The Battle of New Orleans

 For more information on the battle, see BattleofNewOrleans.org

During the battle, Jean Lafitte was on the west bank of the Mississippi, while the main battle

raged on the east bank. He arrived at the battlefield on Jan 8th just after the battle had ended,

amazed at the sight of the British defeat. Jackson sent Lafitte back across the river with a

message to Gen. Morgan as a guide. The British, however, withdrew from the west bank after

the defeat on the east bank. Lafitte was toasted as a hero after the battle. His service to America

didn't keep the government from keeping the ships and booty seized from his base on Grand Terre.

 

Late in November 1814, a large British expeditionary force  of 18,000 sailed from Jamaica under

Sir Edward Pakenham, a hero of the Peninsular war.  A complete civil governmental staff, with

printing presses, were with them as well, to rule over 'the Crown Colony of Louisiana.' The British

troops were composed of veterans from  the war with Napoleon and the invasion of Washington and

considered the best in the world. The British, expected to sweep aside the meager American force,

seize the 'Beauty and Booty' of the rich trading port of New Orleans and with the Mississippi in

their hands, separate the western states from the rest of the Union .

 

 

Miracle on the Mississippi: The Battle of New Orleans

 

The British expected the French and Spanish settlers and the large slave population of the sugar

cane and cotton plantations, which the planned to free, would aid them in their conquest. If the British

were able to take New Orleans they would be in a much stronger bargaining position at the ongoing

 peace talks, which had started at Ghent, Belgium  on August 8, 1814. The British were making objections

at the negotiations to drag the process out, counting on a victory at New Orleans .A British victory might

even tip the New England states into succeeding, perhaps even ending the American 'experiment' and

bring the colonies back into the English fold.

 

 

Jean Lafitte(l), Pierre Lafitte(center) and Dominique You.

Painted in 1812 Attributed to John Wesley Jarvis

 

 

 

 

In New Orleans there was general knowledge of the coming attack, but no positive evidence

till Jean Laffite sent his a warning to Governor Claiborne, which he had sent after the British

attempted to bribe him into aiding the British cause with 30,000 British pounds and a commission

in the British navy on Sept 3, 1814 by Captain Nicholas Lockyer and a Captain McWilliams. In

response to the British offer he requested 15 days to sound out his men on the matter, but really

to buy time to warn the Americans. Why did Laffite chose to aid the Americans ? Possibly a

combination a reasons, hatred for the English and their war with Napoleon and a belief that it was

better to be a privateer under American rule with its weaker rule, than British, with the strongest

navy in the world. According to others he was inspired by American democracy and owed a debt to

Americans, who rescued him as a child. The knowledge Laffite had of the bayous leading into

New Orleans from Barataria bay and his being the leader or bos of the Baratarian privateers and

smugglers on Grand Terre island and made him an import player to the British and Americans.

The Laffite's also had well trained gun crews and large stores of flints, gunpowder and other supplies .

 

Letter from Colonel Nicholls to Lafitte

From Historical memoir of the war in West Florida

and Louisiana in 1814-15

Latour

 

Lafitte's reply to the British, stalling for time

From Historical memoir of the war in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-15 Latour

 

Many in the legislature, considered the letter of the British to be a ruse by Lafitte, to try to win the

release of his brother, who was in jail in New Orleans. When it was found to be true, his brother was

released, no doubt with a bribe. Many were aware that Lafitte had arms, cannon shot and flints stashed

away, perhaps fearing a battle with the Spanish. The accuracy of the Laffite's gun crews were well

known and Livingston and others called upon Jackson to take advantage of these resources against

the large British invasion force. Still, Jackson hesitated. Legally, Jackson felt he could not, as the U.S

. governments warrant for his arrest was still in effect.

 

Lafitte's reply to the British, stalling for time

From Historical memoir of the war in West Florida

and Louisiana in 1814-15

Latour

 

Jean Lafitte's letter to Jean Blanque, who served in the state legislature, to

ask him to contact Claiborne and show him the British letter

From Historical memoir of the war in

West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-15

Latour

 

Jackson was suspicious of Lafitte, and regarded him as a criminal as can be seen in part of a

 proclamation of Sept 21, 1814. It took convincing by Livingston to convince him otherwise. When

Jackson meet Laffite, he was impressed.

 

From Historical memoir of the war in

West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-15 Latour

 

Despite the bribe and the Americans holding his brother  Pierre in jail for smuggling and expecting

an American attack on his base and small fort on Grande Terre,  Laffite sent a warning to New Orleans

 with his fastest courier, who could arrive in a day. He sent a copy of the British offer and a plea

for the release of his brother and a stop to the 'persecution' of his privateers and even volunteered

himself, his men and supplies for the defense of New Orleans to Jean Blanque, who gave it to Gov

Claiborne. Pierre Lafitte then 'escaped' from prison and returned to Grande Terre with the messenger . 

 

Gov Claiborne held a meeting with the leaders of the defense of New Orleans: Major-General

Jacques Villere of the Louisiana militia, Commodore Daniel T. Patterson of the U.S. Navy, Colonel

George T. Ross of the 44th Infantry and Pierre Dubourg of the U.S. Customs . Patterson, Ross and

Dubourg thought the letters were a ruse to evade the planned attack on Grand Terre. Villere thought

the letters were authentic and that Lafitte's men should be employed for the defense of New Orleans .

