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Jean Laffite

Laffite, Jean (zhäN läfētˈ) [key], c.1780–1826?, leader of a band of privateers and smugglers. The name is often spelled Lafitte. He and his men began operating (1810) off the Baratarian coast S of New Orleans and, after 1817, from the island site of the present city of Galveston, Tex. His ships, commissioned by several of the Latin American nations in revolt against Spain, preyed on Spanish commerce. The booty (including slaves) was brought from Barataria Bay through bayous to New Orleans, where it was disposed of chiefly through the agency of Pierre Laffite, his half-brother. In Sept., 1814, a U.S. naval force raided their establishment at Barataria and their ships. Laffite, a few days before, had refused a British offer of money and land and a commission in the royal navy as an inducement to aid the British in their attempt on New Orleans. Instead Laffite turned his information over to the Americans and offered his services to them in return for the pardon of his men. Gen. Andrew Jackson accepted their help, and many of the Baratarians participated with credit in the battle of New Orleans and were subsequently pardoned by President Madison. Laffite returned to his old life, moving his base of operations to the disputed Texas area, where he gathered about him almost a thousand followers. He was unmolested until several members of his colony attacked (1820) American property, whereupon the U.S. government again dispatched a naval force against him. Laffite with his closest followers departed (1821) peaceably. His final end is not certainly known; fragmentary evidence suggests that he died in Mexico in 1826. In his lifetime he was regarded as a romantic figure, and after his death legend heightened his fame.

See biographies by J. H. Ingraham (1836, repr. 1970), L. Saxon (1930), and M. V. Charnley (1934); W. C. Davis, The Pirates Laffite (2005).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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