingue. By 1805, he operated a warehouse in New Orleans to help disperse the goods smuggled by his brother Pierre Lafitte. After the United States government passed the Embargo Act of 1807, the Lafittes moved their operations to an island in Barataria Bay, Louisiana. By 1810, their new port was very successful; the Lafittes pursued a successful smuggling operation and also started to engage in piracy.

Though Lafitte tried to warn Barataria of a British attack, the American authorities successfully invaded in 1814 and captured most of Lafitte's fleet. In return for a pardon, Lafitte helped General Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans against the British in 1815. The Lafittes became spies for the Spanish during the Mexican War of Independence and moved to Galveston Island, Texas, where they developed a pirate colony called Campeche.

Lafitte continued attacking merchant ships as a pirate around Central American ports until he died around 1823 trying to capture Spanish vessels. Speculation about his life and death continues among historians.


Grande Isle]] The United States made the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. In January 1808, the government began to enforce the Embargo Act of 1807, which barred American ships from docking at any foreign port. This was problematic for New Orleans merchants, who had relied heavily on trade with Caribbean colonies of other nations.Ramsay (1996), p. 22. The Lafitte brothers began to look for another port from which they could smuggle goods to local merchants.

They established themselves on the small and sparsely populated island of Barataria, in Barataria Bay. The bay was located beyond a narrow passage between the barrier islands of Grande Terre and Grande Isle.Ramsay (1996), p. 23. Barataria was far from the U.S. naval base, and ships could easily smuggle in goods without being noticed by customs officials. Workers would reload goods into smaller batches onto pirogues or barges for transport through the bayous to New Orleans.Ramsay (1996), p. 27.

Based in New Orleans, Pierre Lafitte served as a silent partner, looking after their interests in the city. Jean Lafitte spent the majority of his time in Barataria managing the daily hands-on business of outfitting privateers and arranging the smuggling of stolen goods. By 1810, the island had become a booming port.Ramsay (1996), p. 28. Seamen flocked to the island, working on the docks or at the warehouses until they were chosen as crew for one of the privateers.Ramsay (1996), p. 29.

Lafitte was unhappy with the time it took to transport goods from the port to the merchants; navigating the swamps could take a full week. In 1812, Lafitte and his men began holding auctions at the Temple, a prehistoric memorial earthwork mound halfway between Grande Terre and New Orleans.

Dissatisfied with their role as brokers, in October 1812 the Lafitte brothers purchased a schooner and hired a Captain Trey Cook to sail it.Davis (2005), p. 89. As the schooner did not have an official commission from a national government, its captain was considered a pirate operating illegally.Davis (2005), p. 90. In January 1813 they took their first prize, a Spanish hermaphrodite brig loaded with 77 slaves. Sale of the slaves and additional cargo generated $18,000 in profits and the brothers adapted the captured ship for use in piracy, naming it Dorada. Within weeks, Dorada captured a schooner loaded with over $9,000 in goods. The captured schooner was not considered useful for piracy so, after unloading its cargo, the Lafittes returned the ship to its former captain and crew.Davis (2005), p. 95. The Lafittes gained a reputation for treating captive crew members well, and often returned captured ships to their original crew.Davis (2005), p. 96.

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