Famous Privateer: Jean Laffite
The Universal Pirate
There is dilemma whether Jean Laffite was hero or brutal criminal. He fought for American independence and people admired well-educated and intelligent man who used clever ways to solve problems. He was saying that he is a privateer, but in fact, many of his actions were more pirate-like. However, the truth is that he was a lot more than ordinary pirate. He was diplomat, merchant, smuggler, naval solider, slave trader... something like universal sailor.
Jean Laffite was born either in France or in their colony, St. Domingue in the Caribbean. Birth date is unknown, but it was probably around 1780. By 1803, Jean Laffite and his older brother, Pierre, were operating in Barataria Bay (around 100 miles south of New Orleans). Since the beginning, Laffite has been very skillful and managed to plunder many ships in the Gulf of Mexico. Many people joined his crew, and soon he was able to create an army of smugglers and pirates. They were raiding mostly commerce ships around Barataria Bay and were selling goods in New Orleans. Soon, Jean Laffite was proclaimed as indisputable leader of Barataria.
Laffite respected a country he lived in and did not allow his pirates to attack American vessels. Mostly they plundered Spanish and English ships and those actions were protected, because Laffite possessed the letter of marque. However, his smuggling and slave trade operations were still illegal. He did not get along with the governor of New Orleans, William C. C. Claiborne who did not accept his methods. In 1813 and the governor issued a $750 reward for the Laffite's arrest. Within a week, Laffite offered double sum for anyone who could capture the governor and bring him to Barataria.
In 1814, as they were in war with America, the British officials attempted to convince Lafitte and his pirates, by giving them a lot of money and many privileges, to join them in attack of New Orleans. They knew Laffite, as expert for marshes and bayous in that region, could ensure them a victory. However, he refused to cooperate and revealed information of attack to Americans. In addition, he offered his pirates to help defending city. However, American government did not believe in this, and even attacked Laffite in his stronghold!
Despite that, Laffite addressed Andrew Jackson and they agreed to defend New Orleans together. With the well-organized army and good tactic, British were repulsed. Lafitte and his crew were granted pardons for their former crimes, but any further pirate activity had been strictly forbidden in Barataria Bay.
Latter, Captain Laffite took over Galveston, Texas, and continued pirating around Central American ports until the end of his life. He died probably around 1825.