While the port of New Orleans was relatively unimportant during the Golden Age of Piracy, it would become the staging grounds for the infamous pirate Jean Lafitte, in the early 1800’s.
After The Louisiana Purchase of 1803, New Orleans became the cultural center of the American south. It quickly became one of the new nation’s most important ports as a slave-trading center as well as the exporting terminus of goods brought from the American interior.
Jean Lafitte would become America’s first pirate and held a Letter of Marque (pirate license) from the government of Colombia. Lafitte owned a blacksmith shop in New Orleans, which was actually a front for his profitable smuggling business. From his business, Lafitte smuggled slaves and a wealth of other goods purchased from other pirates roaming the Gulf of Mexico. While Lafitte was not averse to occasionally plundering a Spanish trade vessel in the area, he was more of a modern-day pirate and preferred to make his illegal living by receiving and then selling stolen goods.
During the War of 1812 between America and Great Britain, Lafitte was offered a huge sum of money from the British government to use his base. Lafitte took the money and then informed the Americans of the plan. As a valuable informant, Lafitte and his band of hundreds of subordinates received a pardon for any illegal pirating and smuggling crimes of the past and helped the Americans defeat the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1814. His actions during the battle were praised by General and future president Andrew Jackson.
After being pardoned, however, Lafitte resumed his pirating ways and established a base near present-day Galveston, Texas where he once again began plundering ships in the Gulf of Mexico. After some of his men plundered an American vessel, Lafitte packed up his operation and secretly escaped somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico. Little else is known about the remainder of his life. Today, a large park in New Orleans bears his name.