French Pirate, American Hero

Last of the great Pirates of the Gulf, the legend of Jean Laffite is well known in Louisiana. We know little about his first 20 years, but by 21 we know that he had survived two duels. Ever been to  the Court of Two Sisters Restaurant in New Orleans? That’s where Laffite fought 3 more duels.

Laffite was a charming man who spoke French, English and Spanish. Today you usually see his name spelled “Lafitte,” but Jean spelled his own name “Laffite.” He made a fortune smuggling goods into Louisiana.  When the governor offered a reward of $300 for his capture, Laffite put up posters offering $1,000 for the governor’s capture.  This pirate had quite a sense of humor.

When the War of 1812 between America and Great Britain began, the British wanted Laffite on their side.  But that was not going to happen.  It seems at the time Jean Laffite’s brother was in prison and Jean had a warrant out for his arrest.  Laffite worked a deal to help America take back New Orleans from the British. His brother was allowed to “escape,” joining him to help the Americans.

Laffite furnished General Andrew Jackson’s army of 2,000 with 366 cannons, powder, and shot.  Jackson needed those cannons to go against 10,000 veteran British troops.  The cannon helped kill two British Major Generals and most of the British field officers, as well as devastating the now leaderless troops.  

America won the battle, which helped make the following peace treaty more favorable to the new nation. Plus it went a long way to help retain the great cultural heritage of New Orleans and Louisiana.  (Yes, gumbo, jambalaya, and shrimp creole!) Merci, Monsieur Laffite!


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