Lafitte, Jean Lafitte, New Orleans discussed on Key Battles of American History


Yeah, a great performance by ewell brunner with hair this time. That's unusual. Yeah. But yeah, I just love your brinner, one of my all time favorite actors. If you like my ten favorite of all time, but I'm going to start by addressing the elephant in the room. Let's just go ahead and get it out right here. And that is the fact that Jean lafitte did not act alone. He was very much in partnership with his brother, Pierre lafitte. And so it doesn't make any sense when you talk about the actual historic Jean lafitte, it makes no sense to talk about him in isolation. So I'm going to be talking about the lafitte's, the brothers lafitte, Jean and Pierre. There may have been a third brother too, but I'll talk about that later, historians are not sure, but there were definitely two, they worked in tandem, and the movie completely cuts out Pierre, Pierre must have been rolling over in his greatest. What about me? I think what they did is they I think they kind of combine them together and kind of made a composite character. They combined some aspects of peer and John into the character of Jean. Jean lafitte was born around 1780. We're not sure where, probably in either France or son domingue, that was the French colony that later became Haiti, but possibly in Spain or even New York State. It's just his origins are shaded in mystery. So Jean and his brother Pierre had the same father who was a traitor, a man of the sea, like they would become. But they had different mothers. The air became a smuggler around the year 1800. It was a little older than John. And by 1805 Jean himself was operating a warehouse in New Orleans from which good smuggled in by Pierre were distributed. Both lafittes, but especially Jean were intelligent resourceful Jean, in particular, he was fluent in French. She was fluent in English. He had a working knowledge of Spanish. He loved drinking, gambling, women, and fine clothes, and the movie gets right. He's always almost always wearing really nice, colorful clothes, and he has a nice house. He's got plates made out of solid gold. I don't know if the real lafite was that wealthy, but he was a Bon vivant. And when you get to January of 1808, the U.S. began enforcing a law that had been passed the previous year called the embargo act, Steve and I talked about this in the very first episode of our series on the war of 1812. The embargo act basically said ships don't leave and they don't come in. There will be no trade with anybody. And the lafitte's, of course, being smugglers, they said, we're not going to follow that law. They move their base of operations to a group of islands and barataria bay, which is off the coast of southern Louisiana. Their ships would land there and John and piers men would load their smuggled goods onto smaller boats to take them to New Orleans. They would go all through the bayous and the swamps and everything and they developed a great knowledge of the terrain there. Now Pierre stayed mostly in New Orleans itself, managing their affairs while Jeanne stayed in barataria managing the outfitting of privateers in the smuggling of stolen goods. By 1810, the lafitte's business was booming and barataria had become a crowded, busy port. The lafitte's main commodity and the movie definitely does not address this issue because they wanted to make lafitte look like a really, really good guy, a wonderful guy. A little bit of an edge, perhaps, but they do not mention in the movie the fact that the lafitte's main commodity was African slaves. The U.S. had outlawed the international slave trade in 1808. So the lafitte's would smuggle in slaves from the Caribbean and other places they would buy them cheaply in the West Indies. Smuggle them in Louisiana where they were expensive because of the federal ban on slave imports that I mentioned. So that's a very seedy and dark side of the lafitte that, again, the movie completely ignores. In 1812, the lafitte began engaging in piracy, mainly against Spanish ships. They did not attack American ships as a policy. And they were actually under the flag of cartagena, which was a city which is now in modern day Colombia at the time that was breaking away from the Spanish Empire. So they were technically privateers and I guess mentioned the difference. A privateer is basically a pirate with a piece of paper from a government saying you have my blessing to do this. We talked about that also in the battle series. It's a legal pirate. But cartagena wasn't really recognized by a lot of other nations. So it was questionable and certainly not accepted by all nations that they were actually legal privateers. That's why they were called pirates often. And they had a reputation for treating captured crew members well. And they often returned captured ships. They tended to not just take the stuff, but they would leave the crew alive and just give them the ship right back. They didn't always do that, but they sometimes did. And the people of New Orleans were grateful to the lafitte for bringing them luxuries. They couldn't get due to the blockade. And I think the movie does a good job of capturing this. This movie in general, like a lot of Hollywood movies based on historical events. They get the big picture right, and they get a lot of some of the details right, but then they completely make up other things and completely get some things wrong. But we see in the opening part of the movie this outdoor bizarre where Jean lafitte and his men are selling all these smuggled in goods, these goods that they had basically captured and stolen from Spanish ships and then brought in and they sell them at high prices. And that's how they make their money. But of course, that's illegal in the U.S., so when the authorities start to come, they pack everything up and they disappear. And that did tend to happen from time to time. The government was often trying to stop this smuggling that the lafittes and their allies were doing, but they had very little success. It's really interesting gray zone that the lafitte's operated and legal pirates, but they're remit, so to speak is not from the United States and it's not