Art & Identity in New Orleans

HNRS 109 Spring '18

Jean Lafitte (Laffite)

There are many stories contributing to the mystique of Pirate’s Alley, an infamous side street in New Orleans. One of the many infamous rumors is that Pirate’s Alley was the route through which many smugglers and pirates brought their stolen goods to be sold. Eventually, the former street that was named in relation to the church that rested on one side of it was changed to Pirates Alley.

One of these smugglers was Jean Lafitte. Born presumably in France, or in a french colony, Jean and his brother Pierre took to New Orleans and opened a steady and successful smuggling business. Jean Lafitte and his Barataria pirates were an eclectic bunch that were also known as the “wild men of the Spanish Main.” The term Barataria arose from the Creole word “Barateur” or “Barato” which means “cheap,” further denoting the stolen goods they sold.

There were many pirates who were based in New Orleans, so much so that women were paid to settle in New Orleans in order to “civilize” and bolster the population as the years progressed and the city became filled with ex-cons, thieves, and smugglers. What makes Jean Lafitte unique are the particular endeavors he, his brother, and their crews pursued.

One such escapade was their capture at the hands of the United States naval force. However – due to their prowess at sea and their smuggling and espionage skills – the two brothers and their men were enlisted by General Andrew Jackson to defend New Orleans from invasion from the British. It was only this capture that seemingly gave the United States the upper hand, as the British had previously been attempting to buy the Lafitte’s off. The Lafitte’s may have then provided the British with a sturdy post from which they could import men and surround Americans.

One Comment

  1. Ingrid: This is an amusing anecdote, but it doesn’t convey the larger project you intend to pursue. You need to devise a question that will require some degree of analysis. What are you hoping to discover? What complexity, nuance, or uncertainty resides in the topic you’re addressing. In essence, you should be trying not simply to compile information but to use that information to say something about whatever aspect of New Orleans’ culture or history you’ve chosen to explore.