Lafitte and His Barataria Pirates

The word "Barataria" is an adaptation of a curious old Creole word, "Barateur," or "Barato," signifying "cheap," for the smuggled goods, rare and beautiful that were sold by the pirates were "very cheap." It has already been told how Lafitte had his famous smithy in Bourbon and St. Philip Street. But he had his trysting place on the Island of Grande Terre, in Barataria Bay.

Grand Isle, Grand Terre 1813

His smugglers were composed of desperate men of all nations, contrabands, pirates and what not. They were the "wild men of the Spanish Main," and it was said that they carried the black flag and attacked vessels of all nations and did not hestitate to make their prisoners "walk the plank," that terror of old pirate stories of the deep. "Nez Coupe," so called because his nose was cut off, and who lived at Grande Terre many years after the pirates ceased their depredations, used to declare that the beautiful daughter of Aaron Burr, who was supposed to have been lost at sea, was made "to walk the plank" by command of Lafitte. Lafitte used to deny that he was a pirate and dignified his calling by the name of "privateer." Whenever he was apprehended he said that he and his men were cruising with the permission of France. He carried the flag of the Republic of Carthagena, a province of New Grenada, that had rebelled against Spain, and said that he attacked only the vessels of Spain, which was then at war with. Carthagea and France. "Nez Coupe" used to tell how one of the boldest of Lafitte's men. laughed in the face of his commander one day at the mere idea of being a "privateer," and said that he was "a pirate and was proud of it." Lafitte drew his pistol and shot him through the heart in the presence of his companions. A tradition of the parish is that when Claiborne, the first American Governor, indicted the Baratarians and arrested the two brothers, Jean and Pierre Lafitte, at their smithy and lodged them in the "calaboose," without the privilege of bail, the brothers engaged at a fee of twenty thousand dollars each the services of the celebrated lawyers, Edward R. Livingston and John R. Grymes, the most distinguished members of the bar of Louisiana. Of course, with such advocates, the Lafittes were acquitted; the fee was instantly paid, and John Lafitte, after giving warning to his men, invited Messrs. Livingston and Grymes to spend a week with him at Barataria and see for themselves if the verdict were not just. Mr. Livingston politely declined, but Mr. Grymes accepted; It was impossible to discover a trace of smuggled goods or illicit trade. Lafitte entertained him royally, but it is also told that before Mr. Grymes had finished accepting his hospitality or that of Lafitte's "planter friends" along the coast, that he lost every "picayune" of his immense fee playing cards.

The island of Grand Terre, the rendezvous of Lafitte the Pirate, is now, says Mr. Walker, the author of The Battle of New Orleans, of January 8, 1815, occupied and cultivated by a Creole family as a sugar plantation, producing annually four or five hundred hogsheads of sugar. At the western extremity of the island stands a large and powerful fortification, which, has been quite recently erected by the United States, and named after one of the distinguished benefactors of Louisiana, Edward Livingston. This fort commands the western entrance, or strait, leading from the gulf into the Lake or Bay of Barataria. Here, safely sheltered, some two or three miles from the gulf, is a snug little harbor, where vessels drawing from seven to eight feet water may ride in safety out of reach of the fierce storms that so often sweep the Gulf of Mexico.

Here may be found, even now, the foundations of houses, the brick work of a rude fort, and other evidences of an ancient settlement. This is the spot which has become so famous in the poetry and romances of the Southwest as the "Pirates' Home," the retreat of the dread corsair of the gulf. But authentic history dissipates the poetry and romance and deals in solid facts alone.

Jean Lafitte, the so-called corsair and pirate, was a blacksmith from Bordeaux, France, who, within the recollection of those living, kept his forge at the corner of Bourbon and St. Philip street, New Orleans. He had an older brother, Pierre, who was a seafaring character, and had served in the French navy. Neither were pirates, and Jean knew not enough of the art of navigation to manage a jolly boat. But he was a man of good address and appearance, of considerable shrewdness, of generous and liberal heart and adventuous spirit.

