1. Q: When were Jean and Pierre Laffite born?
A: No authenticated record of Jean Laffite's birth has been found, but it is generally believed that he was born sometime around 1780. When he applied for a French privateer commission in 1813 he claimed to be 32 years old; Pierre was believed to be about 40 in 1816. Their contemporaries nearly always distinguished between the two Laffite brothers as "the elder" and "the younger" and there is abundant documentary evidence that Pierre was the older of the two.
Pierre Laffite's death is well documented: he perished on the northern coast of the Yucatan peninsula in the fall of 1821. Jean Laffite disappeared into the "fog of history" after he escaped from prison in Puerto Principe, Cuba, in February, 1822. Reports of his death in a sea-fight in the Gulf of Honduras in 1823 have not yet been confirmed by primary sources. There are no confirmed "sightings" after the early 1820's.
Jean Laffite, the pirate, is occasionally confused with Jean Lafitte, father and son, of New Orleans. Lafitte pere came to Louisiana in the 1760's and settled in New Orleans, where he was a respected merchant. In 1777 he married Isabelle Roche. Their son, baptized Jean on February 7, 1779, was a mariner and immigrated to the French West Indies before the Louisiana Purchase. The Lafitte home was located at 3 Chartres St. and they had a small plantation in what is now Audubon Park. Old Jean Lafitte died in New Orleans on September 25, 1789, and is buried in Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1; Isabelle died in 1806. Their son Jean appears to have died in a storm at sea around 1817--[Vogel.]
2. Q: Where were the Laffite brothers born?
A: Pierre and Jean Laffite were Frenchmen and their nationality is always given as such in contemporary records. When asked, they claimed to be French citizens, and neither made any attempt to become naturalized after they came to live in the United States. When they applied to the French consul in New Orleans for a privateer commission in March, 1813, Jean gave Bordeaux as his place of birth. In 1816, his fellow conspirator Dr. Juan Mariano Picornell informed the Spanish secret service that Pierre Laffite's mother was a Spaniard from Orduna--which makes Bordeaux a plausible birthplace for the brothers--[Vogel.]
[Ramsay, in Jean Laffite, Prince of Pirates, takes the position that Pierre and Jean were born at St. Dominique and came to Louisiana as children in the 1780s with their widowed mother. This he believes accounts for Jean's superior knowledge of the swamps and bayous at an early age; knowledge that prepared him for leadership of the Baratarians and the Battle of New Orleans. According to this account his mother married a New Orleans merchant and this assured him of acceptance among the clannish inhabitants of the city. This acceptance would have been denied a newcomer--[Ed.]
3. Q: Who were their parents?
A: Until conclusive proof of the Laffite brothers' nativity is produced the identities of their parents and siblings cannot be determined. French genealogists have, however, found documents which suggest that Pierre and Jean may have been born in Bordeaux (in 1772 and 1782, respectively), the sons of Antoine Laffite, a rope maker, and Guillemette Chataigne. Unfortunately, their names are common in that part of the world and researchers are still busy sorting out the various Pierre and Jean Laffites-- [Vogel.]
The names of the children born to this couple, in whom we are interested, are:
A. Pierre Laffite born 12 April, 1772 B. Alexandre Laffite born 6 May, 1774 C. Jean Laffite born 15 August, 1782
(This information is presented and discussed in: Suduiraut, Bertrand Guillot, "Laffite, Brothers & Co., Buccaneers, or the Impossible Quest" Généalogie et Historie de la Caraibe. No. 82 (May, 1996), pp., 1618-1620. Also published in The Laffite Society Chronicles, Vol. III, Number 1(January, 1997).
The presence of Alexandre raises the interesting possibility that this person may be Dominique (aka Frederic) You- Youx.--Ed.]
4. Q: Was he a Jew?
A: Most likely not. The fabricated Laffite genealogy in the Journal of Jean Laffite is the source of the twentieth-century legend that the Laffite brothers were descended from Spanish Jews. None of their contemporaries ever alluded to their being Jews or having Jewish heritage--[Vogel.]
5. Q: Was he ever married?
A: Probably, but no record of a marriage has been found either in France or America. None of Laffite's contemporaries mentioned him having a wife or family in Louisiana--[Vogel.]
6. Q: Did he have any children?
A: Possibly, but we do not have documentary proof of any children, legitimate or natural. An 1818 document in the Papeles de Cuba contains an allusion to Eugene, the teenaged son of Pierre Laffite-- [Vogel.]
7. Q: What is the correct spelling of Jean's surname?
A: The Laffite brothers signed their names Laffite, using a variant of the common French spelling. Their surname is commonly rendered Lafitte in documents written in English; Spanish documents sometimes use Lafit or Lafita. The Laffite brothers of Barataria are occasionally confused with members of the Laffitte family who were colonial-period pioneers in the area around Natchitoches, Louisiana--[Vogel.]
8. Q: What does "Laffite" mean?
A: Laffite (Laffitte, Lafitte, Lafit) is an old French word. According to etymologists, it originated as the name of a locality in Gascony (see Davzat's Dictionaire Etymologique). The surname is quite common in southwestern France--[Vogel.]
[An old definition--Fit /Fit/, n. AS fitt a song. In Old English, a song; a strain; a canto or portion of a ballad; a passus. Written also fitte, fytte, etc.
To play some pleasant fit.--Spenser.--Ed.]
9. Q: Is the name Laffite copyrighted?
A: No--and one shudders to think what would happen if such a thing were to happen--[Vogel.]
[A name cannot be copyrighted. In some instances a name can be registered as a Trademark--Ed.]
