The Hangouts Of Jean LaFitte, A NOLA Hero
Visit spots connected to Jean LaFitte, a New Orleans legend, while you’re in town!
Jean LaFitte was a 19th century pirate who earned hero status by protecting New Orleans in the War of 1812. Despite his fame, large chunks of his private life remain hidden in obscurity. He was born in either France or Saint-Dominique, sometime around 1780, although there is speculation that he was actually born in Spain or New York. Regardless, it’s generally accepted that he moved to New Orleans before his 10th birthday, growing up on the bayou. His older brother, Pierre, became a privateer, Jean following in his footsteps and by 1805, the two brothers ran a warehouse through which they smuggled goods.
After the establishment of the warehouse, Pierre primarily focused on business in the city, with Jean taking to the seas. Sailors dreamed of working for the privateer, finding work on the docks in New Orleans and the island Barataria, where they also did a fair amount of smuggling, in the hopes of being noticed and selected for his crew. While LaFitte did capture ships and their crews, he was considered kind, due to his tendency to return the ship to its freed and unharmed crew after unloading goods.
In 1812, the war against Britain began, and the U.S.’s smaller navy was at a disadvantage. Although there was some anger at LaFitte’s smuggling and how it decreased U.S. revenue, he offered aide to the governor of New Orleans. This offer likely led to the governor’s assistance in 1813, when numerous members of LaFitte’s operation were captured on Barataria. President Andrew Jackson ultimately pardoned the pirates in exchange for their defense of the city. Their efforts directly led to an American win in the Battle of New Orleans.
After the war, the smuggling operation expanded to Galveston as LaFitte also earned a commission for the Spanish during the War for Mexican Independence. In November 1821, he was captured and jailed for piracy, although he escaped from prison a few months later, and expanded his operation to Cuba, virtually taking over the Gulf.
Jean LaFitte passed away in 1823 after a battle with Spanish ships, but his legacy didn’t stop. He was one of the last pirates in the Gulf, with piracy being eradicated by 1825, and while his death was not honored at the time, it’s well known in NOLA that his contribution had massive effects during the War of 1812.
Where To Go
While you’re in New Orleans, there’s a few places you can go to bask in the legacy of LaFitte. LaFitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar is located in what is believed to be the old warehouse the LaFitte brothers used for smuggling. Stop there for a drink and to hear the (embellished) tales of LaFitte from locals.
History buffs will love visiting Chalmette Battleground to see where the Battle of New Orleans and Jean LaFitte’s historic contribution took place, effectively ending the war. The adjoining cemetery honors the soldiers and pirates who lost their lives during the fighting.
The town of Jean LaFitte, located just outside of New Orleans, was founded by the pirate in the Barataria basin, and is a small fishing village along his smuggling route. It’s a beautiful place to take out a boat, enjoy some Cajun food, and visit the LaFitte Barataria Museum, where you can learn more about the 1800s in Southern Louisiana.
The Jean LaFitte Old Absinthe House is a historic bar that served as the site for negotiations between LaFitte and President Jackson. It was maintained for the past two centuries and in 2004, reopened and rebranded using LaFitte’s name in honor of his legacy.