WHY JEAN LAFITTE BECAME A PIRATE
CIIARLES RAMSDELL, JR.
Jean Lafitte belongs to folklore rather than to history, and we
are likely to think of him as a bloodthirsty pirate, with the
cutlass, the skull and crossbones, the treasure buried in the sand.
As a matter of fact, there was nothing of the swashbuckler
about him." He was a sober business man who dealt in stolen
goods and contraband, especially slaves. Yet he was strong for
propriety and even for legal methods when they were not incon-
venient, and he hated bloodshed.2 In 1814 he refused a bribe of
$30,000 that the British offered him if he would assist them in
their attack on New Orleans. According to his friends, he be-
lieved that the invaders were planning to loot and spoil the city,
so he took his men to fight alongside the Americans under Andrew
Jackson even though the same Americans had recently thrown his
brother Pierre into jail.3
Why did a man of such respectable sentiments become a pirate?
To make money? Perhaps. But he was said to be nearly pen-
niless toward the close of his career. Several of the men who
knew him best have insisted on another motive: a desire for
We know that for some years Lafitte was an assumed agent of
Spain, hired to spy on the leaders of the Mexican Revolution
who gathered with him at Galveston and elsewhere. But it seems
that he intended all along to deceive the Spanish. He accepted
their gold, but there is no evidence that he gave them any infor-
mation that was of the slightest use.' When he sailed away from
Galveston, in 1820, to disappear forever, he declared he never had
been the enemy of any nation but Spain.5
'The United States Magazine and Democratic review , VI (1839),37-42.
'John M cHenry, "Early Life in the Southwest," DeBow's Review, XV,
572-584. See also Bartholem6 Lafon (unsigned), transmitted by Felipe
Fatio, Archivo General de Mexico, Notas Diplomaticas, II, University of
Texas Transcripts, 99. Also Harry Gaylord Warren (translator and
editor), "Documents Relating to the Establishment of Privateers at
Calveston, 1816-1817," Louisiana Historical Quarterly, XXI, October,
5The United States Magazine and Democratic Review.
[ 465 ]
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 43, July 1939 - April, 1940. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101111/. Accessed April 17, 2014.