10. Q: What happened to Catherine Villars and her sister Marie?
A: The legend of Catherine and Marie Villars being the consorts of the Laffite brothers appears to have originated with Lyle Saxon, who used real sacramental records to create a fictional romantic subplot for his historical novel, Lafitte the Pirate, published in 1930. When examined in their proper historic context, (early nineteenth century New Orleans) the information contained in the Saint Louis Cathedral registers clearly invalidates Saxon's claim of a piratical family connection. More to the point, Saxon is presenting these data out of context. Pierre Lafitte, Adelaide Maselari & Catherine Villars were real people who left behind authentic records of their identities and there is nothing in the church register entries cited by Saxon that connects them with the Baratarians--[Vogel].
[There are in fact connections between the Laffites and the Villards [in legal documents the name was not spelled Villars] Pierre was involved with Marie Villard in several transactions recorded in the New Orleans Notarial Archives after 1815, mostly slave sales, and Jean was surety to a note of hers used in purchasing her house at Bourbon and St. Philip in 1816. All of these documents contain unmistakable Laffite signatures. This does not necessarily have to mean that there was a romantic liaison between Pierre and Marie, however, still, when added to the records of St. Louis cathedral's baptisms--even as properly read and interpreted--this would seem to confirm her being Peirre's mistress. No legal documents connect Jean with Catherine Villard. U.S. District Court records contain a reference to a mulatto or quadroon mistress with Jean at Galveston in 1819, but she is not named.--William C. Davis.]
[In 1811 Pierre Laffite sold a slave to Adelaide Maselari, which is recorded on a document with his recognizable signature in the Notarial Archives in New Orleans. That is not proof of a romantic relationship between them, but it does establish at least a connection and suggests that the connection between Pierre Laffite and her in the sacramental records might not be mistaken--William C. Davis.]
11. Q: What kind of man was Jean Laffite?
A: Very few of those who knew him wrote down their impressions of the man's character or personality traits--much of what was "remembered" about him later on was embellished, distorted, or wholly fabricated. Nowadays, we would probably call someone like him a "gangster" or "soldier of fortune" --[Vogel,]
[He has been described as tall with regular features--one person said he had small hands and feet. He was almost always described as a gracious host, polite and gentlemanly. He was basically a businessman and not a blood-thirsty pirate as he is portrayed in movies and pulp literature. He may have engaged in piracy after his sojourn at Galveston, but before he left there he was basically a privateer-businessman who seldom went to sea. He was apparently a strict disciplinarian.--Ed.]
12. Q: What kind of man was Pierre Laffite?
A: Every one of their contemporaries agreed: Pierre Laffite was the principal, the leader, the boss, the brains of the operation, the man who made all the important decisions. In their letters, it is clear that Pierre is the senior partner and Jean the number-two man, and Jean is always deferential toward his older brother. When Pierre was indicted for piracy (the grand jury ignored Jean) in July 1814, the editor of the Louisiana Gazette described him as the "Emperor of Barataria, King of the Smugglers, &c"--[Vogel.]
[Stanley Faye in Privateers of the Gulf made a strong case for the opposite view. He presented Jean as the brains of the operation and Pierre as sometimes given first billing because of the old European custom that the elder should be first. He cited extensive evidence to support Jean as the dominant one in brains and ability. Faye later reversed his position while citing no new evidence to justify the change. His changed position is found in Stanley Faye, "The Great Stoke of Pierre Laffite" The Louisiana History Quarterly, Vol. 23, No., 3, July, 1940, pp. 733-826.--Ed.]
13. Q: Was Dominique You (Youx) a brother of Jean Laffite?
A: Many years after the fact, the merchant Vincent Nolte wrote in his memoirs Fifty Years in Both Hemispheres [New York, 1854]) that the Laffites and You were brothers, a claim that cannot be substantiated. When Nolte wrote his book, Laffite and You had recently become celebrities.
Dominique You (a.k.a. Frederick Youx) was an important corsair in his own right. He was born in France around 1772 and died in New Orleans in 1830. He was in St. Dominique (modern Haiti) in 1800 and emigrated from that place to Santo Domingo (the Spanish side of the island) in 1803--he was probably a member of the unsuccessful French military expedition to Haiti in 1802-1804. His name first appears as a privateer in 1804 and he lived in Baracoa, Cuba, for some time before coming to Louisiana circa 1810. Court documents strongly suggest that he was an independent operator rather than a follower of the Laffite brothers--[Vogel.]
[See answer to question 3 above. Some members of the Laffite Society believe he was a brother and was involved in the Laffite operations at least at certain times. John Oliver, who was present when the Patterson-Ross raid took place, gave testimony in court that Dominique was present, that he was not in charge of a vessel but was a commander under Laffite. Laffite commissioned him to take charge of Barataria whereupon Laffite left the scene. More research is needed to arrive at a definitive answer-- Ed.]
14. Q: Is it true that the Laffite and Bonaparte families were friends?
A: There is no credible evidence that a familial link existed between Jean Laffite and Napoleon Bonaparte. This legend appears to have originated in southern Louisiana during the late nineteenth century and eventually found its way into the public domain through the writings of Lyle Saxon and others--[Vogel.]
15. Q. Is it true that oil companies are now paying royalties to Laffite descendents?
A: There are persistent rumors that Jean Laffite was known by several aliases including the surnames Billot and Boutte. Members of these families have received royalty payments and some of them believe they receive them because their ancestor was Jean Laffite. No hard evidence to back up these claims has been presented.--[R. Dale Olson.]