Heritage, Volume 04, Number 03, Winter 1986

In late 1815 and early 1816, following
the British conflict, Jean, Pierre, and
their companion, Major Arsene Latour,
became secret agents for the Spanish
crown. They were under the immediate
direction of Padre Antonio de Sedilla of
Saint Louis Cathedral in New Orleans.
From this group of saints and sinners, the
Spaniards obtained much information
about the filibusters and other privateers
and pirates. The Laffites played this dangerous
game well; however, they would
eventually lose most of their wealth because
the king of Spain would never reimburse
them for the money spent on the
Galveston project. Evidently they played
their roles admirably. According to a
letter written on'April 12, 1817, Captain
General Don Jose Cienfuegos, Spanish
commander in Havana, Cuba, to Don
Fatio, New Orleans Royalist agent, the
Laffites were to be assisted with any practical
plan they proposed in the interest of
Spain.
On September 12, 1816, Mexican revolutionists
set up a government at Galveston,
Texas, in another filibuster attempt.
A commissioned Frenchman,
Louis d'Aury, who was commander of the
fleet of the Mexican republic, was named
Civil and Military Governor of Texas and
Galveston Island. The Mexican flag was
raised over the island and privateering began
against Spanish commerce. The island
had also been chosen as a rendezvous
by another Mexican revolutionary group,
its army headed by General Francisco
Xavier Mina. This expedition arrived at
Galveston on November 24, 1816. The
two leaders were supposed to join forces
and free Mexico; however, Mina and
Aury did not get along.
In his diary, Jean Laffite wrote that on
March 16, 1817, he sailed to Galveston
to spy on Aury and Mina. He arrived on
March 23 and remained for two weeks
discussing the situation with each of the
military leaders. The diplomatic Laffite
conferred back and forth without disclosing
his own motives, until the two were
finally brought to an agreement. The invasion
army, with the rival commanders
on separate vessels, sailed out the harbor
on April 7, 1817, on what was to be another
unsuccessful invasion of Mexico.
Just before leaving, Aury set fire to his
huts and cabins on shore.
The shrewd Jean took advantage of this
golden opportunity. The next day Laffite
took over Aury's government and became
12

Jean Laffite, 1804, 22 years old. Courtesy of Sam
Houston Regional Library Research Center,
Liberty.
master of Galveston. With his brother
Pierre, he took up residence on Snake Island,
as it was then called, and renamed
it the Camp of Campeche. His force consisted
at first of forty men, some who had
come with him and some recruited from
the skeleton organization Aury had left
behind. The official, Louis Yturribarria,
administered the oath of allegiance to the
Mexican government. Jean's associates
never suspected that he was a Spanish
agent, and Spain never suspected that he
intended to prey upon Spanish vessels for
the Mexican republic.
Jean and Pierre Laffite had first arrived
at Galveston with a small fleet and a few
of their Barataria pirates. News of the
new Laffite establishment spread rapidly,
and followers came flocking back. Before
long, the men numbered about a thousand
and terror began to follow commerce
on the Gulf.
Complaints were repeatedly made to
Washington, and the U.S. authorities
would have stopped Gulf piracy had it not
been for the Spanish minister Luis de
Onis. The Texas coast was claimed by
both countries, and Spain would not admit
to having the United States evict the
buccaneers lest the U.S. government
hold the coast afterward as its own. This
disagreement left Jean Laffite's men in
a perfect position to continue their plundering
of not only Spanish ships but also

any ship they found. Spain suffered ten
times more than other countries, but if
the Spanish government were willing to
submit to it, the United States would not
object. Spain never recovered from the
blow Laffite's corsairs inflicted upon her
Gulf commerce.
On Galveston Island, Jean had a house
built for himself, which he named Maison
Rouge, or Red House. He installed a
cannon in a window of the upper story,
facing the harbor. Rude cabins were
thrown up nearby, and soon there was a
community. He ruled by the rope and
pistol, keeping a tight rein on all he
allowed to join his communal organization.
But he was also a man of grace,
poise, and dignity-and judged by most
to be a gentleman.
In 1817 an organization known as the
Napoleonean Confederation began guilding
up an army to invade New Spain. The
existence of the Napoleonic conspiracy
was discovered when the Baron Hyde de
Neoville, Minister of France, obtained
some letters addressed to Joseph Bonaparte,
Napoleon's brother. French refugees
in the United States were at the bottom
of the plan to enthrone Joseph as king of
New Spain. General Antoine Rigau, his
associate, went to Mobile with a contingent
of French officers, and Lallemand
went to New Orleans with his men to increase
the group of French recruits. Seven
hundred men had already gathered there
to wait for him. Lallemand was expecting
a total of about one thousand men with
which he would go to Galveston and prepare
an attack against Mexico.
Pierre Laffite's ship was hired in New
Orleans to transport the first part of Lallemand's
group to Galveston. In January
and March of 1818, Generals Rigau and
Lallemand arrived in Galveston with the
first 120 recruits, and were welcomed by
Jean. On March 10 they proceeded eighteen
miles up the Trinity River to Atascosito
and established an "agricultural
settlement." Two forts were built and
eight cannons mounted. The men were
put into three companies. With Lallemand
as commander in chief and Rigau as
second in command, military drills were
held daily. This hardly seemed like the
peaceful farming settlement it was reported
to be.
Meanwhile Jean continually passed information
about the French exiles to his
brother Pierre, who in turn conveyed the
messages to agent Padre Sedilla. In one

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 August 29, 2014.