from Britain. They're kind of helping the Americans, but they don't really have any obligation to do that. Did you get any sense in your research? Identify as you might say, identify as American or as something else. Well, he first and foremost, he saw himself as a French man, but he didn't have any real official ties to the French government. During the war of 1812, at least the early part, the British were not just fighting in North America. They were also fighting the French. They were fighting Napoleon, but Napoleon was defeated in 1814 and at that point the British were able to devote their full attention to the Americas. And that's what brings on the battle of New Orleans, which we'll talk more about later. But lafitte, in the movie, they portray him as desperately wanting to be an American, like he wants to become an American citizen and they give that as the reason why he doesn't attack American ships. But in reality, the real lafitte, his loyalty was to Jean lafitte. It was loyal to whatever was going to promote his situation, whatever was going to promote prosperity and bring him wealth. If that meant working for cartagena, fine, he'll work for cartagena. And later on, he actually turns and this is well after the war and after the events described in the movie, but he actually goes on the Spanish payroll in spies on people who are working to undermine Spanish authority in Mexico and other parts of their empire. So yeah, the lafitte were loyal to the lafittes. That's what they identified as their own personal entity. What was happening in New Orleans and how was lafitte involved with what was going on in this lead up to the great battle of New Orleans. Okay, so when the war of 1812 broke out, the U.S. government gave letters of Mark. And that is one of those letters I told you about that was it was an official sanction or an official blessing for a captain and his crew to basically be a pirate. But again, because they're working for a government, they're not a pirate anymore. They're now a privateer. There's a very fine line between those two. But so the government our government, the U.S. government gave letters of Mark to several ship captains who had been working with lafitte's. But the governor of Louisiana longtime governor William claiborne ordered the capture of lafitte. He didn't like what lafitte was doing. He was a by the book guy. At least for the most part, he wanted the law to be obeyed and lafitte was clearly violating Louisiana law as well as American law. But as I said, lafitte had a tendency to not be caught and sometimes he would get caught and he would escape. So there was a lot of frustration on the part of claiborne and the authorities in Louisiana as well as the U.S. Military. In January 1814, lafitte set up an auction site outside New Orleans at which he sold smuggled goods. I mentioned that a minute ago and again, that's shown at the beginning of the movie. Soon after this, though, Pierre lafitte was arrested, convicted of aiding pirates in jail, but he later escaped. Steve, you've studied 19th century U.S. history quite a bit as have I I'm thinking about Billy the Kid. It was really easy to escape from jails back in those days. They weren't like today where they would be and lockdown, you know, blah, blah, blah, but no, you just you could just knock through a wall or you could wait till the guard is asleep or bribe the guard or hope the guard drinks a 5th of whisky and then you're out of there. So that's what beer did. Now during the war, the British, this is shown in the movie, and this is accurate. The British actually came to lafitte, offered him British citizenship, $30,000 in cash, which back then was a fortune. And a captaincy in the Royal Navy in return for help against the Americans. Lafitte pretended that he was interested. He said, well, give me some more time and I'll think about that. But in the end, he double crossed the British. He warned the U.S. of the approaching British. And he also offered to assist the Americans in their defense against the British attack. Everybody knew that the British were coming. It was no surprise that they were headed to New Orleans. Although at first, the Louisiana legislature rejected his offer of help. And then in September of 1814 an American force attacked barataria, capturing 8 ships and 80 men, basically destroying the base, but both a little feet got away. They weren't even there. The British also raided lafitte's base. That is not shown on the movie, but the British also attacked that they weren't happy about him turning down their offer. And they put the finishing touches on it. Cleburne then lobbied the U.S. government to pardon the baratarians since they might be able to help against the upcoming British attack. Meanwhile, general Andrew Jackson accepted lafitte's offer of help. And that's all shown pretty accurately in the movie. They actually, there's a scene where the British come in and lafitte feeds them a meal and they specifically say, we'll give you citizenship land, $30,000 in cash, make you a captain in the Royal Navy and lafitte's second in command, general Dominique yu, he wasn't really a general, but he said, oh, you know, with every single one, we don't need land. We're privateers. We don't need money looking at all this money we have. He doesn't need to captain the Royal Navy. He's already a captain of a huge fleet. So yeah, that's interesting. And I find it interesting that even though the Americans were constantly after him and they even damaged his base, which is shown very well in the movie, lafitte still wanted to help the Americans. He hated the British. And I think that's part of the fact, are that comes from the fact that he was French. And French and British, as you know, thought each other off and on for over a thousand years. He really did have a very good setup, too, and barataria. It was a really key point. And for all intents and purposes, he was essentially it was an independent kingdom for him. There really was. It was both a very successful business and almost like his own shadow government. The U.S. just wasn't able to do anything about him. Nothing serious. Again, they talked about it. They made a few efforts, but