Introducing the Real Jean Lafitte, Pirate, Privateer or Patriot?

First off, thanks to everyone who read and left such nice comments on the novelette “Jackson Square” this week! It was a fun story to write. I’ll have it up for the rest of today (via the tab above), and tonight will take it down and will announce future plans for it soon. At that point it will have bonus content, including Jean’s own account of Andrew Jackson and the War of 1812 (well, okay, I transcribed it for him), and a look at how the fictional Jean compares with the real man.

In the meantime, an exciting announcement! (Well, exciting to me, anyway.) I can now confirm that there will be at least two more books in the Sentinels of New Orleans series. The working titles of Books 4 and 5 are PIRATE’S ALLEY and BELLE CHASSE. No release information yet, of course…since they’re kind of not written yet. (Jots that down on “to do” list.)
Of course, an important character in any Sentinels book is our favorite undead pirate. All authors do tons of research for their books, of course, and in the course of writing the first three in the series, I researched everything from the mystical properties of gemstones to what the bottom of the Mississippi looks like near the mouth of the river so when DJ “swims” with Rene I could describe what she saw.
And then there’s Jean Lafitte, who became his own research category thanks to my friend Dianne, the only person who is forced to gets to read my first drafts. She read the first iteration of Royal Street, which was truly awful, as I recall–I don’t have the nerve to look at it–and told me I simply had to change Lafitte. He was only in the opening scene in that first draft, and I had no plans to make him a major character. But she told me I needed to find out more about him and make him more piratical and less…Jack Sparrowish.
So I cruised around online and got interested enough to buy a biography of Jean…and then another…and another….and….Let’s just say Jean Lafitte now has his own shelf in my office, with reference books in the double digits. In the process, I became a wee bit obsessed with Le Capitaine, as he was called, and the rest is history.
So, how does the undead Jean Lafitte stack up against the real man? 
–Physically, I stuck very close to the written descriptions (there are no photographs or paintings known to exist): he was 6-2, which was considered extremely tall at a time in history where the average man was 5-7; he was considered “well-formed,” which I take to mean “ripped”; he had dark hair, fair complexion, and either blue or hazel eyes–since I had conflicting info, I chose blue. He was born about 1780 either in France or in the French colony of San-Domingue (now Haiti), and spoke English, Spanish and Italian, though his first language was French. The first written record of him in New Orleans is in 1806 when, at age 26, he was listed as captain of a ship coming into the port. Jean and his brother Pierre spelled their name “Laffite,” but history has stuck with the Americanized “Lafitte.” My editor and I discussed how to refer to him in the books, and finally decided that if we used Jean’s spelling, people would think it was a misspelling. Oy.
So, what was the personality of the real Jean Lafitte like? In the Sentinels books, he is smart, devious, playful, charming…but still dangerous. 
History portrays him in very much this light. By all accounts, he had a mercurial temper, but knew when to hold back and when to lash out. He had a very strong and charismatic personality, which enabled him to command his thousands of men in South Louisiana and keep them loyal to him. He dressed well, liked his luxuries, and the “Gentleman Pirate,” as he was called, was often invited to the balls and drawing rooms of the wealthy French citizens of New Orleans.
The way Jean solves the problem of Andrew Jackson in the story “Jackson Square” was inspired by one of my favorite true stories of the real Lafitte.
Things were tense in New Orleans in the period around 1812 (at that time it was the capital of Louisiana). There was a blockade on ships entering  American ports with foreign goods, so people were unable to get their staples and luxuries. America was fighting off the British yet again, and had just bought the Louisiana Territory a few years earlier from France–yet New Orleans’ overwhelmingly French citizens wanted nothing to do with the Americans, whom they thought crude and boorish. Everyone bought goods from Jean Lafitte rather than the American business owners because he had a better inventory and lower prices, which ticked off Louisiana’s American Governor William Claiborne and his fellow American business owners.

Jean Lafitte was a kind of Robin Hood figure to New Orleanians. By plundering Spanish ships (he forbade his men to capture American or English ships) got them affordable goods they either couldn’t get from the American merchants or were being charged too much for. Infuriated by Jean’s blatant disregard for American laws, Governor Claiborne wanted Lafitte gone.

