The Memoirs of Jean Laffite:from Le Journal de Jean Laffite


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Presently a small boat was launched from the beach, rowed by four men with a fifth man in the bow. The boats met in the channel, and Lockyer, in his best schoolboy French, asked to be taken to Monsieur Laffite; the response from the man at the prow of the small boat was that Laffite could be found ashore. Once on the beach, the two British officers were led through the suspicious crowd by the man in the bow, along a shaded path, and up the steps of a substantial home with a large wraparound gallery. At that point he genially informed them, "Messieurs, I am Laffite.

His father had been a skilled leatherworker in Spain, France and Morocco before he opened a prosperous leather shop on the island. Jean's mother died "before I could remember her," he said, and he was raised by his maternal grandmother. His older brothers, Pierre and Alexandre, would figure prominently in his life. After a rigorous education beginning at age 6, Jean and Pierre, two and a half years his elder, were sent away for advanced schooling on the neighboring islands of St. Croix and Martinique and then to a military academy on St.

Alexandre—11 years Jean's senior—returned occasionally from his adventures as a privateer attacking Spanish ships in the Caribbean and regaled his younger brothers with stories of his exploits. They were so captivated by his tales that nothing would do but for them to follow him to sea.

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Saving New Orleans

When Jean and Pierre arrived in Louisiana from Haiti in , they came as privateersmen—a barely respectable and an unquestionably dangerous business. Laffite, then in his mids, was described as dark-haired, about six feet tall, with "dark piercing eyes," a furious vertical crease in his brow and a comportment something like a powerful cat. He was also said to be intelligent, convivial and a gambling and drinking man.

Joseph Sauvinet, a Frenchman who had become one of the principal businessmen of New Orleans, quickly recognized the value of a resourceful man such as Laffite. Sauvinet set up Jean and his brothers in the smuggling business, with instructions on how to avoid U. Customs by offloading their goods downriver below a bend called English Turn, from where the cargo could be transported to Sauvinet's warehouses for resale in New Orleans. Laffite and his men chose as their base of operations the remote Barataria Bay. It must have seemed a paradise, a place of breathtaking natural beauty and serenity.

In addition, Grand Terre was elevated enough to provide protection from all but the worst hurricanes. Under Jean's stewardship, the privateers captured more than vessels and their cargoes, the most valuable of which were slaves taken in the waters around Havana, which had become the center of the slave trade in the Western Hemisphere. With the exception of Laffite, who still attired himself as a gentleman, the rest of the Baratarians—there would be probably more than 1, of them—dressed like swashbuckling pirates: red-and-black striped blouses, pantaloons, tall boots, and colorful bandannas tied around their heads.

Many wore gold earrings, and all carried cutlasses, knives and pistols. As business grew, the Baratarians became increasingly outrageous. They posted fliers in broad daylight on buildings throughout New Orleans, announcing their booty auctions, held in the swamp halfway between Grand Terre and New Orleans. These were attended by the city's most prominent men, who bought up everything from slaves to pig iron, as well as dresses and jewelry for their wives.

Meanwhile, Laffite began to squirrel away large stores of arms, gunpowder, flints and cannonballs at secret locations. These munitions would prove critically important when the Battle of New Orleans broke out.


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The British delegation that came to enlist Laffite in the attack on New Orleans handed over a packet of documents signed by Capt. Percy, the British senior naval commander in the Gulf of Mexico. Percy threatened to send a fleet to destroy the Baratarians and their stronghold because of their privateering activities against Spanish and British shipping.

But if the Baratarians would join with the British, he said they would receive "lands within His Majesty's colonies in America" and the opportunity to become British subjects with a full pardon for any previous crimes. A personal note from Colonel Nicholls to Laffite also requested the use of all the boats and ships of the Baratarians and the enlistment of Baratarian gunners and fighters in the invasion of Louisiana. The privateers' assistance, Nicholls informed Laffite, was crucial.

Once New Orleans was secured, the British planned to move the army upriver and "act in concert" with British forces in Canada, as Laffite later recalled, "to shove the Americans into the Atlantic Ocean.

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Playing for time against the threatened British assault on his stronghold, Laffite told the two envoys he needed two weeks to compose his men and put his personal affairs in order. After that, Laffite promised the Englishmen, he and his men would be "entirely at your disposal. As he watched the British sail away, Laffite must have considered taking the bribe.

He must have also considered the British promise to free his brother Pierre, who had been charged with piracy and was locked in a New Orleans jail facing the hangman's noose. On the other hand, Jean, though a Frenchman by birth, apparently considered himself something of a patriot where America was concerned. After all, the country had been good to him. He had amassed a fortune though in blatant contravention of its laws by smuggling on its shores. He promptly sat down with pen and paper and proceeded to double-cross his newfound British friends.