To understand more properly the operations of the Lafittes, a few words of explanation are necessary. Shortly after the cession of Louisiana to the United States, a series of events occurred which made the Gulf of Mexico the arena of the most extensive and profitable privateering. First came the war between France and Spain, which afforded the inhabitants of the French islands a good pretence to depredate upon the rich commerce of the Spanish possessions, the most valuable and productive in the New World. The Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, swarmed with privateers, owned and employed by men of all nations, who obtained their commissions (by purchase) from the French authorities at Martinique and Guadeloupe. Among these were not a few neat and trim crafts belonging to the staid citizens of New England, who, under the tri-color of France, - experienced no scruples in perpetrating acts which, though not condemned by the laws of nations, in their spirit as well as in their practical results, bear a strong resemblance to piracy. The British capture and occupation of Guadeloupe and Martinique, after 1806, in which expeditions, Col. Edward Pakenham, who distinguished himself and received a severe wound, broke up a favorite retreat of these privateers. Shortly after this, Columbia declared her independence of Spain, and invited to her Fort of Carthagena the patriots and adventurers of all nations, to aid her struggle against the mother country. Thither flocked all the privateers and buccaneers of the gulf. Commissions were promptly given or sold to them, to sail under the Columbian flag, and to prey upon the commerce of Spain, who, invaded and despoiled at home, had neither means nor spirit to defend her distant possessions.

The success of the privateers was brilliant. It is a narrow line, at the best, which divides piracy from privateering, and it is not at all wonderful that the reckless sailors of the gulf sometimes lost sight of it. The shipping of other countries was, no doubt, frequently mistaken for that of Spain. Rapid fortunes were made in this business. Capitalists embarked their means in equipping vessels for privateering. Of course they were not responsible for the excesses which were committed by those in their employ, nor did they trouble themselves just to inquire into all the acts of their agents.

The Picayune's guide to New Orleans (1904)


Finally, however, some attention was excited by this wholesale system of legalized pillage. The privateers found it necessary to secure some safe harbor, into which they could escape from the ships of war, where they could be sheltered from the northers, and where, too, they could establish a depot for the sale and smuggling of their spoils. It was a sagacious thought which selected the little bay or cove of Grand Terre for this purpose. It was called Barataria, and several huts and store houses were built there and cannon planted on the beach. Here rallied the privateers of the gulf, with their fast-sailing schooners, armed to the teeth, and manned by fierce looking men, who wore sharp cutlasses and might be taken anywhere for pirates without offence. They were the desperate men of all nations, embracing as well those who had occupied respectable positions in the naval or merchant service who were instigated to the present pursuits by the love of gain, as those many who had figured in the bloody scenes of the buccaneers of the Spanish Main.

Besides its inaccessibility to vessels of war, the Bay of Barataria recommended itself by another important consideration; it was near to the city of New Orleans, the mart of the growing valley of the Mississippi, and from it the lakes and bayous afforded an easy water communication nearly to the banks of the Mississippi, within a short distance of the city. A regular organization of the privateers was established, officers were chosen and agents appointed in New Orleans to enlist men and negotiate the sale of goods.

#Among the most active and sagacious of these town agents, was the blacksmith, Jean Lafitte, who embarked in the lawless and more adventurous career of smuggling and privateering.

Gradually by his success, enterprise and address, he obtained such ascendancy over the lawless congregation at Baratana, that they elected him their captain or commander. There is a tradition that this choice gave great dissatisfaction to some of the more warlike of the privateers, and particularly to Gambio, a savage, grim Italian, who did not scruple to prefer the title of "Pirate," to the puling, hypocritical one of "Privateer." But it is said that Lafitte found it necessary to sustain his authority by some terrible example, and when one of Gambio's followers resisted his orders, he shot him through the heart before the whole band.

Whether this story be true or not, there can be no doubt that in the year 1813, when the association had attained its greatest prosperity, Lafitte held undisputed authority and control over it. He certainly conducted his administration with energy and ability. A large fleet of small vessels rode in the harbor, besides others that were cruising. The store houses were filled with valuable goods. Hither resorted merchants and traders from all parts of the country to purchase goods which, being cheaply obtained, could be retailed at a large profit. A number of small vessels were employed in transporting goods to New Orleans, just as oysters, fish and game are now brought.


#In the city they had many agents, who disposed of these goods. By this profitable trade, several citizens of New Orleans laid the foundation of their fortunes. But though profitable to individuals, this trade was evidently detrimental to regular and legitimate commerce, as well as to the revenue of the Federal Government. Accordingly, several efforts were made to break up the association, but the activity and influence of their city friends generally enabled them to hush up such designs.

