Heritage, Volume 04, Number 03, Winter 1986

Jean Laffite, Buccaneer and Double Agent

By Evelyn Hilton
he famous buccaneer of the
Gulf, Jean Laffite (a spelling
proven by his own handwritten documents
to be correct), is well remembered
for his escapades along the Louisiana
coast. His participation in the intriguing
prerevolution period of Texas, however,
was never well known and has been
mostly forgotten. Most Texans are aware
that he established his pirating base on
Galveston Island in 1817 and preyed on
Spanish ships in the Gulf until 1820, but
most people do not know that he was, at
the same time, secretly employed by the
king of Spain as a spy. This shrewd, intelligent
gentleman pirate was involved in
every major filibustering activity in Texas
between 1812 and 1821, acting as a spy
or counterspy.
The first two decades of the eighteenth
century, when Mexican Texas was under
Spanish rule, were a period of privateering
and filibustering expeditions. Many
adventurous men were willing to cruise
against Spanish vessels or to march into
Texas against Spanish Royalist troops.
These filibustering activities, an important
part of the history of Mexico and
Texas, were a factor in the decision to
permit Anglo-American colonization of
Texas. With the United States bordering
Texas on the north and aggressive France
on the east, Spain needed inhabitants
to protect her claim. The filibustering
movements, which influenced the longoppressed
Mexicans in their determination
to be rid of the tyrannical Spanish
rule, later influenced Texas colonists to
shed Mexico.
The names of Jean Laffite, Pierre Laffite,
and Dominique You (whose given
name was Alexandre Frederic Laffite) appear
throughout the filibustering period of
Texas. Although it was a well-kept secret
during their privateering careers, it has
been proven through diaries and documents
that these three buccaneers were
brothers. Dominique was at times involved
in the filibustering threats. Jean
and Pierre also served as spies for Spain,
thus leading lives of double agents. In addition,
they claimed allegiance to the
United States, raided Spanish ships for
the Mexican republic, and generally

Jean Laffite. No date. Courtesy of Sam Houston
Regional Library and Research Center, Liberty.

aided any plot which suited their purpose
and pocketbook.
Of these swashbuckling brothers, it was
Jean who had the greatest impact on the
filibustering efforts in early Texas. After
the Battle of New Orleans, Pierre often
attended to their business investments
and spy communications, Dominique
(whose names appears only once in Galveston
correspondence) preferred to
settle down in New Orleans, Rene sailed
on Caribbean expeditions, while active
Jean moved his privateering base from Barataria,
Louisiana, to Galveston, Texas.
In the early 1800s Texas, a province of
Mexico under Spain's domination, became
indifferent and critical of Spanish
rule, as had Mexico. The priest Miguel
Hidalgo had attempted unsuccessfully to
free Mexico in 1810, and Juan Bautista
Casas instigated another unsuccessful revolt
against Spanish Royalists at Bexar
(San Antonio) in 1811.
During 1812 and 1813, one of the first
major filibustering efforts was made. The
Gutierrez-Magee expedition declared
Texas to be a state of the Mexican Republic.
This invasion was defeated by
Arredondo, general of the Royalist army

in August 1813, when most of the thousand
Mexican and Anglo members were
massacred near Bexar.
In the fall of 1813 a new plan was conceived
to invade Mexico. Gutierrez, who
had escaped Arredondo's massacre, General
Jean Humbert, and General Jose
Toledo began conspiring with Laffite and
his pirates at Barataria to attack a point
on the Mexican coast. Unable to raise
enough funds, however, they settled on a
plan whereby Baratarian vessels would
cruise before Tampico, Mexico, and intercept
Spanish craft bound for that port.
The Laffites agreed to the plan, thus
entering into the filibustering efforts of
New Spain. In June of 1814 Humbert left
Barataria with a landing force, sailing on
the Tigre with Captain Dominique You.
The Tigre put in at Nautla, Mexico, on
June 19, 1814, with a cargo of powder,
and General Humbert opened negotiations
with Mexican leaders. They discussed
a plan to sack Tampico and build a
stronghold at Matagorda, on the Texas
coast.
Colonel Ellis Bean had been dispatched
by Mexican revolutionary party
president General Morelos to seek aid in
the United States for the patriotic cause.
At the port of Nautla, Bean found the
Baratarian vessel and returned to Louisiana
with Captain Dominique. He was
taken to Bataria and stated his misson to
Jean Laffite, who took him to Andrew
Jackson in New Orleans. The grand
scheme was to attack San Antonio and
open a port on the Gulf coast; however,
invasion by the British interrupted the
plans. Agents Bean, Humbert, Toledo,
and Anayo, as well as the Laffites, fought
valiantly for General Andrew Jackson.
After the United States won, Laffite sent
Bean back to Mexico in a schooner
loaded with munitions for the freedom
fighters.
Colonel Bean later secured a commission
for Jean Laffite to sail for the independent
Mexican party, the confirmation
coming several months after Laffite's seizure
of Galveston. In this manner he was
given authority to raid Spanish ships. By
using a number of ships and various captains,
he was able to escape recognition
for years.
11

Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 04, Number 03, Winter 1986. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45440/. Accessed September 21, 2014.