Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library
Jean Lafitte: Gentleman Pirate of New Orleans
|In the nineteenth century Jean Lafitte was referred to as the Gentleman Pirate of New Orleans. Though he sailed the seas capturing ships and stealing riches, he was known for his suave demeanor and charming ways with the ladies. Several young women wished that had a chance at dating the alluring buccaneer. Jean Lafitte was an adventurous spirit who was as famous for his gentlemanly nature as for his pirate’s deeds.According to eighteenth century records, Jean Lafittewas born in August of 1782 in the French city of Bordeaux. He lived with his mother Guillemette and father Antoine, who earned his living making ropes. Jean Lafitte also had two brothers, Pierre and Alexander. The details of Jean Lafitte’s childhood are spotty, but early on he exhibited a strong desire to leave the safety of his home for the sea in search of riches and new experiences.Jean Lafitte’s life on the sea began
when he took a position as a chief mate on a ship headed for Madras. While aboard, Lafitte rebelled against being under the control of the ship’s captain. One particular heated argument between them prompted Lafitte to desert the ship at the next port. Lafitte’s decision to leave the ship turned out to be the first step in his path to becoming one of the most infamous pirates of all time. Soon after arriving on land Lafitte obtained his own ship, equipped it, and set sail with a crew. He captured and robbed ships travelling from all different countries. Before long, his stash of gold, silver, and other treasures allowed him to buy a sturdy, new ship. Lafitte sailed his new possession, La Confiance, out onto the seas with a crew of two hundred and fifty men in search of more treasure.Throughout history, much has been made of Jean Lafitte’s reputation as a charmer. This dark-eyed Frenchman who led a pirate’s life on the sea has been characterized in historical documents as elegant and suave. He dressed in elaborate suits of richly colored fabrics and practiced manners that were similar to an aristocrat’s. All of these traits made him very appealing to the women he encountered. He regularly attended the fancy dress balls held in New Orleans, dancing right alongside the upper classes. Also, Lafitte was notorious for housing his mistresses in beautifully decorated apartments at various locations around the city. One of his well-known mistresses named Catherine Villars reportedly had a child with Jean Lafitte. The child shared the name of one of Jean’s brother’s, Pierre. Among Lafitte’s other known children was a daughter
named Denise.History has forever connected Jean Lafitte and the Battle of New Orleans. He is said to have warned the Governor of New Orleans of the British troops’ intention to attack the city. Andrew Jackson paid heed to this warning and the Americans were victorious in the battle. President Madison later awarded Lafitte a pardon from his pirate’s crimes as a result.As time went by and despite his official pardon, Lafitte returned to a
pirate’s life. The story of Jean Lafitte ended with as much mystery as
it began. In fact, there are several theories as to how and when he died. One theory is that he died of disease on an island in the year 1826. Another account claims that he died in battle on a ship in 1823. A third theory is that Lafitte lived into his seventies and died at home in St. Louis. It’s unlikely that the truth of his death will ever be uncovered.
The life of Jean Lafitte was one full of adventure. It’s certain that this