Legal prosecutions were commenced on the 7th of April, 1813, against Jean and Pierre Lafitte, in the United States District Court for Louisiana, charging them with violating the Revenue and Neutrality Laws of the United States. Nothing is said about piracy - the gravest offence charged being simply a misdemeanor. Even these charges were not sustained, for although both the Lafittes, and many others of the Baratarians, were captured by Capt. Andrew Holmes, in an expedition down the bayou, about the time of filing these informations against them yet it appears they were released, and the prosecutions never came to trial, the warrants for their arrests being returned "not found." These abortive proceedings appear to have given encouragement and vigor to the operations of the Baratarians. Accordingly, we find on the 28th of July, 1814, the grand jury of New Orleans making the following terrible exposure of the audacity and extent of these unlawful transactions: "The grand jury feel it a duty they owe to society to state that piracy and smuggling has been so long established and so systematically pursued by many of the inhabitants of this State and particularly in this city and vicinity, that the grand jury find it difficult legally to establish facts even where the strongest presumptions are afforded. The grand jury, impressed with a belief that the evils complained of have impaired public confidence and individual credit, injured the honest fair trader, and contributed to drain our country of the specie, corrupted the morals of many poor citizens, and finally stamped disgrace on our State, deem it a duty incumbent on them, by this public presentation, again to direct the attention of the public to this serious subject, calling upon all good citizens for their most active exertions to suppress the evils, and by their pointed disapprobation of every individual who may be concerned, directly or indirectly in such practices, in some measure to remove the stain that has fallen on all classes of society in the minds of the good people of our sister States." The report concludes with a severe reproof of the executive of the State, and of the United States, for neglecting the proper measures to suppress these evil practices.

The tenor of this presentment leads to the belief that the "piracy," as used by the grand jury, was intended to include the more common offences of fitting out privateers in the United States, to operate against the ships of nations with which they were at peace, and that of smuggling, certainly the grave fathers of the city would not speak of a crime, involving murder and robbery, in such mild and measured terms, as are "calculated to impair public confidence, and injure public credit, to defraud the fair dealer, to drain the country of specie and to corrupt the morals of the people." Such language, applied to the enormous crime of piracy, would appear quite inappropriate, not to say ridiculous. It is for this, as well as other proofs, that the respectable citizens, several of whom now survive, who made this report, had in view the denunciation of the offence of smuggling into New Orleans, goods captured on the high seas, by privateers, which, no doubt, seriously interfered with legitimate trade and drew off a large amount of specie.

However, indictments for piracy were found against several of the Baratarians. Pierre Lafitte was charged as aider and abettor in these crimes before and after the fact, as one who did, "upon land, to-wit: in the city of New Orians, within the district of Louisiana, knowingly and willingly aid, assist, procure, counsel and advise the said piracies and robberies." He was arrested on these indictments. An application for bail was refused, and he was incarcerated in the calaboose, or city prison, now occupied by the Sixth District Court of New Orleans.


These transaction betokening a vigorous determination on the part of the authorities to break up the establishment at Barataria, Jean Lafitte proceeded to that place and was engaged in collecting the vessels and property of the association, with a view of departing to some more secure retreat, when an event occurred, which he thought would afford.him an opportunity of propitiating the favor of the Government, and securing for himself and his companions a pardon for their offences.


It was on the morning of the second of September, 1814, that the settlement of Barataria was aroused by the report of cannons in the direction of the gulf. Lafitte immediately ordered out a small boat, in which, rowed by several of his men, he proceeded toward the mouth of the strait. Here he perceived a brig of war lying just outside the inlet with the British colors flying at the masthead. As soon as Lafitte's boat was perceived the gig of the brig shot off from her side and approached him. In this gig were three officers, clad in naval uniform, and one in the scarlet of the British army. They bore a white signal in the bow, and the British flag in the stern of their boat. The officers proved to be Captain Lockyer, of his Majesty's navy, with a lieutenant of the same service, and Captain McWilliams, of the army. On approaching the Baratarians Captain Lockyer called out his name and style, and inquired if Mr. Lafitte was at home in the bay, as he had an important communication for him. Lafitte replied that the person they desired could be seen ashore, and invited the officers to accompany him to their settlement. They accepted the invitation, and the boats were rowed through the strait into the bay of Barataria. On their way Lafitte confessed his true name and character, whereupon Capt. Lockyer delivered to him a paper package. Lafitte enjoined upon the British officers to conceal the true object of their visit from his men, who might, if they suspected their design, attempt some violence against them. Despite these cautions, the Baratarians, on recognizing the uniform of the strangers, collected on the shore in a dauntless and threatening manner, and clamered loudly for their arrest. It required all Lafitte's art, address, and influence to calm them. Finally, however, he succeeded in conducting the British to his apartments, where they were entertained in a style of elegant hospitality which greatly surprised them.

