Jean Lafitte - 1776 to 1823
When I was in 5th grade - I remember learning that Jean Lafitte helped America win the Battle of New Orleans. Today I learned the rest of the story. He liked to call himself a privateer - but he made his money by raiding ships coming and going from New Orleans and crossing the Gulf.
Today I drove south of New Orleans to Barataria. That was the name of a country on three islands in the Mississippi Delta. It is 70 miles from New Orleans to the Gulf via the river. No one dared tread in that country. Lafitte and 1000 pirates lived there. The town was very wealthy with all the loot they had from their raids. they would also capture the slaves and sell them at a discount.
In 1807 - Jefferson passed the Embargo Act. It simply meant that American ships could not go to foreign ports and bring back goodies. Jefferson was an isolationist and he wanted America to produce its own goods. Lafitte would raid ships from other countries - not American ships - so he was allowed to exist on those 3 islands.
Lafitte became very popular in New Orleans because he would smuggle "the good stuff" in to America - then sell it at low prices with no tariffs. He was the toast of the town. No one knew the bayou like Lafitte did. After a while - the governor of Louisiana put a bounty on Lafitte. Still he would come into town and no one dared arrest this modern Robin Hood.
Finally - in 1814 - the British were coming to attack New Orleans with 11,000 troops. New Orleans and Andrew Jackson only had 1800 men and few weapons. In exchange for a full pardon - Lafitte agreed to fight for the USA. He also opened his supply of weapons to Jackson. When the Brits came up the river - they were not ready for Lafitte and his 1000 pirates. Only 13 Americans died but 2000 British were killed. The Brits were driven down the river and back to Great Britain. Ironically - the Brits and Congress signed a peace treaty two weeks before the battle.
To this day - Jean Lafitte is considered a saint in these parts.
All of Barataria and the Town of Jean Lafitte were under several feet of water during Hurricane Katrina. The area is very isolated - and people do not move away much.
I stopped to see two old guys digging across the street from a cemetery. We talked for a few minutes and they loved sharing their stories with me. The guys were over 70 - and said that their grandmothers were sisters. They were buried in the cemetery right on their family property. There was an old school up the road covered with vines - that was where they went to school.
Properties along the bayou are long and skinny. That is because each landowner wanted waterfront property because for years that was the only way to get there from the rest of the world.
Since Katrina - many companies are making a fortune shoring the houses up. Some new house are built on a pile of dirt. Others are on piers - as high as 10 feet.
This country used to have lots of citrus trees - now the money crop is sugar.
A bayou is a waterway going through the swamp or delta. They meander all through the area and are famous for people getting lost there - and never found. No one knows for sure where Jean Lafitte came from and no one knows for sure where he went. But everyone down here loves him - and everything is named after him.
I drove this dead end road from New Orleans all the way to Barataria - the country of Jean Lafitte and his 1000 pirates.
This is the Intercoastal Waterway - it crosses right thru Barataria today.
The town of Jean Lafitte has maybe 2000 people - it is on a bayou.
This is a boat with a giant crane on it. They are built right there in Jean Lafitte. It can go anywhere in the Gulf and work on damaged drill rigs. This was the biggest one in the world - was new - and was for sale.
Each property needed water frontage like this one. It was 42 by 650 feet - with frontage on the bayou and the road.
They were just finishing off the shoring up. It is an old 1950s brick house - shored up. They were still stucco-ing it. Companies make a lot of money doing this work - demanded by insurance companies for coverage.
This was a homemade vault in the family plot.
This was the overgrown school house of my two hosts.
This was one of their grandmothers - buried right on the family property.
The family plot - not 100 feet from my host's front door. My two hosts showed me their burial plots - all ready to go. They were in their 70s.