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 .
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
Lafitte's reply to the British, stalling for time
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
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
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.
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
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.