The package directed to Mr. Lafitte was then opened and the contents read. It consisted of a proclamation addressed by Col. Edward Nichols, in the service of his Britannic Majesty, and commander of the land forces on the coast of Florida, to the inhabitants of Louisiana, dated, Headquarfers, Pensacola, 29th of August, 1814; also a letter from the same, directed to Mr. Lafitte, as the commander of Barataria; also a letter from the Honorable Sir W. H. Percy, captain of the sloop of war Hermes, and commander of the naval forces in the Gulf of Mexico, dated September 1, 1814, to Lafitte; and one from the same Captain Percy, written on the 30th of August, on the Hermes, in the Bay of Pensacola, to Captain Lockyer, of the Sophia, directing him to proceed to Barataria, and attend certain affairs there which are fully explained.

The originals of these letters may now be seen in the records of the United States District Court in New Orleans, where they were filed by Lafitte. They contained the most flattering offers to Lafitte, on the part of the British officials, if he would aid them, with his vessels and men, in their contemplated invasion of the State of Louisiana. Capt. Lockyer proceeded to enforce the offers by many plausible and cogent arguments. He stated that Lafitte, his vessels and men, would be enlisted in the honorable service of the British navy, that he would receive the rank of captain (an offer which must have brought a smile to the face of the unnautical blacksmith of St. Philip street), and the sum of thirty thousand dollars, that being a Frenchman, proscribed and persecuted by the United States, with a brother then in prison, he should unite with the English, as the English and French were now fast friends; that a splendid prospect was now open to him in the British navy, as from his knowledge of the gulf coast he could guide them in their expedition to New Orleans, which had already started; that it was the purpose of the English government to penetrate the upper country and act in concert with the forces in Canada; that everything was prepared to carry on the war with unusual vigor; that they were sure of success, expecting to find little or no opposition from the French and Spanish population of Louisiana, whose interests and manners were hostile to those of the Americans; and, finally, it was declared by Captain Lockyer to be the purpose of the British to free the slaves and arm them against the white people who resisted their authority and progress.

Lafitte, affecting an acquiescance in these propositions, begged to be permitted to go to one of the vessels lying out in the bay, to consult an old friend and associate, in whose judgment he had great confidence. Whilst he was absent, the men who had watched suspiciously the conference, many of whom were Americans, and not the less patriotic because they had a taste for privateering, proceeded to arrest the British officers, threatening to kill or deliver them up to the Americans. In the midst of this clamor and violence Lafitte returned, and immediately quieted the men by reminding them of the laws of honor and humanity, which forbade any violence to persons who came among them with a flag of truce. He assured them that their honor and rights would be sacred in his charge. He then escorted the British to their boats, and after declaring to Captain Lockyer, that he only required a few days to consider the flattering proposals, and would be ready in a certain time to deliver his final reply, took a respectful leave of his guests, keeping them in view until they were out of reach of the men on shore.

