Death of Lafitte

Jean (John) Lafitte, the “Terror of the Gulf of Mexico,” was a Frenchman by birth, born in 1781, and commenced the life of a mariner whilst he was yet a boy. Soon after he reached the age of manhood, he engaged in the slave trade, which he pursued to such profit as enabled him to purchase and fit out a large vessel, and then put out on the ocean as a pirate. He made prizes of several British East Indiamen, and eventually, became wealthy and powerful enough to found the colony of Barataria, at the mouth of the Mississippi.

At the battle of New Orleans, in 1815, the aid of Lafitte and his colony was accepted by General Jackson, who, after the victory, in his official account to the Secretary of War, highly commended the Barataria recruits; and President Madison issued a proclamation, granting full pardon to all of them who had been engaged in the defense of New Orleans. Lafitte, restored to respectability, for a while traded in and about New Orleans; but, becoming impatient of the restraints of civilization, he in 1819 manned several vessels, and sailed from New Orleans to Galveston, Texas.

The Governor of that place, a Mexican general, gave Lafitte a commission for each of his vessels. It is believed that he kept up at this time a regular life of robbing, smuggling and piracy. An American ship was boarded near our coast, and rifled of a large amount of specie, and it being well known that one of Lafitte’s cruisers had just arrived at Galveston with quantities of specie on board, the conclusion was arrived at, that Lafitte knew more of the matter than anybody else, and accordingly one of our men-of-war received orders to cruise continually off the coast of Texas.

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Some time after, one of Lafitte’s captain’s took a merchant vessel, and was carrying all sail for Lafitte’s station, with his prize in company, when he was met by the US cutter Alabama, who, suspecting the character of the schooner, hailed her, but was answered by a volley. A desperate action ensued, and the schooner was captured. The prize was brought into port, and the captured men brought into New Orleans in irons. They were tried for piracy, and found guilty.

Lafitte was horribly excited by the result of this trial. He seemed to think the whole world was against him, and he determined to be against the world. He vowed his intention to make indiscriminate war upon all God’s creatures and their property without regard to country, sex, age or condition. With this view, he sold all of his vessels but his favorite, which was a fine, large, fast-sailing brigantine, in which he placed an armament of sixteen guns, and a crew of one hundred and sixty men, and sailed on his last cruise; for a captain of a British man-of war had heard of his intention, and kept cruising in the gulf to meet him.

Early one morning, as an officer was looking out from the mast-head, he saw a suspicious sail, and orders were given to make for her, while the decks were cleared for action. Seeing that escape was hopeless, Lafitte, opened his fire upon the sloop-of-war, at the first broadside killing nine men, and carrying away her foretopmast. The man-of-war reserved her fire until close in with the brigantine, when she poured in her broadside and a volley of musketry. This did not damage the pirate’s hull, but did great execution among her rigging and crew, ten of whom were killed. At this time a greater part of the rigging was down on the decks, and the English came up and boarded her over the starboard bow. A terrible conflict ensued — terrible! Lafitte by example and word, cheered his men, until he fell to the deck, wounded desperately in two places. A ball had broken the bone of his right leg — a cutlass wound had penetrated his stomach.

The commander of the boarders was stretched senseless on the deck close to Lafitte, by a blow from the butt end of a musket. The desperate pirate seeing this, raised himself with difficulty and pain, dagger in hand, to slay the unconscious man. But as he was dying fast, his sight was failing, his brain was dizzy, his aim unsure, and the dagger which he had struck at his powerless foe pierced his own thigh, and he fell again exhausted to the dock. Again reviving, he endeavored, with the convulsive grasp of death, to plunge his dagger into the heart of his foe, but as he held it over his breast, the effort to strike burst asunder the slender ligament of life, and Lafitte was no more!

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About this story

Source publication: The Soldier's Journal

Source publication date: October 19, 1864

Filed under: 1860s, Notable people

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