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Jean Lafitte

LAFITTE, Jean, adventurer, born in France about 1780; died in Yucatan in 1826. He arrived in New Orleans about 1809 with his elder brother Pierre. They were men of limited education, but of attractive manners and enterprising characters. For some time they carried on a black-smith-shop with slave labor. Then engaging in the smuggling traffic with the corsairs of the coast, they became the leaders of the band, in consequence of which they were outlawed. Some of these buccaneers had received letters of marque from the French republic, and, after the close of the France-Spanish war, from the republic of Cartagena, giving them authority to seize Spanish vessels. They are said to have seized merchantmen of all nations, not excepting the United States, into whose territory they brought their prizes, yet this charge has never been proved. Citizens of Louisiana carried on a contraband trade in captured goods and slaves with these pirates, who smuggled the wares into the city through the Barataria lakes and Bayou Lafourche, or through Bayou Teche, or sold them at auction to persons who went to Barataria to purchase the captured cargoes. The principal establishment of the privateers was on the island of Grand Terre, in front of the pass of Barataria. Governor Claiborne issued a proclamation against the buccaneers on 15 March, 1812. Several expeditions were undertaken against them, but the outlaws were forewarned by their friends, and escaped to some other part of the coast. On 24 November, 1813, after a revenue officer had been fired upon, Governor Claiborne issued a second proclamation, offering a reward of $500 for the capture of Jean Lafitte. In January, 1814, the Lafittes offered for sale a consignment of 415 negroes: An inspector of revenue that was sent to their settlement was killed, and the collector urged Governor Claiborne to drive the contra-bandists out of Louisiana. He laid the matter before the legislature, but nothing was done, and Lafitte continued to send his goods to Donaldsonville and other points on the river, under the guard of bodies of armed men. An indictment was then presented against the Lafittes in the United States court. John R. Grymes, who resigned the United States district attorneyship in order to defend them, and his associate, Edward Livingston, procured the cessation of the proceedings When the British planned their descent upon New Orleans they expected the buccaneers to join them. Pierre Lafitte had recently been made a prisoner by the United States authorities, and was confined in the jail of New Orleans. Captain Lockyer, of the royal navy, arrived at Lafitte's headquarters on 3 September, 1814, and delivered a letter from Colonel Nichols, offering him a captain's commission in the British naval service and $30,000, and to his followers immunity from punishment for past actions, the indemnification of any losses, and rewards in money and lands. In an accompanying document the inhabitants of Barataria were threatened with extermination in case they rejected these proposals. Captain Lockyer and the other British officers that landed in Barataria were seized by the buccaneers, who purposed sending them to New Orleans as prisoners of war, but Lafitte dissuaded his subordinates from this course, and pretended to treat with Lockyer in order to learn the details of the projected expedition. He told Lockyer to return in ten days for a final answer, and after the British officers had departed wrote to a member of the legislature an account of what had happened, and forwarded the papers that contained the offers to himself. Governor Claiborne called a council of officers of the army, militia, and navy, and submitted the intelligence that he had received from Lafitte, who had sent a second letter on 7 September, inclosing information from Havana of the intended operations of the enemy, and offering the services of himself and his followers on the condition of an act of oblivion for their past offences Pierre had meanwhile escaped from jail, and approved his brother's course. Preparations were in progress for an expedition to Barataria to break up the organization and destroy the privateers. The majority of the officers who were called in council were of the opinion that the documents that had been sent by Jean Lafitte were forgeries, and that his story was a fabrication intended to prevent the destruction of his outlawed colony. General Jacquez Villere alone dissented. Governor Claiborne also believed in the sincerity of Lafitte, but acquiesced in the decision of the officers. The expedition was organized under the command of Commander Daniel T. Patterson, of the United States navy, and Colonel George T. Ross, of the army. Lafitte supposed that the preparations were against the British. The naval and military forces made a sudden descent on Barataria, and broke up the establishment completely, capturing many, and carrying off to New Orleans most of their vessels and a rich booty, which was claimed as a lawful prize. Among those who escaped were Jean and Pierre Lafitte, who found aid and shelter on the banks of the Mississippi. They collected their adherents again at Last island, near the mouth of Bayou Lafourche. When General Andrew Jackson came to take command at New Orleans he issued a proclamation declaring that he called not upon "either pirates or robbers to join him in the glorious cause"; yet, when Lafitte repeated his offer of military service, Jackson, after an interview, accepted the much-needed addition to his force, and from that time confided in the men whom he had denounced as "hellish banditti." A part were sent to man the redoubts on the river, and the rest formed a corps, and served the batteries at New Orleans with great skill. President Madison issued a proclamation declaring a full pardon for privateering and smuggling prior to 8 January, 1815. Soon after the war both the Lafittes left New Orleans. One of the Lafittes settled in Galveston, Texas, in 1816, but in 1820 was expelled by the American authorities. After embarking his treasure and followers on board his six vessels, he burnt his establishments, and on 12 May, 1820, left the bay of Galveston for the coast of Yucatan, where he continued for some time his depredations against Spanish commerce, and died in 1826 either in Cozumel or Isla de Muacres. Lafitte's adventures form the subject of Joseph H. Ingraham's romance of "The Pirate of the Gulf," and of other similar works. See a" Historical Sketch of Pierre and Jean Lafitte," by Charles Gayarre, in "Magazine of American History," October and November, 1883; the same author's "History of Louisiana"; and James Par-ton's "Life of Jackson."

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