Immediately after the departure of the British, Lafitte sat down and addressed a long letter to Mr. Blanque, a member of the House of Representatives of Louisiana, which he commenced by declaring that "though proscribed in my adopted country, I will never miss an occasion of serving her or proving that she has never ceased to be dear to me." He then details the fact of Captain Lockyer's arrival in his camp, and encloses the letters to him. He then proceeds to say: "I may have evaded the payment of duties to the Customhouse, but I never ceased to be a good citizen, and all the offences I have committed have been forced upon me by certain vices in the laws." He then expresses the hope that the service he is enabled to render the authorities, by delivering the enclosed letters, "may obtain some amelioration of the situation of an unhappy brother," adding with considerable force and feeling, "our enemies have endeavored to work upon me by a motive which few men would have resisted. They represented to me, a brother in irons, a brother who is to me very dear, whose deliverer I might become, and I declined the proposal, well persuaded of his innocence. I am free from apprehension as to the issue of a trial, but he is sick, and not in a place where he can receive the assistance he requires." Through Mr. Blanque, Lafitte addressed a letter to Governor Claiborne, in which he stated very distinctly his position and desires. He says: "I offer to you to restore to this State several citizens, who, perhaps, in your eyes, have lost that sacred title; I offer you them, however, such as you could wish to find them, ready to exert their utmost efforts in defence of the country. This point of Louisiana which I occupy is of great importance in the present crisis. I tender my services to defend it, and the only reward I ask is that a stop be put to the prosecutions, against me and my adherents, by an act of oblivion for all that has been done hitherto. I am the stray sheep wishing to return to the sheepfold. If you are thoroughly acquainted with the nature of my offences, I should appear to you much less guilty, and still worthy to discharge the duties of a good citizen. I have never sailed under any flag but that of the Republic of Carthagena, and my vessels are perfectly regular in that respect. If I could have brought my lawful prizes into the ports of this State I should not have employed the illicit means that have caused me to be proscribed.

Should your answer not be favorable to my ardent desires, I declare to you that I will instantly leave the country to avoid the imputation of having cooperated toward an invasion on that point, which can not fail to take place, and to rest secure in the acquittal of my own conscience."

Upon the receipt of this letter, Governor Claiborne convoked a council of the principal officers of the army, navy and militia, then in New Orleans, to whom he submitted the letters, asking their decisions on these two questions:
1. Whether the letters were genuine?
2. Whether it was proper that the governor should have intercourse or enter into any correspondence with Mr. Lafitte and his associates?

To each of these questions a negative answer was given, Major General Villere' alone excepting, this officer (as well as the governor, who, presiding in the council, could not give his opinion), not only satisfied as to the authenticity of the letters of the British officers, but believing that the Baratarians might be emploved in a very effective manner in case of an invasion.

The only result of this council was to hasten the steps, which had been previously commenced, to fit out an expedition to Barataria to break up Lafitte's establishment. In the meantime, the two weeks asked for by Lafitte, to consider the British proposal, having expired, Captain Lockyer appeared off Grand Terre, and hovered around the inlet several days, anxiously awaiting his approach. At last, his patience being exhausted, and mistrusting the intentions of the Baratarians, he retired. It was about this time that the spirit of Lafitte was sorely tried by the intelligence that the constituted authorities, whom he had supplied with such valuable information, instead of appreciating his generous exertions in behalf of his country, were actually equipping an expedition to destroy his establishment. This was truly an ungrateful return for service which may now be justly estimated. Nor is it satisfactorily shown that mercenary motives did not mingle with those which prompted some of the parties engaged in this expedition.


The rich plunder of the "Pirates' Retreat," the valuable fleet of small coasting vessels that rode in the Bay of Barataria, the exaggerated stories of a large amount of treasure, heaped up in glittering piles in dark, mysterious caves, of chests of Spanish doubloons buried in the sand, contributed to influence the imagination and avarice of some of the individuals who were active in getting up this expedition. A naval land force was organized under Commodore Patterson and Col. Ross, which proceeded to Barataria, and, with a pompous display of military power, entered the bay. The Baratarians at first thought of resisting as with all their means, which were considerable. They collected on the beach as armed, their cannons were placed in position, and matches were lighted, when lo! to their amazement and dismay, the stars and stripes became visible through of the mist. Against the power which that banner proclaimed, they were unwilling to lift their hands. They then surrendered, a few escaping up the bayou in small boats. Lafitte, conformably to his pledge, on hearing of the expedition, and had gone to the German Coast - as it is called - above New Orleans. Commodore Patterson seized all the vessels of the Baratarians, and, filling them and his own with rich goods found on the island, returned to New Orleans laden with and spoils. The Baratarians, who were captured, were ironed and committed to the calaboose. The vessels, money and stores taken in this expedition, were claimed as lawful prizes by Commodore Patterson and Col. Ross. Out of this claim grew a protracted suit, which elicited the foregoing facts, and resulted in establishing, the innocence of Lafitte of all other offences but those of privateering, or employing persons to privateer against the commerce of Spain under the commission from the Republic of Columbia, and bringing his prizes to the United States to be disposed of, contrary to the provision of the Neutrality Act.

