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.
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.