Louisiana’s Looting Lafittes

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Louisiana’s Looting Lafittes

Looting Lafittes

The Barataria Preserve is Louisiana’s wild wetlands, spanning over twenty thousand acres.  The bayous, swamps, marshes, and forests provide perfect sunning spots for snakes, turtles, gators, and over two hundred species of birds.  At the heart of the Barataria Basin is the town of Jean Lafitte, one half of Louisiana’s most notorious pirate team.

Before taking Lafitte’s namesake, it was home to Native American tribes.  It was founded in 1718 and the Barataria Basin was established by the French as a harbor for the Gulf Coast.  The name Barataria first appeared on maps of the area in 1729 and means “dishonesty at sea.”  The title seems perfectly appropriate due to the individuals who resided there.

(images:22948295@N02/flickr) Pirate Jean Lafitte

(images:[email protected]/flickr)
Pirate Jean Lafitte

In 1808, Jean and Pierre Lafitte organized a group of smugglers and pirates who headquartered in the barrier island.  The Lafittes’ pirate band quickly took over the island and became quite profitable, being quoted as having the most knowledge of every inlet within the Gulf.  One of their biggest rewards came in 1813 when the Lafitte crew seized a Spanish ship.  The crew made over $18,000 from the slaves and cargo aboard the ship.  They commandeered the vessel and named it the Dorada.  The Dorada brought luck to the pirates when she was used to take down a schooner worth over $9,000.  Despite their violent tactics, the pirates were well known for treating captured crew members well.  Unfortunately, the pirate crew was not treated as kindly by the United States government.

America acquired the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.  Just shortly after, the United States began enforcing the Embargo Act of 1807.  The act barred U.S. ships from docking at foreign ports.  This is where the Lafitte crew found their opening.  Because the Barataria Basin was so far from military bases, they could easily smuggle goods without being noticed by local customs.  They were able to get goods and money in and out with little consequence, using a local warehouse to move goods smuggled by Pierre Lafitte.

Unfortunately, their efforts did not go unnoticed.  When the US caught wind of what the Lafitte band was doing, they quickly established a way to stop the crew.  Forty soldiers ambushed and captured Lafitte’s crew, including thousands of dollars worth of goods.  Pierre Lafitte was indicted by a grand jury and ultimately arrested, tried, convicted and thrown in jail for piracy.

When the conflict between the United States and Britain came to a head, both sides sought the Lafitte crew for their aid due to their access to ships, men and funds.  In an attempt to get Pierre out of jail, Jean sent a letter of intent to the US government and agreed to serve in exchange for pardons of their men.  Shortly after, Jean “escaped” from jail and the pirates went back to their watery war.  When the War of 1812 against Britain finally went into effect, the Lafitte brothers went off under Andrew Jackson to defend their New Orleans.

They were eventually pardoned for their crimes and many were released from jail.  Unfortunately, upon release, the US Navy raided the brothers in 1814 and took over Jean Lafitte’s fleet.  By the time it was over, they had commandeered six schooners, one felucca, a brig, twenty cannons, and over $500,000 in goods.  In a rage, the brothers buried gold between Louisiana and Texas as they traveled down the coast, searching for their next adventure.  They left a wake of bodies, gold, and fires along the way.

When they reached Texas, the Lafitte brothers became spies for the Spanish during the Mexican War of Independence.  They developed a new pirate colony called Campeche in Texas.  They continued attacking ships and maintained their smuggling base until Jean Lafitte died in 1823.  He was buried at sea in the Gulf of Honduras.  Although his final days were spent in Texas, it seems Jean decided Louisiana was to be his final resting place.

(images:teemu08/flickr) Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop

(images:teemu08/flickr)
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop

One of the oldest buildings in Louisiana is a blacksmith shop.  Surviving since the late 1700s, it is known as the longest running pub in the United States.  The two story brick and stone building seems plain, and the inside matches with dark, plain, but authentic decor.  It’s hard to believe such a plain building would hide such an interesting past.

The building served Jean Lafitte and his crew as a blacksmith shop and smuggling headquarters.  It seems Jean refused to give up drinks, cigars and women as his full bodied apparition is commonly spotted standing and skulking in the corner.  Glowering, he never interacts but instead stares, mustache twitching, until he is spotted, at which time he quickly disappears.

The fireplace is also a common source of activity.  Visitors and employees report cold spots and a bad aura near the fire.  Looking deeply into the fire, visitors spot watchful red eyes, peering through the fireplace grate.  Speculating the source is Jean Lafitte, the tables near the fireplace also report feeling cold hands and feelings of unease.  Jean is also spotted in the women’s bathroom or in a table, near the back of the pub by the piano bar.  He is holds a drink and is often surrounded by a cloud of cigar smoke, tipping nearby patrons off to his presence.

Megan Borchert
Megan Borchert
Lover of all things unusual, Megan is a staff attorney for the state of South Dakota. When she's not stuffed in an office writing case synopses, you can find her at home with her army of Schnauzers, snuggled up with some strong wine and a good book.

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