The charge of piracy against Lafitte, or even against the men of the association of which he was the chief, remains to this day unsupported by a single, particle of direct and positive testimony. All that was ever adduced against them, of a circumstantial or referential character, was the discovery among the goods taken at Barataria, of some jewelry, which was identified as that of a Creole lady who had sailed from New Orleans seven years before and that was never heard of afterward.

Considering the many ways in which such property might have fallen into the hands of the Baratarians, it would not be just to rest such a serious charge against them on this single fact. It is not at all improbable - though no fact of that character ever came to light - that among so many desperate persons attached to the Baratarian organization, there were not a few who would, if the temptation were presented, "scuttle a ship, or cut a throat" to advance their ends, increase their gains, or gratify a natural bloodthirstiness. But such deeds cannot be associated with the name of Jean Lafitte, save in the idle fictions by which the taste of the youth of the country is vitiated, and history outraged and perverted. That he was more of a patriot than a pirate, that he rendered services of immense benefit to his adopted country, and should be held in respect and heard, rather than defamed and calumniated, will, we think, abundantly appear in the chapter which follows.

Lafitte the Patriot. - Repudiated and prosecuted by the authorities of the State and Federal Government, Jean Lafitte did not cease to perform his duties as a citizen, and to warn the people of the approaching invasion. The people, as is often the case, were more sagacious on this occasion than their chief officials. They confided in the representation of Lafitte, and in the authenticity of the accounts forwarded by him to Gov. Claiborne. One of the first manifestations of these feelings was the convocation of the people at the City Exchange on St. Louis street. This was after the tenor of Lafitte's documents and the character of his developments had become known, to-wit: on the 16th of December, 1814. This assembly was numerous and enthusiastic. It was eloquently addressed by Edward Livingston, who, in manly and earnest tones, and with telling appeals, urged the people to organize for the defence of their city, and thus in a conspicuous manner refute the calumnies which had been circulated against their fidelity to the new republic, of which they had so recently become part and parcel, These appeals met a warm response from the people. Nor did the enthusiasm which they excited vent itself in mere applause and noisy demonstrations. They produced practical results. A committee of public safety was formed to aid the authorities in the defence of the city and supply those deficiencies which the exigency should develop in the organization of the government as well as in the character of those charged with its administration. The committee was composed of the following citizens: Edward Livingston, Pierre Fourcher, Dussau de la Croix, Benjamin Morgan, George Ogden, Dominique Bouligny, J. A. Destrehan, John Blanque and Augustin Macarte'. They were all men of note and influence.

The leading spirit of the committee was Edward Livingston, a native of New York, and once mayor of that great city. He had emigrated to New Orleans shortly after the cession and organization of the territory. Of profound learning, various attainments, great sagasity and industry, possessing a style of earnest eloquence and admirable force which even now renders the productions of his pen the most readable of the effusions of any of the public men who have figured largely in the political or professional spheres in the United States, Edward Livingston could not but be a leading man in any community.

The talents which many years afterward adorned some of the highest officers under the Federal Government, and reflected such distinction on Louisiana in the United States Senate, were eminently conspicuous and serviceable in rallying the spirits and giving confidence and harmony of action to the people of New Orleans during the eventful epoch to which the sketches relate.

He was ably supported by his associates. Destrehan was a native of France, a man of science, resolution and intelligence, though somewhat eccentric.

Benjamin Morgan was one of the first and most popular of the class of Amcrican merchants then composing a rising party in the State.

P. Fourcher was a Creole of Louisiana, of great ardor and activity in defence of his native soil.

Dussau de la Croix was a Frenchman of the ancient regime, an exile, who found in Louisiana the only sovereignty - and the only soil which he deemed worth fighting for.

A. Macarte' was a planter of spirit, patriotism and energy.

George M. Ogden was a leader of the Young America of that day, and possessed great zeal, activity and influence among the new population.

John Blanqne was an intelligent, industrious and prominent member of the State Legislature.

Dominique Bouligny represented the old Spanish and French colonists, who in turn had possessed Louisiana, his family having been one of the oldest in the State. He was a staid, solid and true man, who afterward filled a seat in the United States Senate, and held other offices of dignity and trust in the State.

