When it comes to pirates, I’m most definitely going to talk about Louisiana’s own, Jean Lafitte! Jean, of course, was known for his piracy in and around the Gulf of Mexico but I bet you didn’t know that he was also known to have been a hero during the battle of New Orleans. Yeah, he had his good moments, and then of course there were those other moments. In fact, on 3 separate occasions, U.S. Presidents Condemned then exonerated his actions. Jean liked to keep them guessing right!?
Well, in 1804 Louisiana became United States territory, Jean and his brother Pierre bought into a warehouse where they would dispense the goods that they smuggled into port. When the government passed the embargo act, the brothers moved their business to an island in Barataria bay. Laffitte was such an entrepreneur and a diplomat the he had been able to take an entire island full of shiftless seafarers and fisherman and turn them into an organized group of buccaneers, smugglers and wholesalers. By 1810 their port was a huge success. The two of them continued smuggling and Jean began his career as a pirate, it wasn’t long after, when Captain Lafitte had acquired his own fleet.
During this time, while the embargo was still active, things got tough, especially for the southern states. Lafitte’s beloved Louisiana, and it’s people, were suffering, so he put his fleet to work. From the ships that he plundered off of the Caribbean coast and the Atlantic, he and his crews were able to keep clothes and commodities flowing to the people of Louisiana. As a result, Lafitte became a hero to both the rich and the poor alike, even authorities in high positions were turning a blind eye to his more questionable accomplishments.
Jean saw himself as a patriot, he respected the American constitution and never once attacked an American vessel. But not everyone saw him in the same light. Despite Lafitte’s shifty methods, his endless supplies of clothes, spices, furniture and other necessities which helped Louisiana survive and thrive, In 1814 things began to go bad for him. There was a new Governor by the name of WC Claiborne. Claiborne decided of his own accord that Lafitte should no longer be accepted in their society. Claiborne saw to it that he was constantly harassed and that his home island in Barataria Bay was destroyed, but he didn’t stop there, eventually Claiborne has Lafitte thrown in jail.
Well he didn’t stay there long, With the war of 1812 well underway, President Andrew Jackson needed more boats and men, he needed Lafitte’s fleets. So Lafitte was released from jail and set out to protect New Orleans and the Mississippi river from the British. When the war was lost, Lafitte sailed away from Louisiana for the last time, he was proud that he had fought to defend her however he was heartbroken, he was no longer wanted or trusted in the place that he loved and called home.
Now days there are many witnesses that have seen Lafitte making a proud return to the Gulf of Mexico. Workers on oil platforms, which litter the Gulf, have reported the billow of his sails on the horizon just before sunset, he’s always headed east. Crews on offshore supply vessels have heard the flapping of sail riggings and the cry of phantom voices calling out commands to a ghostly crew in the Creole patois once spoken in Barataria. These same supply vessels have felt the passing of an entire ghostly fleet, that is unseen, but produces visible white foam where their bows break the waves. Once they have finished passing, they leave a tremendous wake in the darkened waters.
One three-man crew on a charter fishing boat, anchored off 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. The apparition glared at them as if sending a warning, then looked away toward the Louisiana coast before suddenly disappearing.
Folks in my neck of the woods, we believe that when Lafitte’s fleet is spotted in the Gulf it’s an omen that something wicked is about to befall the Louisiana coastline. In fact, Lafitte and his fleet were spotted in the Gulf just before Hurricane Katrina ravaged the state. This photo was sent to me by an avid listener that just happens to be a pilot that flies over the Gulf of Mexico often. It was taken recently. The pilot, John Bering says that after 20 years of flying across the Gulf, this was the first time he had ever seen a square rigged ship. Could this be Lafitte, and is it a warning that ill tides are coming?
On shore, Lafitte is seen in the Blacksmith shop in the French Quarter that Pierre owned. Many nights were spent here planning raids and designing new weaponry for his ships. Today the Blacksmith shop is a popular bar, and Jean is still spotted there frequently. He keeps a low profile, always sitting at a rear table while holding a brandy in his hand, the smell of cigar smoke accompanying his rather vivid apparition.