they were too busy fighting the British and they just didn't really have the resources to go after the lafitte's with both barrels. It also, when going back to what you said about him being able to escape. Prison was a lot less, I guess, secure and physically secure, but also the whole apparatus. Yeah, you're a fugitive, but if you can go to your own private kingdom that's just a couple of miles away, that kind of takes away some of the sting of the authority, the government has, which probably they weren't exactly happy about, yes, exactly. Now what role did lafitte have in this monumental battle of New Orleans? Yeah, this is kind of controversial because there is no doubt that both lafitte's Pierre and Jean helped out in the effort to defend against the British attack. However, the movie makes this very dramatic they make the baratarians show up at the very last minute, nobody knows what they're going to do. That wasn't true. They were pretty early on. But they were spread out all over the place. So it's not like you had all of lafitte's men on the battle line, the very battle line that Jackson had constructed to stop the British from getting to New Orleans. Some of them were in forts and different places. Some of them were at 14 Philip, for example. Again, spread out Jean lafitte himself was probably not even on the main battlefield as he has shown in the movie and the movie he's dashing around, helping fire cannons and he even goes out in front of the American line at one point and sends a signal so that the Americans will know when the British are about 300 yards away and therefore within American rifle range. He's just dashing and daring and doing all this stuff and he just saves the day, but in fact the lafitte and his men, although they did help and they did bring some needed ammo and they brought, especially flints, the Americans were still using flintlock rifles at this time, which are basically the same weapon that they used during the Revolutionary War. You had a hammer which would strike a piece of Flint, which would start a spark that would go down into the barrel of the gun, have a minor explosion, and that would force the bullet out of the barrel. The Americans were extremely short on flints and lafitte and his men supplied lots of Flint, and that certainly helped. As I said, but it's not like they just turned the tide of the battle. It's not like, oh man, if Jean lafitte and his men had not come in and saved the day, we would have lost the battle. We probably would have won even without the pirates. It will talk more about the actual battle itself because it's just the way the British handled it was absolutely awful. It was terrible. They were going to lose almost certainly no matter what. Again, not certainly, but the odds were definitely against them. In fact, I was reading in a book about Jean lafitte and Pierre lafitte that the baratarians only made up about 2% of the total force at New Orleans at the battle. And again, as I said, they were spread out. So they did help. Some of them actually served on ships. They served in the naval force that fought the British navy. There was a mini naval battle going on at the same time or just before the land battle. Really, it's not and when you think of the battle of New Orleans, it's really a campaign. It's a series of several battles, not just the one climatic battle that's shown in the movie. And they touch on that a little on the movie. Later on, U.S. Commodore Daniel Patterson, who is portrayed in the movie. He praised the baratarians who served on one U.S. Navy ship, saying that their skill with artillery was greater than that of their British counterparts. Then that is absolutely true, and they show that to a certain degree in the movie. The main strength that the lafitte and their men brought was that they knew how to run a cannon. A lot of the U.S. naval personnel were very green and didn't have a lot of experience with operating cannons, but you know when you're a pirate and you're out on the seas, you've got to be really good with a cannon. And so that was a big help. On land and sea, the former pirate gunners earned praise as the battle continued. General Jackson himself praised the, singling out Jean and Pierre lafitte for having exhibited great courage and fidelity. In fact, Jackson and lafitte got along so well that the pirate became Jackson's unofficial aide de camp for a while after the battle. That's not showing the movie, of course. But after the battle, Jackson formally requested clemency for the lafitte and the man who had served under them. They were all outlaws, of course, according to the American government, and the U.S. government indeed granted them a pardon. President Madison pardoned lafitte and all the men that fought in the battle on February 6th, 1815, about a month after the battle. James here, and now a brief word from our sponsors. So that's pretty cool. Yeah, it's really interesting the movie, it kind of shows that a Jackson is his defense of New Orleans is a sort of a slapdash affair, and he did have to do a pretty quickly, but he had in military terms a ton of time to exactly prepare the battle field the way he wanted to have it prepared. Yeah, he had a dream set up when we talked about Gettysburg. We, of course, talked quite a bit about Pickett's charge. This is another one of these battles where a large force marches across a wide open field with a total visibility and the other side is dug in in a great defensive position with a lot of cannon. Think charge of the light brigade think Civil War battle of Fredericksburg battles like that. And so the British really didn't have much of a chance, even though they slightly outnumbered the Americans. So yeah, the Americans actually were ordered by Jackson to conduct kind of a preemptive strike. It was on December 23rd, 1814. They and knight, they hit the British lines and that's not shown in the movie. And then they backed up to their position and Jackson dug them in along a canal. It was just a really fantastic defensive position on one side, the canal was anchored by swamps that you just couldn't go through on the other side. It was anchored by the Mississippi River. So great position