Jean Lafitte: Pirate, Gentleman, or Privateer?

Topics: Piracy, Jean Lafitte, New Orleans Pages: 6 (2062 words) Published: January 19, 2006
The dictionary defines a gentleman as "a man who combines gentle birth or rank with chivalrous qualities (2): a man whose conduct conforms to a high standard of propriety or correct behavior d (1): a man of independent means who does not engage in any occupation or profession for gain."4 Nowhere in the historical references does it support a birth of nobility for the "gentleman". The Merriams-Webster dictionary defines a pirate as "an act of robbery on the high seas; also: an act resembling such robber; robbery on the high seas."4 The dictionary describes a privateer as "an armed private ship licensed to attack enemy shipping; also: a sailor on such a ship." The name Jean Lafitte carries mixed emotions and mixed reactions from people. Some people have gone as far to describe him as "The Terror of The Gulf", others now him as "The Hero of New Orleans". He was an entrepreneur and an astute diplomat, but also known as a pirate. On several occasions, U.S. presidents have condemned, exonerated, and again condemned his actions. He is known for his piracy in the Gulf of Mexico, and applauded for his heroism in the Battle of New Orleans. Lafitte reportedly did not like being called a pirate. He preferred to be called a privateer serving an economic purpose. Where and when Jean (and Pierre) Lafitte was born, as well as many other personal facts, continue to remain a mystery almost 200 years later. The Lafitte society claims he was born "Jean Lafitte of Bordeaux, France on August 15, 1782."3 Others say he was born in Boyonne, France, most likely around 1780 or in St. Maloes, France. Even that piece of information is debatable. He had one and maybe two brothers depending on which history book you choose to read. The one documented is Pierre Lafitte who was about four years older than Jean. Pierre and Jean had many similarities in lifestyle and taste as they both pursued rather piratical methods. They held shares in many privateers that sailed the Gulf and the Caribbean. As virtually the same breathe as pirate is spoken, Lafitte is described as the man who single handedly saved New Orleans. His morals, though vague, stood strong with him. He never attacked an American ship. Although he seemed a man without allegiance to one country, he respected the American constitution and hoped to model his own "kingdom by the sea" in the same light. These hardly seem like the ideas of a pirate. On the other hand, some of Lafitte's actions put him in a category with pirates. It seemed that every action pursued by this money hungry scourge benefited only himself, no matter who he helped in the process. Jean Lafitte is in most historians' minds more a pirate, rather than a privateer.

Jean Lafitte set out to sea at the early age of thirteen. He was first part of several voyages in European waters and off the coast of Africa. Soon after, he was appointed mate of a French East Indiaman bound for Madras. Not long after a close call off the Cape of Good Hope, Lafitte had a disagreement with the captain and refused to sail. He gained a spot on a fleet owned by privateers and soon became captain of one of the ships. Only after robbing an English ship, as well as a few ships of other nations, was he dubbed a pirate. He soon lived up to the name.

After taking command of a large English Schooner, he proceeded to cruise along the coast of Bengal where he found the Pagoda, a ship belonging to the English East India Company, armed with twenty six, twelve pound guns and manned with one hundred and fifty men. Expecting that the enemy would take him for a pilot of the Ganges, he maneuvered accordingly. The Pagoda manifested no suspicions, whereupon he suddenly darted with his brave followers upon her decks, overturning all who opposed them and speedily took the ship. 1

Before word of this scattered the globe, Lafitte would conjure another miraculous seizure. In this event, a...

Block, WT. The Legacy of Jean Lafitte in Southwest Louisiana. New York Herald, Reprinted from "Story of Lafitte," Galveston Daily News, April 28, 1895 Meriam Websters Dictionary Online
Kent, Joshua. The Historical Treasure of Jean Lafitte. Baton Rougue, Louisiana Geographic Information center
Warren, Harris Gaylord. The Handbook of Texas Online, December 4, 2002
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