Friday, August 26, 2011

Jean Lafitte: Pirate Ghost

In the early 19th century Jean Lafitte was known for his piracy in the Gulf of Mexico, he was also known for his heroism during the Battle of New Orleans. 

But did his good traits cancel out his bad characteristics? 

On three separate occasions, U.S. presidents condemned and then exonerated and again condemned his actions. Some considered him a hero; others considered him a rogue. Either way, he was one of the most colorful characters in history.

Lafitte hated being called a pirate.

“I am not a pirate—I am a Corsair (owner of) a privateer.”
                                                                                Jean Lafitte

Louisiana became a United States territory in 1804 with the Louisiana Purchase. In 1805 Jean and his elder brother Pierre operated a warehouse in New Orleans—they used it to dispense the goods Pierre smuggled. 

When the U.S. government passed the Embargo Act of 1807, the brothers moved their operations to an island in Barataria Bay. 

By 1810 this new port was a success, and the bothers continued smuggling and started to engage in piracy. Through this activity, Jean Lafitte gained a fleet of ships.

President Madison put the Embargo Act in place to stop American ships from docking at foreign ports—it was hoped this act would ensure Americans would not trade with either Britain or France who was engaged in a war. 

Madison wanted to prevent the appearance that the Americans were favoring one country over the other. This put a great hardship upon American merchants and the economy, especially in the south. 

The embargo didn’t work, and in fact, it was the reason we became involved in the War of 1812 with Britain.

Jean Lafitte being an entrepreneur and astute diplomat was able to take an island in Barataria full of shiftless seafarers, and fisherman and turn them into an organized group of buccaneers, smugglers, and wholesalers. 

From the ships, they plundered off the Caribbean Coast, and the Atlantic he and his crews kept a constant flow of black-market provisions—including negro slaves who were an essential commodity to the south-- moving through the Mississippi Delta to help feed and clothe Louisiana. 

As a result, he won the praise of the local rich and poor alike, and for a time the authorities even turned a blind eye.

Boldly Lafitte advertised his market days on billboards and posters throughout New Orleans:


“The Temple” was named after an ancient Indian sacrificial altar. Lafitte and his brother chose this spot because it was accessible and halfway between New Orleans and Barataria Bay.

Barataria Bay
Jean Lafitte was considered a gentleman pirate. He never attacked an American ship; in fact, he respected the American Constitution and American ideals. 

He was a man without a country, and he hoped that one day his Barataria island kingdom would become a part of these same ideals. 

Despite Lafitte’s shifty methods his steady supply of clothes, spices and, furniture, etc.—all sold at discount prices—while avoiding high tariffs--helped New Orlean residents survive and thrive.

In 1814 a new territorial governor, W.C.C. Claiborne decided Lafitte should not be accepted into polite society anymore. Claiborne made sure Lafitte was harassed, and that his island home at Barataria was destroyed. 

He then imprisoned Lafitte. But Lafitte proved that America meant more to him than his own personal wealth. With the War of 1812 underway, Americans needed ships and men. Lafitte and his men back at sea in 1815 helped Andrew Jackson protect New Orleans and the entire Mississippi River from the British.

Lafitte National Historical Park and Reserve
His contemporaries described Lafitte as a man of grace and elegant manners—accomplished in conversation. 

Yet this was the man who was often described as the “ferocious head of desperadoes.” Unfortunately, the nation that he trusted did not trust him. 

When he sailed away from American shores for the last time, he felt betrayed by a country that didn’t understand him. Whether he was pirate, thief, businessman, or savior—Jean Lafitte lives on as a hero.

Many witnesses in the Gulf of Mexico report ghostly sightings of Jean Lafitte and his fleet of ships. 

Workers on oil platforms throughout the Gulf state they have seen a billow of sails on the horizon before sunset, always heading east. 

Crews of offshore supply vessels describe hearing the flapping of sail riggings and the cry of phantom voices, calling out commands to their ghostly crews in the Creole patois once spoken in Barataria. 

Small boats have felt the passage of an entire ghostly fleet that is unseen but produces visible white foam where their bows break the waves—finished passing they leave a tremendous wake in the dark waters.

One three-man crew on a charter fishing boat, anchored off the Grand Isle near Barataria Bay in the dead of night reported that they all saw an apparition of a pale man, clad in black and wearing a wide-brim hat such as the one Lafitte wore, standing on the aft deck of their sport fisherman. 

They stated the apparition looked at them forlornly then turned his head in the direction of Louisiana and disappeared before their eyes.

Many believe that when Lafitte’s ghostly fleet is seen it is a protective harbinger that warns something bad or evil is about to befall the Louisiana coast. The apparition of Jean Lafitte and his fleet were spotted just before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.

On dry land, the ghost of Lafitte is seen at the Blacksmith shop his brother owned in the French Quarter in New Orleans. 

While alive, Lafitte and his brother were said to plan their raids in this shop. 

Today this structure is a bar. Several witnesses have seen Lafitte sitting in the dark at a table in the rear. He holds a brandy in one hand, and the smell of cigar smoke surrounds him. When they look again, his figure is gone.

 Others state that they have encountered him in the bar’s ladies room.

1 comment:

stayingalivemoma said...

everyone loves a good ghost story...especially've got a follower!