Such was the composition of the committee of public safety in New Orleans. The first act of the committee was to send forth an address to the people. This document bears unmistakably the imprint of Edward Livingston's genius. It is a fervent and thrilling appeal, which produced, wherever it was read among the excitable population of Louisiana, the effect of a trumpet blast, rallying the people to the defence "of their sovereignty, their property, their lives, and the dearer existence of their wives and children."

There can be little doubt that this highly important announcement and effective address were induced by the information supplied by Lafitte. Edward Livingston, the chief in the movement, had been the confidential adviser and counsellor of Lafitte since 1811. His intercourse with that much maligned individual had dispelled all doubts as to his honorable purposes. The dale of the address being about the time of Lafitte's retirement from Barataria, and the absence of other information of the designs of the British, whose army had not then left the Chesapeake and England, all tend to the conclusion that Lafitte's representations aroused the people to take the defence of the city into their own hands. But the value of Lafitte's intelligence did not end there. Claiborne, preserving his reliance in the verity of these documents dispatched to him by Lafitte, sent copies of them to General Jackson, who was then stationed at Mobile, watching the movements of the Spanish and British at Pensacola.

The perusal of these letters, under the popular impression as to the character of the parties from whom they were obtained, drew from the stern and ardent Jackson a fiery proclamation, in which he indignantly denounced the British for their perfidity and baseness, and appealed in fervid language to all Louisianians to repel "the calumnies which that vainglorious boaster, Col. Nicholl, had proclaimed in his insidious address."

The calumnies referred to were the assertions that the Creoles were crushed and oppressed by the Yankees, and that they would be restored to their rightful dominion by the British. Here we may observe the germ of that feeling which led even Jackson into some errors, and the British into the most ridiculous delusions. It was the apprehension or doubt as to the fidelity and ardor of the French settlers and Creoles of Louisiana in the defensce of the State. Subsequent events will show, despite the grossest misrepresentations of ignorant or designing persons that in no part of the United States did there exist greater hostility to the British or more earnest determination to resist the approach to the city than among the descendants of that race which had been from time immemorial England's national if not natural enemy.

It is remarkable that while making use of the information furnished by Lafitte, General Jackson indulged in the stronest language of denunciation of the "pirates of Barataria," styling them a "hellish banditti." It would not be consistent with the acknowledged generosity and manly frankness of Jackson, as well as with subsequent events, to suppose he knew at the time this language was used how great a debt was due to the chief of that "hellish banditti" for the very information upon which his energetic measures were based. Though severe and violent against evil doers, and especially against those who were implicated in transactions having the aspect of cruelty, of lawless violence and oppression, Jackson was at the same time remarkable for the prompt magnanimity which would extend justice, protection, and even generous forbearance to all brave and sincere, but guilty and erring, men.


The magnaminity displayed by Jackson on more than one occasion would have revolted at the application of terms, "hellish banditti" to men whose leaders had, at such great sacrifice of personal advancement and interest, supplied the information of the design of the British against New Orleans, furnishing the key by which Jackson was enabled to arrange and prepare his unparalleled and glorious defence. Much more satisfactory is the conclusion that Jackson was kept in ignorance of the means by which this intelligence was obtained, and knew only the fact, that propositions had been made to the Baratarians, whom vulgar and prevalent reports, caracterized as vulgar and bloodthirsty pirates. Thus conspicuous and valuable were the services which Jean Lafitte rendered to the State of Louisiana.

The long agony was now over. The suspense and doubt which had agitated the whole country were, for the first time, dissipated. The designs of the British were laid bare. Their vast preparations were understood. The point upon which they were to throw themselves, with the powerful force which was now hurrying toward the West Indies, was clearly perceived. The deep-laid scheme of the British cabinet, by which all disasters of the war were to be redeemed in a blaze of glory, was exposed to the world. In the confidence that secrecy had preserved, the politicians of Great Britain, at home and on the continent, boldly proclaimed the conquest and occupation of New Orleans as fait accompli. "I expect at this moment," remarked Lord Castelreagh, at Paris, about the middle of December, 1814, "that most of the large seaport towns of America are by this time laid in ashes; that we are in possession of New Orleans and have command of all the rivers of the Mississippi valley and lakes, and that the Americans are but little better than prisoners in their own country."

