Guest post by Eric DelaBarre
When a writer sits down with an idea for a new story, the writer can be certain of one thing: there will be more questions to the story than answers. This is the nature of the beast that is known as ‘breaking story.’
The only thing I knew for certain when I sat down to write Saltwater Taffy was; 1). It would be a story of friendship and adventure. 2). It would begin in the crescent city of New Orleans, Louisiana, and 3). It would deal with the lost treasure of Jean Lafitte.
Before story inception could begin, however, I knew I had to do a bit of research on the famous New Orleans pirate, Jean Lafitte. Pouring through documents and websites, I discovered something that just about blew my mind. Although Jean Lafitte was known as one of the most ruthless pirates in history, a strong case could be made that he was also one of America’s greatest patriots. Jean Lafitte an American patriot? Well, pass me a beignet and double-up those Hurricanes, because I think we have a little known fact going on here.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that it is hard to imagine a ruthless pirate as some kind of American patriot, but it is true. Without the help of Jean Lafitte and his band of bloodthirsty Baratarian pirates, Jackson Square might have become some landmark bearing the name of King George III. King George III Square? Now see, that doesn’t even sound right, but trust me when I tell you, it almost happened.
During the War of 1812, when the British were intent on capturing the city of New Orleans, the British ship HMS Sophie fired on a small smuggling ship returning to Barataria Bay, Louisiana. Using its size to its advantage, the smaller smuggling vessel retreated into the shallow waters of the Barataria Bay swamps. It was at this point the HMS Sophie did something no other British warship with 18 guns had ever done before; it raised the white flag of surrender.
British Naval Captain, Nicholas Lockyer and some of his key officers boarded a dinghy to meet with the “Commandant of the Baratarians,” otherwise known as Jean Lafitte. Captain Lockyer presented two letters to Jean Lafitte that night. The first letter was written under the seal of King George III. It offered Lafitte and his pirates all the privileges of British citizenship, not to mention landownership in the new British Colony, if they were to assist in the Battle of New Orleans. If they refused, however, the entire British Navy would sail to Barataria and destroy it.
The second letter was from Captain McWilliams of the British Army. In the letter, Captain McWilliams urged Lafitte and his men to accept the offer or suffer dire consequences. Now, given these choices, one would think a pirate, a pirate like Jean Lafitte would quickly accept the bribe, but he did not. Instead, the Gentleman pirate, Jean Lafitte, reported the meeting to the governor of Louisiana.
Lafitte offered his services to fight against the British invasion, but Governor Claiborne had other ideas in mind. Having fought with Lafitte and his smuggling operation for years, the Louisiana governor used the opportunity to shut down Lafitte for good. Within hours of the meeting, Governor Claiborne had authorities invade Barataria Bay and arrest Lafitte and eighty of his faithful Baratarian pirates.
When British forces continued to advance into the Gulf of Mexico, General Andrew Jackson arrived in New Orleans on December 1, 1814 to defend the city of New Orleans. Much to the chagrin of Governor Claiborne, Jackson’s first order of business was to release Lafitte and accept his offer to defend the city. Lafitte agreed, but only on one condition. Jackson would have to pardon any of Lafitte’s pirates if they agreed to defend the city of New Orleans and the United States of America. General Andrew Jackson agreed.
On December 23, 1814, the British Navy reached the Mississippi River and grossly outnumbered the US forces in New Orleans. Having commandeered over one hundred French and Spanish ships as a pirate and privateer, Lafitte was an expert in strategy. He realized the American line of defense would fall short. The line would easily allow the British forces to flank and potentially surround the smaller, out-manned naval forces of the United States. Meeting with Jackson, Lafitte proposed the line be extended to the nearby swamps, otherwise known as ‘pirate country.’ General Andrew Jackson agreed and ordered his make shift naval force of pirates into the swamps.
The British navy began firing at the American lines on December 28, 1814, but were out-gunned by the expert artillery skill and battle tactics of Lafitte’s ‘swampy pirate militia.’ On January 21, 1815, General Andrew Jackson praised his troops and the men of Baratarian during the Battle of New Orleans, but singled out Lafitte for having exhibited ‘courage and fidelity’ under the pressures of war.
With the help of General Andrew Jackson, Jean Lafitte and his men were granted full pardons on February 6, 1815. By no means was the pirate Jean Laffite a saint, but without his help, the flag we fly so proudly every 4th of July might bear a different design for the beloved colors of red, white, and blue. Oh, say can you Arrrrrrrgggggg!!!
Eric DelaBarre is an award winning filmmaker and author of the adventure novel, Saltwater Taffy. http://www.whatagreatbook.com