1873 portrait of Lafitte based on eyewitness accounts



Pirate Jean Lafitte


Jean Lafitte  (1776-1823?) was the last of the great pirates of the Gulf of Mexico

( He insisted throughout his life that he was a privateer, and would have challenged you to a duel

if you called him a pirate to his face ) and was one of the leaders or bos of the community of privateers

on Grand Terre. Jean was a handsome man by all accounts, of great personal charm and became

a legend in his own time, after his patriotic actions in the Battle of New Orleans.


Registration for Pierre Lafitte's ship Goelette la Dilidente,a 136 ton schooner, captained by

Jean Lafitte in 1813. Jean lists his age as 32 and his birthplace as Bordeaux. The la Dilidente had a

crew of 84 and 12 14 pounder cannon .The Lafittes had a fleet of four ships in their privateering

fleet by 1813, with the Dorada, Petit Milan ,the la Dilidente  and the Sarpis.


The Pirates Lafitte

William C. Davis

Davis provides an excellent history of the Laffites and

piracy on the gulf coast in general


Early Life of Jean Lafitte 



Jean Lafitte purposely shrouded his activities in secrecy due to the nature of his business, and

even the dates and places of his birth and death have been a matter of conjecture . There are also other

Lafittes, which cloud the issue . A number of different birthplaces have been given for the Lafitte brothers

( Pierre, Jean and Henri) such as Port-au-Prince, then San Domingo,Bordeaux and Bayonne, France. The

elder brother left the turmoil of revolutionary France and spent some time in Saint-Domingue.A violent slave

uprising in  Saint-Domingue forced Pierre to leave by 1803 for New Orleans , the same year Napoleon

sold the Louisiana territory to the United States .


Gentlemen of the era were expected to defend their honor with a duel. Lafitte is reported to have

fought 2 duels by the time he was 21. According to another story , he fought three duels in the restaurant

that would latter become the Court of two Sisters in the French Quarter.

Listen to free audio book on Lafitte at



The first twenty years of Jean's life are a mystery, but it is almost certain he spent some time at sea .

As mentioned before, according to some sources, he was born in what is now Haiti,then

San Domingo around 1782 where his father had a leather shop. His mother died while

he was young, and was raised by his maternal grandmother . Her husband, who was

murdered in the Inquisition in Spain, is said to have instilled a hatred for the Spanish

in Lafitte. As a young teenager, he received schooling on the islands of St. Croix and

Martinque, the to a military academy in St. Kitts where he learned seamanship,

artillery and swordsmanship as well as participating in dueling when he returned

to Haiti. He learned the privateering trade from his older brother, Alexander . At the

age 18 of he is said to have married a woman from St. Croix who bore him 3 children,

she later died during childbirth. The slave rebellion in Haiti drove the Lafittes from

that island in 1804 to New Orleans .



Jean Lafitte: The Legend and the Truth


As a privateer,Lafitte would probably of sail under the flag of the

Cartagena Republic, a city state which later join Columbia

and not the skull and crossbones.


By 1805, he appears Jean operating a warehouse in New Orleans to help sell the goods

smuggled by his brother Pierre and on Grand Terre, where the Lafittes made their

privateering base, on the western tip of the island, facing Barataria Pass . The Lafittes

grew rich from the sale of their privateered goods during the trade embargo before the

War of 1812 and the British blockade. Grande Terre was six miles long and one to three

miles wide . By 1809, it was well known that slaves fresh from Africa could be gotten

at Grande Terre, which were kept in barracon, or slave barracks .Here they erected storehouses

and a small brick fort . The last remains of the fort were destroyed by a hurricane in 1965 .


The reselling of slaves or 'black ivory' from captured slave ships was a

profitable business for the Lafittes New Orleans and Galveston


Jean was reported to be tall for the time, an inch or two over six feet, with pale skin dark hair and hazel eyes

and liked to dress in style . He could speak some English and Spanish, and was  spoke Bordelaise French .

New Orleans at this time was flooded with French refugees from Cuba,who had fled there from San Domingue.

Cuba ordered the French to leave after Napoleon invaded Spain and put his brother on the Spanish throne .

Out of a population of about 25,000 at this time, fewer than 3,300 were English or American. The

French population was generally anti-American and sympathetic to the illegal activities of the Lafitte brothers .

The Lafittes were often seen at the Coquet's Ballroom on St.Phillip street, the Cafe des Refugies and

the Hotel de la Marine while in New Orleans .The revenue from the lucrative slave trade allowed the

Lafittes to buy a warehouse on Royal Street .


pirate costumes



Video on Jean Lafitte


In 1811 there was a slave rebellion led by Charles Deslondes, a San Domingue slave in St.Charles

Parish and marched upon New Orleans. The rebellion was stopped and many members of the rebellion

were executes and their heads put on spikes as a warning . The rebellion put New Orleans into a

panic and thereafter authorities took greater notice of the Lafitte slave smuggling activities .



Gov Claiborne (c.1772-1817)


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

laws, ordered an attack on Grand Terre on Sept 16, , destroying the Grand Terre base. 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.


The Buccaneer

Yul Brynner,Charlton Heston

Cecil B. DeMille was set to direct a remake of his 1938 swashbuckler classic, the Buccaneer, he suddenly fell very ill and his son-in-law and screen legend, Anthony Quinn jumped in and took over the directorial duties this was the first and only film directed by Quinn. Yul Brynner plays the debonair pirate Jean Lafitte who historically aided General Andrew Jackson (Charlton Heston) against the British during the War of 1812. Lafitte has been carrying a discreet love affair with Annette Claiborne (Inger Stevens), the daughter of governor William Claiborne (E.G. Marshall) who promises to pardon the pirate and his men. The stellar cast includes Charles Boyer as Lafittes right hand man and Claire Bloom as the daughter of a rival pirate. Credited as Supervising executive producer, this was Cecil B. DeMilles final film; he died shortly after the release of this film.


Reward offered for Pierre Lafitte in the Louisiana Courier, Sept.7, 1814


$1,000 Reward

Will be paid to whoever arrests Pierre Laffite who last night broke from the parish prison and escaped.

The said Lafitte is 5 feet 10 inches tall of robust nature,fine complexion and slightly cross-eyed.It is

believed a more complete description is useless as he is well known in the city.

The said Lafitte took with him three negroes:Sam,formerly the property of Mr.Sewze,Ceasar,

belonging to Mr.Lefebere, and Hamilcar belonging to Mr.Jarnand. the above reward will be given to

whoever will deliver the said Lafitte to the undersigned who also will pay fifty dollars for each negreo.

                                      J.H. Hollan dJailer


Signature of Jean Lafitte ( spelled Laffite in this case ) on a letter to President Madison


 Early Life of Jean Lafitte   


 Barataria and Privateering 


  Map of Barataria   


The Battle of New Orleans 


  Galveston 1817-21   


The Mystery of the Final Years of Jean Lafitte   


 Lafitte's Treasure 







 Barataria and Privateering   

Map of Barataria 

©  Thomas Zimmerman 2009