Finally, in 1813, Claiborne had enough. He had a bunch of proclamations printed up and posted around New Orleans, calling Jean a pirate and smuggler, and offering a $500 reward “to any person delivering John (sic) Lafitte to the sheriff of the Parish of New Orleans.” In that day, $500 was worth about $15,000 of today’s dollars, a tidy little sum.
The very next day, Jean was reported by several to be brazenly strolling the streets of New Orleans, where he was spotted stopping to read the posters and smiling. No one turned him in.
Two days later, new Wanted Posters had been printed and posted around the city. This proclamation offered a reward of $1,500 (about $50,000 today) for the arrest of Governor William Claiborne and his delivery to Grand Terre island. It was signed by Jean Lafitte.

Jean became more popular than ever, as the citizens thought this was hilarious. And Jean made his point–he had more power than Governor Claiborne. He was more popular with the people of the city. And he had more money.

That’s our boy!
Now…stay tuned this week for TWO monstrous Reader’s Choice Contests to make up for missing last week, plus a couple of special guests. Thursday, July 4th, is a holiday here in the U.S., of course, so that day’s post will be short and sweet.
Did you win a book this week? Because of the story, I had only one contest this week, which was the four-book paranormal romance set for Feral Friday. And the winner is GALENA! Since you indicated you’d read Bec McMaster’s Kiss of Steel, if you’d like me to substitute a surprise book from my stash for that one, let me know–email your mailing info to me at suzannej3523 at gmail dot com.
Later, gators!

18 thoughts on “Introducing the Real Jean Lafitte, Pirate, Privateer or Patriot?

  1. ^^ Really intelligent one and it proof the governor knew little about its citizen.

    and two more books! two! YES!! so great!! that’s really a good news

    Congrats galena! i’m sure you will enjoy those titles

  2. Congats!! That is AWESOME news!! Love the world and characters you created:)

    Don’t care what people say about Jean, pirate or privateer, Jean rocks. Period. ;)) (also they’re all just insanely jealous of him, hence the slander;))

  3. Ever since I read your first book, I notice Jean Lafitte appears more often in books I read. And I can’t help comparing him to your character. So far, I like how you portrayed him best.

    And the new contract is great news to start a busy month with!

  4. Yay more Sentinels books!

    I really like your portrayals of Jean and it’s always awesome when authors can bring in some awesome historical facets to the stories they create (another author I like who does this is Cherie Priest)!

  5. Hooray! I’m so glad there will be at least 2 more books in the Sentinels series. And, dare I hope that with a name like Pirate’s Alley, Jean will be playing a prominent roll in that one?

  6. Suzanne – I’ve been meaning to stop by and say a hearty CONGRATULATIONS on (*at least*) 2 more books in the Sentinels series!! As I said on Twitter, I’m just THRILLED by this news 🙂 Although I have a sneaking suspicion books 4 & 5 might not come out quite as quickly in rapid succession as 1-3 did…hmm?!?! Well, that’s okay, we’ll forgive… after all, great books are totally worth waiting for!!

    Also, I don’t think I’ve ever told you this, but now’s a great time what with last week’s Jackson Square story and this blog post — the whole reason I was drawn to your series was, you guessed it, Jean Lafitte himself!! I’ve gotten the email newsletter from Tor for maybe 2 years now, and it was a few months before Royal Street was due to release that they featured Chapter 1 on their website. I love stories about New Orleans, pirates, undead, paranormal, etc, so I moseyed on over to check it out. And OMG was I ever immediately hooked!!!!! I knew from the second Jean spoke that I was head over heels!! So, to your friend, the one who told you he needed to be less Jack Sparrow and more, you know, PIRATE?? I say THANK YOU FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY!!!! I could kiss her for that – and you for writing him so perfectly!! So here it is: mmmwah! Pass it on 😉

    CONGRATULATIONS!!! So glad to continue on this journey with you!

  7. Thanks, everyone! Holly, I’m indebted to my friend, too. Jean Lafitte is SUCH fun to write, and the more I learn about him the more intriguing he is. I often wonder what he would think of the way I portray him–whether he’d think it was funny, or perhaps he’d shoot me. LOL. Probably just as well I’ll never know!

  8. Jean is one of my favorite literary characters ever! To be honest, I’m on the edge–really tempted to start buying books on him. And he makes me want to read nautical romances. I can’t imagine this series without him! Fabulous blog post, per usual! 😀

    • Thanks, Dani! I love Jean too. Sigh. Reading the nonfiction books about him is sort of a double-edged sword. There’s so much unknown and so much conflicting information, much of it perpetuated by Jean himself, depending on his circumstances!

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