|The always gorgeous Jason Momoa as |
Jean Laffite in Comedy Central's Drunk History
My father was a story-teller of the first order. In fact I come from a long line of storytellers so it should come as no surprise to anyone that I turned into a storyteller, too. But Dad... Dad was shameless and woe betide the most gullible of his children, because it has gotten me into trouble more than once. This all started somewhere around third grade when we were given an assignment to make a family tree. I pestered my mother for information until she met the limit of her patience. Then she told me to go ask my father, who was downstairs working in his woodshop.
|Maison Rouge ruins in Galveston|
Eventually I came to the disappointed realization that I really wasn't Jean Laffite's great-great (how many greats?) granddaughter. I can't remember what my teacher thought of my family tree, but my teacher that year was a nice lady who knew my parents, so she probably just rolled her eyes and though, “Oh, Tino!” So, great-grandpa-less, I made my way in the world. But Jean Laffite was never very far from my daydreams.
The first time I went to Galveston, Texas, I drove past some interesting ruins in an overgrown field, and slammed on my brakes when I saw a sign identifying the ruins as the remains of Jean Laffite's Maison Rouge. At that time there was no fence around the ruins like there is now, and you could wander through them, which I did, listening for ghosts. Over the next couple of years, I visited the site a few times and someone told me that it was haunted by a pack of black hounds from hell with flaming red eyes, who one could hear howling on moonlit nights. I actually went there a few times at night, but apparently the ghostly hounds chose to take those nights off.
|Laffite's Blacksmith Shop when I first saw it on Bourbon Street in New Orleans|
|As it is today, a popular night club|
|Inside, the original hearth has been preserved|
Later, in New Orleans, I encountered Laffite's Blacksmith Shop which was in ruins. Both the Laffite brothers, Jean and Pierre, had trained as blacksmiths and when they first came to New Orleans from France they opened up shop there. Eventually they found privateering to be far more profitable, but they maintained their blacksmith shop as cover for their new enterprise. These days the shop, which is on Bourbon Street, has been converted into a nightclub. I have not been there since, but it looks good in the pictures.
|The Olde Absinthe House before renovation. Jean and Pierre Laffite met |
with Andrew Jackson on the second floor to plan the Battle of New Orleans
|The interior when the meeting took place|
|The sign today|
|The front today|
|Downstairs bar today|
Also in New Orleans on the corner of Bourbon and Bienville is Jean Lafitte's Old Absinthe House which has been in operation since 1806. It is said that it was on the second floor of that building that the Laffites met with Andrew Jackson to discuss strategy before the Battle of New Orleans. That whole story is pretty fascinating. In the War of 1812, the British had attempted to recruit Jean Laffite but, being French, and thus considering the British a natural enemy, he wanted no part of that. Jackson, weary from the Indian Wars and carrying 2 bullets inside him, headed for New Orleans and, seeing what was available to him as troops, knew he needed artillerymen. Who better for that than the notorious Laffites?
|Laffite's signature on a letter to the President|
By the way, I doing research, I see that most places spell the name of the brothers “Lafitte” but if you look at the letters that Laffite himself wrote, he always signed it “Laffite” thus I have chosen to use that spelling.
After the Battle of New Orleans, the Laffites received full pardons for past sins from the President, but it didn't take long for them to go back to their old ways. As the United States became more united and new laws were passed, Jean no longer felt safe in New Orleans so moved operations to the wild frontier of Texas, settling in Galveston.
|Sketch of Laffite from the description |
by someone who knew him
There is a popular story that, after the Battle of Waterloo, Jean and Pierre had a plan to capture Napoleon from Elba and bring him to New Orleans. The truth is, it is hard to know what is fact and what is folklore where Jean Laffite is concerned. As I was doing research I came across two descriptions from people who had actually met him. One, a man who was at the Battle of New Orleans, described him as “six feet tall, uncommonly handsome, and a powerful build, with black hair and eyes, very attractive to the women who followed him wherever he went.” The second description came from a lady who met him when, she estimated, he was about forty. She wrote, “he was over six feet tall, exceptionally handsome with a fine figure, thick black hair just touched with gray, long side whiskers, and hazel eyes.” She also made note of the fact that he was with a lady “of voluptuous proportions” who kept her eyes on him. He is said to have been fluent in French, English, Spanish, and Italian, too.
We know from other writings that both he and Pierre had many mistresses and Jean had at least one daughter. There is much speculation about whatever became of him. Some say when things got too close in Galveston, he buried his gold, set Galveston on fire, and moved on to the Yucatan. Others say he moved to Illinois where he lived under another name and wrote a journal. I have read parts of the journal and, while it is exciting, I am pretty sure it is fiction.
So that is probably more than you wanted to know about my famous invented ancestor, but it has been fun writing about him. In fact, there is every reason to believe I'll be doing more of that—he's too good a character to waste.
Thanks for reading.