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Frenchmen of Barataria

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Categories: Louisiana, War of 1812 | Privateers, War of 1812 | Gulf Coast, War of 1812.


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A 1813 map of Grand Isle and Grand Terre

Frenchmen of Barataria

The Baratarian pirates played a key role in the important Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815. It is possible that without their assistance the Americans might have lost that battle and it is probable that had the Baratarians aided the British in the fight that the Americans would probably have been defeated.[1]

In 1885 George Washington Cable, (1844-1925) wrote in The Creoles of Louisiana the following:

"John and Pierre Lafitte became the commercial agents of the “privateers.” By and by they were their actual chiefs. They won great prosperity for the band; prizes were rich and frequent, and slave cargoes profitable. John Lafitte did not at this time go to sea. He equipped vessels, sent them on their cruises, sold their prizes and slaves, and moved hither and thither throughout the Delta, administering affairs with boldness and sagacity. The Mississippi’s “coasts” in the parishes of St. James and St. John the Baptist were often astir with his known presence, and his smaller vessels sometimes pierced the interior as far as Lac des Allemands. He knew the value of popular admiration, and was often at country balls, where he enjoyed the fame of great riches and courage, and seduced many of the simple Acadian youth to sail in his cruises. His two principal captains were Beluche and Dominique You. “Captain Dominique” was small, graceful, fair, of a pleasant, even attractive face, and a skilful sailor. There were also Gambi, a handsome Italian, who died only a few years ago at the old pirate village of Cheniere Caminada ; and Rigoult, a dark Frenchman, whose ancient house still stands on Grande Isle. And yet again Johnness and Johannot, unless-which appears likely – these were only the real names of Dominique and Beluche."
A Pirate of Jean Lafitte's by Frank E. Schoonover

Besides the conventional forces, Jackson also attracted unconventional ones in the form of the Baratarian privateers led by the redoubtable Jean Lafitte. Lafitte had his headquarters at Grand Terre Island at the entrance of Barataria Bay. From there, he and his followers had managed a lucrative trade in smuggling that only recently had been threatened by a destructive raid led by Commander Patterson. Having spurned a British offer promising reward for his intimate knowledge of the bayou country and for the services of his men and equipment, Lafitte approached a dubious Jackson and succeeded in cementing a working relationship that would end further government action against the Baratarians and would legally absolve them for past wrongs. “Mr. Lafitte solicited for himself and for all the Baratarians,” wrote Lacarrière Latour, “the honour of serving under our banners, that they might have an opportunity of proving that if they had infringed the revenue laws, yet none was more ready than they to defend the country and combat its enemies.”[2]

The Baratarians brought to Jackson’s forces knowledgeable, trained, and seasoned fighters, many of whom were skilled artillerists. Some formed units of their own under designated Baratarian leaders; others joined existing companies for service at Petite Coquilles, Fort St. Philip, and Fort St. John. They also furnished valuable munitions and war materiel. In particular, wrote Jackson later, “I procured from them 7500 flints for pistols and boarding peaces, which was solely the supply of flints for all my militia and if it had not been for this providential aid the country must have fallen.” [3] Lafitte claimed to have had enough ammunition to furnish an army 30,000 strong. During the crisis, he was able to provide powder from his own munitions depot in Barataria.[4][5]

Jackson was so impressed with the artillery skills of Baratarian Dominique You at Battery No. 3, he reportedly said before the Battle of New Orelans: “I wish I had fifty such guns on this line, with five hundred such devils as those fellows are at their butts.”[6]

Battle of New Orleans
Wikitree Profile pages

Baratarian Luggers at the Fruit Dock

Further reading

Arthur, Stanley Clisby, The story of the battle of New Orleans Louisiana Historical Society, Published 1915

Arthur, Stanley Clisby. Jean Lafitte, Gentleman Rover. New Orleans: Harmanson, 1952;

De Grummond, Jane Lucas. The Baratarians and the Battle of New Orleans. Baton Rouge: Legacy Publishing, 1961;

Faye, Stanley. "The Great Stroke of Pierre Laffite." Louisiana Historical Quarterly 23 (1940): 733-826;

Gayarre, Charles. "Historical Sketch of Pierre and Jean Lafitte; The Famous Smugglers of Louisiana." Magazine of American History 10 (1883);

Latour, A. Lacarriere. Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-15. 1816. Reprint, N.p.: N.p., 1864;

Vogel, Robert C. "Jean Lafitte, the Baratarians, and the Historical Geography of Piracy in the Gulf of Mexico." Gulf Coast Historical Review 5 (1990): 63 77.

"Lafitte Brothers in Dominique Youx's Bar," Attributed to John Wesley Jarvis

Sources

  1. History and Headlines - Pirates of Barataria War of 1812
  2. Historical Memoir, p. 71.
  3. Jackson to Hugh L. White, February 7, 1827, in Correspondence of Andrew Jackson, III, p. 339
  4. Jackson to Hugh L. White, February 7, 1827, in Correspondence of Andrew Jackson, III, p. 339
  5. HISTORIC RESOURCE STUDY Chalmette Unit, Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve by Jerome A. Greene
  6. The story of the battle of New Orleans by Arthur, Stanley Clisby




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Battle of New Orleans

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Jean Lafitte

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Baratarian Luggers at the Fruit Dock
Baratarian Luggers at the Fruit Dock

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