I bought a fishing camp in Barataria less than a year ago. If I told my friends that the famous privateer Jean Lafitte was buried close by, how accurate would I be? How about if I told them I live close to the center of his smuggling operations?
Donald H. Espenan
I have no idea how gullible your friends are, but if you could manage a straight face, I guess you could tell them anything about Jean Lafitte and they'd believe you. There are so many stories surrounding this legendary man, and some of them are true.
If you told your friends that you lived near his smuggling operations, you could be sure that your nose would not grow. However, if you told them that Jean Lafitte is buried in Barataria, then you must know something no one else does.
Jean Lafitte, born in the early 1780s, was a pirate, a privateer and a smuggler, but he always insisted that if he had committed any crime at all, the only one was smuggling. The men who worked for him were called Baratarians because the various waterways they used were located in Barataria. Their headquarters was on Grand Terre, an island in the Gulf of Mexico near Grand Isle.
Lafitte and his Baratarians built warehouses and slave pens in Barataria, and Lafitte may have had as many as a thousand people working for him. He held slave auctions, which were attended by merchants and planters, outside of New Orleans to avoid the law. And because he knew the swamps, he usually avoided capture.
The privateer became a hero after he allegedly 'assisted" Gen. Andrew Jackson in defeating the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. He had been approached by British military officials to work for them, but decided to offer help to the Americans in exchange for a pardon for his men. President James Madison was grateful and did offer pardons to the Baratarians for crimes against the United States. Many of these men returned to Barataria or settled in New Orleans where their descendents are today.
Lafitte, however, did not reform but returned to smuggling. Galveston Island was the base of his operations for a while, until the U. S. Navy forced him out in 1820. His whereabouts after that are shrouded in mystery.
One amazing story about Lafitte is that he gave up smuggling, became an anti-slavery activist and wrote a memoir: The Journal of Jean Lafitte. The journal appeared in the 1950s in the possession of a man who claimed to be a descendent of the famous pirate. He also claimed that Lafitte was buried in Alton, Ill.
According to another story, the famous pirate is buried in Lafitte, La. Appearing in a local newspaper in the 1920s, the elaborate story involved John Paul Jones, Napoleon Bonaparte and Jean Lafitte, and suggested that all three men were buried there.
While the burial sites of Jones and Napoleon are known, no one knows where the old smuggler's bones lie.
If you want to entertain and impress your friends with more facts about Lafitte, you might want to pick up The Pirates Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf by William C. Davis (Harcourt Inc., 2005), which The New York Times called 'meticulously researched" and The Washington Post declared 'the last word ... on the Laffites."
When I was younger, we used to go to the Warehouse on Tchoupitoulas Street for concerts. Do you have any idea how it came to be a concert venue and where it was located?
The concert venue, which officially was called A Warehouse, opened its doors on Jan. 30, 1970. It was built in the 1850s as a warehouse for cotton and coffee.
Located at 1820 Tchoupitoulas St., A Warehouse became the place to go for some of the greatest concerts held in this city. Rock music was growing in popularity, and clubs often were too small to accommodate the crowds. But A Warehouse could hold about 3,500 fans, even if we sometimes couldn't sit down and always had to do without air-conditioning. The last concert was on Sept. 10, 1982, and the building itself was demolished in 1989.