Laffite's letter to the U. Addressing himself to his powerful friend Jean Blanque, a member of the Louisiana legislature, Laffite revealed the entire British scheme: a huge fleet containing an entire army was at the moment gathering for an attack on the city. If Laffite thought that the New Orleans authorities were now going to forgive him for smuggling, however, he was mistaken. Claiborne, who convened the legislature's recently organized Committee of Public Safety. Most committee members insisted that the letters must be forgeries and that Laffite was a lowdown pirate simply trying to get his brother out of jail.

But Gen. In any event, Cmdre. Daniel Patterson and Col. Robert Ross announced they were going ahead with their expedition to oust Laffite from Grand Terre. Laffite, who had been anxiously on the lookout for the return of his messenger, was both surprised and delighted to see in the messenger's pirogue none other than his brother Pierre, who had magically "escaped" from jail. The magic probably had something to do with bribery.

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Laffite's spies in New Orleans also returned with the unpleasant news that Patterson's flotilla and army were assembling at New Orleans to put him out of business. This prompted Laffite to write another letter, this time to Claiborne himself, in which Laffite candidly admitted his sin of smuggling but offered his services and those of the Baratarians "in defense of the country," asking in return a pardon for himself, Pierre, and any other of his men who were indicted or about to be. When Andrew Jackson saw Laffite's offer to bring his Baratarians to the defense of New Orleans in exchange for a pardon, Jackson denounced the Baratarians as "hellish Banditti.


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Laffite, for his part, was well aware that his time limit to join the British invasion had expired and that several of His Majesty's warships now lay off Barataria Bay. Now the Americans, too, were organizing a force against him. Accordingly, he ordered most of the Baratarians to sail from Grand Terre with whatever of value they could carry, including munitions.


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He put his brother Alexandre, a. Dominique You, in charge of the island with about men, instructing him to fight the British if they attacked and, if that proved unsuccessful, to burn all the warehouses and ships at anchor. Laffite then fled with Pierre, who had become ill, to a friend's plantation northwest of the city.

The American attack on Barataria came the next day, September 16, Jean's instructions to his men had been to not resist the Americans. As the ships, headed by the schooner-of-war Carolina , neared, word rang out that they were American. The Baratarians began to scramble for any means of escape—pirogues, rowboats, gigs—and headed into the trackless marshes. The Americans burned the Baratarians' buildings—40 in all—and sent the captured goods up to New Orleans to be cataloged and filed for themselves as claims in the prize court. On November 22, Jackson finally responded to calls from New Orleans by saddling up with his staff and journeying overland from Mobile, personally scouting possible landing sites for a British invasion.

By that time the general had become wracked with dysentery.

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When he arrived in New Orleans nine days later, gaunt and pallid, he could barely stand, but he was cheered by grateful crowds. To some his appearance might not have inspired confidence: his clothes and boots were filthy from more than a week on the trail, his face was prematurely wrinkled for his 47 years, and his great head of hair had gone gray.

But later that day, when he appeared on the balcony of his headquarters on Royal Street, there was something in his voice and his icy blue eyes that convinced most in the crowd that the city's salvation had arrived. Jackson "declared that he had come to protect the city, that he would drive the British into the sea, or perish in the effort. Soon, events began to overtake New Orleans. On December 12, the British invasion force arrived offshore.

The Memoirs of Jean Laffite:from Le Journal de Jean Laffite The Memoirs of Jean Laffite:from Le Journal de Jean Laffite
The Memoirs of Jean Laffite:from Le Journal de Jean Laffite The Memoirs of Jean Laffite:from Le Journal de Jean Laffite
The Memoirs of Jean Laffite:from Le Journal de Jean Laffite The Memoirs of Jean Laffite:from Le Journal de Jean Laffite
The Memoirs of Jean Laffite:from Le Journal de Jean Laffite The Memoirs of Jean Laffite:from Le Journal de Jean Laffite
The Memoirs of Jean Laffite:from Le Journal de Jean Laffite The Memoirs of Jean Laffite:from Le Journal de Jean Laffite
The Memoirs of Jean Laffite:from Le Journal de Jean Laffite The Memoirs of Jean Laffite:from Le Journal de Jean Laffite
The Memoirs of Jean Laffite:from Le Journal de Jean Laffite The Memoirs of Jean Laffite:from Le Journal de Jean Laffite
The Memoirs of Jean Laffite:from Le Journal de Jean Laffite The Memoirs of Jean Laffite:from Le Journal de Jean Laffite

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