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Jean Laffite was born in Bayonne, France, in either 1780 or 1781, the son of a French father and a Spanish mother, and younger brother of Pierre Laffite. The family immigrated to the island of Española, then fled during the turmoil of rebellion. The brothers reached New Orleans sometime around 1804.
Between 1810 and 1814, Jean Laffite was the leader of a colony of pirates and smugglers located on the Baratarian Coast south of New Orleans. Holding privateer commissions from the republic of Carthagena, the pirates preyed on Spanish commerce, disposing of their plunder through merchant connections in New Orleans. All efforts to dislodge them were in vain, including an attempt by Commodore Patterson of the U.S. Navy, who, in June 1814, captured their ships, but failed to destroy their business or power.
In September 1814, during the War of 1812, the British, attempting to gain a foothold in the Lower Mississippi Valley, offered Laffite £30,000 and a commission in the Royal Navy for his co-operation in the taking of New Orleans. Laffite, however, sent the British papers to the American authorities, along with an offer to aid the Americans, provided the United States would pardon him and his men for their acts of piracy and smuggling. General Andrew Jackson, badly in need of men, accepted Laffite's offer. The pirates, in charge of the artillery, distinguished themselves during the subsequent Battle of New Orleans, on January 8, 1815. A month later, President James Madison upheld the United States's part of the deal and pardoned Laffite and his men for all past crimes.
Laffite and his men soon returned to piracy, however. In 1817, Laffite and about a thousand followers occupied the island site of the future city of Galveston, Texas, from which they conducted raids on shipping and coastal ports in the gulf. These raids occasionally brought him into conflict with the American authorities, but Laffite's hospitality and gentlemanly manners always managed to keep him out of serious trouble with the American government. Laffite abandoned Galveston in May 1820 and moved his base to Mugeres Island, off the Yucatán Peninsula. Laffite contined his illegal activities until around 1825, when, terminally ill, he reportedly went to the mainland to die; the exact date and circumstances of his death are unknown.
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This page was last updated on July 14, 2017.