Jean’s World (or Lafitte’s Lairs)

I thought today I might share some of the places in which the real privateer (don’t call me a pirate) Jean Lafitte lived and worked during his human life. But first, a quick preview–be sure and stop by tomorrow, because the fabulous Philippa (Pip) Ballantine will be here talking about her new book!

But today, I’m in a Jean Lafitte kind of mood. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about Jean lately. My latest two books were an interesting contrast.

First, I finished Winston Groom’s excellent Patriotic Fire: Andrew Jackson and Jean Laffite at the Battle of New Orleans (2007), followed by an English translation of Le Journal de Jean Laffite, a highly controversial memoir whom some believe to be legitimate but others believe to be fabricated. [Note, both authors used Jean’s spelling: he usually signed his name Jn Laffite.]

At any rate, it was a good review of the area Jean called home during the crucial years of 1806 until 1815, an area of Louisiana south of New Orleans that locals called the “Kingdom of Barataria” (guess who was the king?).

So, the red dot at right shows where Barataria is–in Jean’s time, it was larger because not so much

land had eroded. (New Orleans is located due north, at the south shores of Lake Pontchartrain.) His “kingdom” encompassed the entire area a bit south of New Orleans and all the way to Barataria Bay. If you trace your finger directly south of the red dot and slightly to the right, you’ll see a bay (Barataria Bay), which is protected by the Gulf of Mexico by a couple of barrier islands that don’t show up on the map: Grand Isle and Grand Terre. It was on Grand Terre where Jean, whose thousand-plus Baratarians called “Le Capitaine” or “Bos,” made his home.

In this shot, you can see how the bay is protected by the islands, with only a narrow entrance. During Jean’s day, that narrow opening was lined with his ships, cannons at the ready. The sheltered bay also provided protection from all but the worst hurricanes. The larger land mass now in the foreground is Grand Isle, which has a nice little population.

Below, what Grand Terre looks like today–it is heavily eroded, suffered a great deal of damage from the 2010 oil spill, and is uninhabited but for a wildlife sanctuary. Jean’s big, fine house and his men’s village, which included saloons and thatched-roof cottages and even an establishment of ladies of the evening, were raided by the Americans shortly before the Battle of New Orleans and ended up being burned (it is thought by Jean himself).

And now a few images of modern things….The first two are from the Barataria Preserve–much of Jean’s old stomping grounds is federally protected land now. But you can see the narrow waterway and lack of landmarks. This goes on for miles and miles, with little waterways snaking in and out, so it’s easy to see why people got lost in the marsh and were never found.

A modern view of the Chalmette Battlefield, Jean Lafitte National Park and Preserve, where the Battle of New Orleans was fought. Since Jean felt his contribution to winning the war was not satisfactorily acknowledged, I think he’d be amused that the site of the victory is named after him and not Andrew Jackson.

The blacksmith shop in New Orleans where Jean and his brother Pierre ran a legitimate front for their smuggling operations. Today, it’s a bar. It is said that many of the distinctive wrought-iron fences in New Orleans were forged here. As near as I can tell, Pierre spent more time here in the city, while Jean preferred Barataria.

On the north shore of Barataria Bay, a familiar-sounding town!

Jean Lafitte Boulevard, which went underwater after Hurricane Katrina…

New Orleans as it looked during Jean’s time…which actually doesn’t look that different from the French Quarter today.

Hm….maybe Rene and Jean need to start a new business…..

And there you have a view of Jean’s legacy in Louisiana–or a tiny bit of it!

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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and suspense. As Suzanne Johnson, she is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate's Alley, Belle Chasse, Frenchmen Street (March 2018). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance; ILLUMINATION); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the Wilds of the Bayou series (Wild Man's Curse; Black Diamond).

6 thoughts on “Jean’s World (or Lafitte’s Lairs)

  1. Really interesting, poor Jean though his kingdom is really reduced^^

    i still need to go check the library to see if i find special books about him^^ ( i will keep you updated on teh list i find^^)

    and Phillippa will come *_* oh such a good news!

    • I think I have read about 20 books on him now, Miki, and am trying to piece together where they match up and where they differ. When I go to New Orleans in September I hope to visit the Historic New Orleans Collection and view some of the original documents from Jean’s time!

  2. I just downloaded “The Memoirs of Jean Laffite:from Le Journal de Jean Laffite”. Thanks for the photos.

    • It will be interesting to see what you think of it, Roger! There is great controversy surrounding it. Obviously, the historian who translated it from the original French, and the one who wrote the intro, believe it to be true, and they do make some interesting arguments. If it is true, then Jean faked his own death in the Yucatan, traveled to the east coast, changed his name, married and settled in the St. Louis area, writing this account of his life when he was in his 70s. It certainly has an authentic ring to it–apparently there is no doubt that it dates from the 1840s, when Jean would have been that age.

      The ones who believe it false base it on the fact that the handwriting of the original journal does not match historic documents that were verified to have been written by Jean. And that the handwriting DOES, in fact, match that of a man by the surname Lafflin who was a noted forger of that area and who’d been known to claim himself to be Jean Lafitte.

      So I’m not sure what to make of it. You’ll have to let me know what you think 🙂