Patterson said he was under orders to attack the Lafitte base . The Gov also thought the letters were

real, but reluctantly agreed to Patterson's planned attack. The planned assault on the Lafitte base

on Grande Terre by the United States, went on as planned. Jean was made aware of the upcoming

attack on Sept 15, and urged his men to submit to the authorities when they arrived. He argued that

the men would get their ships and goods back from the Americans, in return for attacking the British.

Jean left Grande Terre that night , going to hide out among the plantations of friends on the

Mississippi above New Orleans .Ironically, the Carolina was to play a decisive role in the Battle

of New Orleans, and would not have been there except for the attack on Grande Terre.

 

.On Sept 11, 1814, The Carolina, a schooner with 14 guns under command of Commodore Daniel

Patterson and six gunboats left New Orleans, sailed down the Mississippi River and attacked Grande

Terre on Sept 16. Lafitte's men, not knowing if the attacking fleet was British or American, took battle

stations. Lafitte's men, not knowing if the attacking fleet was British or American, took battle stations

.The Carolina raised a flag offering pardon for deserters. The Baratarians abandoned their vessels .The

Americans seized 8 ships, 20 canons and an estimated $500,000 worth of goods and captured 80

Baratarians . Most of the 500 or so Baratarians escaped.The seized goods never were returned, and

became part of a protracted suit by Lafitte against the U.S. for its return. Despite going to

Washington and writing to President Madison, the goods were never returned nor any compensation

given, causing Lafitte much bitterness years later. .Most of the 500 or so Baratarians escaped. Ironically,

the Carolina was to play a decisive role in the Battle of New Orleans, and would not have been there

except for the attack on Grande Terre.

 

After two weeks, a British brig-of-war appeared off Barataria Pass awaiting Jean's reply to the British

offer . No ship from Lafitte came to meet it and it sailed off, no doubt cursing the Lafitte's and the time

they had wasted .Now the British knew they could not count on Lafitte .

 

 

Andrew Jackson at this time was placed in command of the Seventh Military District, and was in

Mobile,  .Alabama fighting the Creek Indians .On the same day as the Grande Terre attack, Edward

Livingston, a former mayor of New York who had fled to New Orleans to escape legal trouble, organized

a committee of defense .Jackson arrived in New Orleans on Nov 30, 1814 , severely weakened by

dysentery. Despite this, his presence inspired the inhabitants of New Orleans .

 

Preventing access to the New Orleans by the British fleet was flotilla of five American gunboats with 182

men , commanded by Thomas ap Catesby Jones. these were the same gunboats that had attacked

Grande Terre. A calm left the gunboats open to attack by the British  in 45 rowboats, carrying 980 marines

and sailors.On December 14, British sailors in rowing boats, each boat armed with a small cannon,

captured the vastly outnumbered American gunboats in a brief but violent battle.The Americans

had 6 killed and the British 98.

 

Lafitte meeting Gov Claiborne and Gen Jackson

 

Jackson, who needed every man, still would not release the men captured at Grande Terre or take up

Lafitte on his offer .After the defeat of the gunboats, Claiborne meet with Jackson and changed his

mind .Claiborne issued a proclamation on Dec 17, offering amnesty to all Baratarians if they joined

the fight against the British.  Jean Laffite returned to New Orleans, and arranged a meeting with Jackson

through Edward Livingston at the general's headquarters at 106 Royal Street. Jackson, it was reported by the

sophistication of Lafitte and found him not to be the 'hellish banditti' he imagined .Jean Laffite was

sent to Barataria on Dec 22nd to watch for any invasion from the Barataria Bay route and did not see

action in the battle of Jan 8.Pierre Laffite remained at Jackson's HQ to provide his knowledge of the

land around New Orleans . Dominique You organized his Baratarians into three artillery units.

 

Lafitte seemed to sincerely patriotic in his help for the American cause and furnished Jackson's small

army of 2,000 men, who faced 10,000 British veterans with 366 cannons and a large supply of powder and

shot and trained artillerymen who played havoc with the British at the Battle of New Orleans . During the

battle on Jan 8, 1815, Jean was out of sight, perhaps reconnoitering to the south at Grand Isle. The

Baratarians made up about 50 of the 5,000 men on Jackson's main line .

 

Praise for the Laffite brother and the Baratarians from Jackson, from

his offical report of Jan 21, 1815

From Historical memoir of the war in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-15 Latour

 

President James Madison gave full pardons to the Barataria privateers for their actions. However,

he was not able to reclaim his goods, vessels and slaves seized by Commodore Patterson and

compensation for the war materiel he provided to the under funded and ill equipped Jackson, even after

writing a letter to President Madison himself and going to Washington to pleas his case . All attempts

failed and Lafitte became very bitter . there was also the scandal of some of the jewels found on Grand

Terre which belonged to a well known lady of the city who had disappeared while traveling to Europe .

Was Lafitte really a killer pirate in addition to being privateer ? Or had he raided a ship that had

raided the woman's ship before ? It was never determined for certain .

 

In 1816 Lafitte explored the interior of the Louisiana territory with Major Arsene Latour, a hero of the

Battle of New Orleans turned agent for Spain  for the Spanish government to determine the attitudes

of the Americans and Indians to Spain's lands that were west of the Louisiana Purchase. Spain was

afraid of Indian raids and possible filibuster actions against its territory . For 8 months they explored what

is now the Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri areas and returned to New Orleans .

 

It was obvious that Lafitte could not continue his privateering operations at Grand Terre . He needed

someplace not under American control.

 

 

 

 

 

Barataria and Privateering

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