Jackson ordered them to build earthworks to build a little timber works wooden walls to defend. And also they used cotton. And they do show that in the movie it's kind of funny. This guy goes, hey, that's my cotton Jackson's gonna like, yeah, well, we need it. Of course, they had a lot of cannon. Many of which are some of which were manned by the pirates who already said we're really good with canon. So yeah, it was the British were just cut down. They were slaughtered. They just marched across this wide open field, the American canon cut them to pieces, and then they got close enough to the American rifles, were able to decimate the British lines and then finally they got close enough to where the American muskets, which had shorter range, were able to also cut them. And the British none of them even reached the American defenses. There was no pickets charged moment, you know, remember how some of the confederates actually got over the wall. They didn't even get that close before they had to retreat. And several of the British generals were actually killed in the charge. Colonels were killed or wounded. A lot of top officers were just cut down. It was a disaster, the British lost. You didn't really ask me that, but I thought I'd go ahead and close the book on the battle of the British lost 2000 out of a force of about 6000. They lost about 2000 killed and wounded. Whereas the Americans just lost a few dozen. One of the most one sided battles in American history. I mean, I don't know nearly as much about military history as you do. But in my reading, this is one of the most of any battle where it was the land and the preparation and the amount of material that one side had and that the other side of the British just walked into the perfect trap maybe isn't the right word because I think the British more or less knew what they were going into. But to have the fields so perfectly set for the battle of that Jackson wanted, it's probably one of the greatest in all of American history, but probably in world history one of the tops. Yeah, absolutely. And a lot of it is just British arrogance and overconfidence. They said, were the British Army for crying out loud. We just defeated Napoleon. We can defeat a bunch of ragtag Americans. They really play up the ragtag and small nature of the American force in the movie. The Americans actually had almost as many people as the British. They had about 5500, but a lot of those were brought in the last minute. And the American force was very diverse. You didn't have very many regular U.S. Army soldiers. You had a lot of militia. You had volunteers. There were Native Americans. The choctaw members of the choctaw nation fought in the battle. They show that in the movie, you had slaves were fighting. You also had free blacks fighting. You had people that spoke Spanish only. People that spoke French only. I read in one place that orders had to be given in four languages. English Spanish French and choctaw. So it really was a mixed up force, but Jackson had done a great job of whipping them into shape and giving them confidence and courage to stand there even in the face of this awesome looking attack. I'm using that in the basic sense of the word. I imagine it was awe inspiring to see all those red uniforms and especially since they sent the highlanders. They sent a highland regiment and they were marching just fearlessly and they were playing bagpipes and they mentioned the movie at 1.1 of the American defender says, gosh, that's really scaring me and Jackson said, yeah, that's the point. That's why they do that. Yeah, that was another part of it is that the British and we'll talk about this a little bit when we talk about the accuracy of the movie. The British had these highland regiments that were meant to terrify, then they used the congreve rockets. Yes. And those were really terror weapons. But the Americans were in such a secure position, a lot of those terror elements really didn't work. No, they really didn't. And I think that's a testimony to Jackson's leadership. Jackson was, in my opinion, a very effective military commander. He inspired the men to hold their ground. Don't freak out because of all these rockets that are flying around. They're not going to do a lot of damage. Just because they look scary and they've got awesome uniforms and they've got bagpipes and all that. We're going to win this. We're going to cut them down. And that's exactly what happened. At the end of the battle, it was pretty much that lafitte had worn out as welcome in New Orleans. And the last scene of the movie is showing him sailing off into destiny. Where did lafitte wind up going after this time and maybe why did he have to leave New Orleans? Yeah, okay, so this is totally made up. This is where the movie departs from reality. So there was the ship. You mentioned, I think you called it the Cunningham. It was actually the Corinthians. So that's right. Early in the movie, one of lafitte's subordinate captains Brown, I believe was his name, captain Brown, who is fictional character. They show captain Brown taking a group of the pirates and they hear that there's $250,000 worth of gold on the ship called the Corinthian, and so they attack the Corinthian, but in violation of lafitte's policy, they torch the ship and it's implied that everybody is killed, except for a cabin boy that he's kind of a cute little fella, a cabin boy escapes and ends up kind of being feats little buddy so to speak. But so yeah, Brown, this captain this fictional captain captain Brown ends up having a ship burned and people killed. And as you mentioned, lafitte actually has him hanged. He starts to do it himself, then he makes other people hang. And so at the end of the movie, after the long celebration, which they did have a celebration, they did have a ball. I'm sure the dance was even longer than it was at the movie. This is the age of classic Hollywood, right? Steve, you got to have a long dance scene. Yeah. But it was okay. I like the colorful outfits. I appreciate the fact that they did show people wearing colorful clothes. One of the things that we often see in movies that are

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