Jean Lafitte

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Jean Lafitte (ca. 1776 – ca. 1823) was a pirate and privateer in the Gulf of Mexico in the early 19th century. He and his elder brother, Pierre, spelled their last name Laffite, but English-language documents of the time used "Lafitte", and this is the commonly seen spelling in the United States, including for places named for him.

Lafitte is believed to have been born either in France or the French colony of Saint-Domingue. By 1805, he operated a warehouse in New Orleans to help disperse the goods smuggled by his brother Pierre Lafitte. After the United States government passed the Embargo Act of 1807, the Lafittes moved their operations to an island in Barataria Bay. By 1810, their new port was very successful; the Lafittes pursued a successful smuggling operation and also started to engage in piracy.

Though Lafitte tried to warn of a British attack, the American authorities invaded Barataria in 1814 and captured most of Lafitte's fleet. In return for a pardon, Lafitte helped General Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans against the British in 1815. The Lafittes then became spies for the Spanish and moved to Galveston Island where they developed the colony there.

Lafitte continued pirating around Central American ports until he died trying to capture Spanish vessels in 1823. Speculation around his death and life continue amongst historians.



A number of details about Jean Lafitte's early life are obscure and often contradictory. In one document, Lafitte claimed to have been born in Bordeaux, France, in 1780. He and his brother Pierre alternately claimed to have been born in Bayonne, while other documents of the time place his birthplace as St. Malo or Brest. However, as Lafitte's biographer Jack C. Ramsay states, "this was a convenient time to be a native of France, a claim that provided protection from the enforcement of American law."[1] Further contemporary accounts claim that Lafitte was born in Orduna, Spain or even Westchester, New York.[1]

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