It has been asserted by British writers that the secret of the expedition transpired through the carelessness and blundering of one of their own naval officers, who communicated the tenor of his instructions to a Jew trader whilst a portion of the fleet lay off the West Indies. This is the English story, but it is an error. Before the fleet arrived near Jamaica, Lafitte had transmitted the documents already referred to, which developed the design of the British on New Orleans and led to the measures which were set on foot for its defence.

Had Lafitte assented to the proposal of the British authorities, and permitted them to occupy his port at Barataria, giving them the use of his fleet of small vessels, they would have been able to transport their army with rapidity and ease to the Mississippi River, at a point above New Orleans. Thus having means of cutting off reinforcements and supplies from the West, the capture of the city would have been inevitable. By examining the map of Louisiana, it will be seen that there is no easier access to the city from the gulf than through the bay and bayou of Barataria, a circumstance which has induced the general government to expend so large a sum on the fortifications of Grand Terre that command the entrance of the bay.

Let the truth now be told. Time scatters the mist of prejudice and passion and patient inquiry dissipates the gaudy and ingenious web of poetry and romance. The truthful history of Jean Lafitte must ever occupy a conspicuous position among the gallant spirits of 1814. and 1815, for the brilliancy and efficiency of the services which he rendered his adopted country, whose authorities destroyed his fortunes, blasted his prospects, and handed his name down to posterity as that of a blood-thirsty corsair and outlaw. The hero of numerous fictions, written to inflame youthful imaginations and satisfy a morbid appetite for scenes of blood, of murder, of reckless daring and lawless outrage. A name which he had, by such honorable self-abnegation, hoped to redeem from all dishonor and connect with conspicuous and patriotic services, became the favorite nom de guerre of every desperate adventurer and roving corsair of the gulf.

Less cruel was that terrific Norther, which, a few years after the years we have described, when misfortune had crushed his spirit, bowed his manly form, dimmed the lustre of his eye that once possessed such power to threaten or command, and sprinkled with premature snows those raven locks that once gave so much effect to his handsome face-more merciful indeed was that relentless hurricane which, sweeping over the gulf in the fall of 1817, struck the little schooner, laden with all that remained of the once princely fortune of Jean Lafitte, which he was bearing to some distant land, where the odious epithet of pirate would not follow him-where he might end his days in peace and contentment. Amid the shrieks of the storm-birds, the roar of the elements, the crash of thunder, and the screams for mercy of erring men, Jean Lafitte with all his worldly goods, found in a watery tomb that oblivion and rest which was denied to him in this life. Peace to his soul! justice to his memory!

#Barataria, once so busy a scene, where roystering freebooters held their noisy wassails, where sharp-eyed peddlers were wont to gather as to a fair to purchase great bargains from traders, more skilful in handling a pike and cutlass than in higgling over silks and jewelry; and where not infrequently might be seen some of the chief men of New Orleans, who, from the profit of their transactions with the unsophisticated but very successful privateers, became millionaires in full time to repent of their irregularities, and established for themselves high reputations as punctilious merchants and law-abiding citizens where floated a gallant little fleet of fast sailors, trim, arrow-like crafts, armed to the teeth; where, on the low coast, quite a formidable battery of cannon stood ready to defend the valuable stores and dispute the passage through the narrow strait by which New Orleans could be reached in the shortest distance from the Gulf of Mexico, the scene of all this life, jollity and lawless adventure, is now one of the most solitary, dreary and desolate along the whole low, flat coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Barataria, no longer a doubtfully disputed territory, has long since passed from the possession of the freebooters into that of the Republic of the United States, which now proclaims and enforces its title by a powerful fortification that completely commands the bay, from whose ramparts the eye, following the widening strait, can discern the quiet little cove, now restored to its original desolation and solitude, and the dreary, storm-beaten shore, where a few dark mounds and crumbling heaps afford the only vestiges of the brief but brilliant reign of Jean Lafitte, the blacksmith of St. Philip street, New Orleans, miscalled the Pirate of the Gulf of Mexico.

[This was taken from writings, Walker's History by William Henry Perrin for his book, Southwest Louisiana Historical and Biographical. Pub. 1891.]