Barataria and Privateering

Map of Barataria


Map showing location of Barataria Bay and Grande Terre and Cat island

For a larger image, click here .

A 1813 map of Grand Isle and Grand Terre

 For a larger image, click here .

Piracy was largely on the wan in the Caribbean and the Gulf by 1800, but the

Napoleonic Wars made ships tempting targets for privateers operating under government

issued letters of marque. Often the privateers were made up of groups of investors who made

a large cash bond as a guarantee that they would observe to rules of war.


Jean Lafitte was estimated to have captured

some 100 ships in his career as a privateer


Privateers had to bring their prizes into ports of a commissioning nation or a friendly

nation, where a court of admiralty would decide if the prize was legally taken .During this time

English and French privateers preyed on each other and both preyed upon the Spanish, which

switched alliances many times during this period .



Those who attacked shipping without a letter of marque

were hung as pirates


Most of the privateers in the Gulf received their letters of marque from the French colonies

of Martinique and Guadalupe. After the British captured these in 1806, they could be gotten

from the newly independent country of Gran Colombia. Grand Terre became a sort of depot

where the privateers could dispose of their goods and agents were appointed in New Orleans

for the sale of the captured goods  . The importation of slaves had been banned in America in

1808, but the invention of the cotton gin led to a huge demand for cotton and slaves to work the fields.

Slaves taken from Spanish slave ships bound for the colonies of New Spain became a sort of black

gold to the privateers who would smuggle them into America after capturing Spanish ships . Over

400 Baratarians lived on Grand Terre during its heyday under Lafitte. Grand Terre had a deep

harbor,unlike nearby larger Grand Isle. After a ship was captured by Lafitte's privateers its goods

were bought to the island and then went one of two ways to New Orleans.They could go east by

pirogue up Bayou Lafourche all the way to the Mississippi then down stream to New Orleans.Or they

could go north into Barataria Bay then into the waterways that weave toward the west bank of the river

south of New Orleans


A quadroon

When Lafitte was flush with cash, he had many kept ladies in apartments in New Orleans.

He preferred the company of quadroons ( someone of one-quarter black ancestry ), Lafitte is

known to have had at least one illegitimate child, named Pierre, with the quadroon Catherine

Villars.He is said to of had a daughter, Denise and two sons, Lucien and Antoine, from a

marriage with Christina Levine, who died after giving birth to Denise in 1804.


Painting of a pirate sentry on his pirogue, 1911 by Frank Schoonover (1877-1972)


Often privateered goods were moved from

Grande Terre to New Orleans through the maze of bayous on pirogues.


In this period, Barataria came to mean all the lakes, swamps and bays south of New Orleans

and the Gulf of Mexico, including Grand Isle and Grande Terre. This area lends itself to piracy

and smuggling with its myriad bayous leading to New Orleans as it is impossible to patrol them all .


smuggling routes of Lafitte and the Baratarians

 For a larger image, click here .

Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith shop ( a front for smuggling ) , now a bar

Of the two brothers, Jean was the most familiar with the naval aspects of their enterprise, while

Pierre was more often involved with the commercial aspects. Pierre lived in New Orleans or at least

maintained his household there (with his mulatto lover who bore him a very large family). Jean

spent the majority of his time in Barataria managing the daily hands-on business of outfitting

privateers and arranging the smuggling of stolen goods. The most prized "good" was invariably

slaves, especially after the outlawing of the slave trade in the United States.


Gov Claiborne


The American governor of Louisiana,Gov Claiborne, angered by the privateer's disregard for custom

laws, ordered an attack on Grand Terre . The Gov also offered a reward of $300 for the capture of

Lafitte, to which Lafitte responded by printing handbills offering a larger reward of $1,000 for the

capture of the Gov  if he were delivered to the Lafitte's new base of operations on Cat Island.  At the

bottom of the handbill, it was written that this was only in jest

Fort Livingston was constructed near the site of Lafitte's base on Grand Terre starting in 1841.

A 1915 hurricane removed the south face of the fort. Grand Terre is expected to disappear by

2050 without intervention. After 1878, the sole resident of Grand Terre was the famous New

Orleans duelist Pepe Llulla, who retired there.



The Battle of New Orleans

The Battle of New Orleans