Jean Lafitte was a pirate who operated out of the port of New Orleans in the early 1800s. Very little is known about his childhood and adolescence except that he was born in Haiti sometime around 1780 and was at least partly Jewish.
In the early 1800s, Jean and his brother established what they called the “Kingdom of Barataria” along coastal Louisiana. The “Kingdom” was actually an illegal slave smuggling business conducted by the brothers that fronted as a blacksmith outfit. From the “Kingdom,” Jean would outfit privateers who would seize vessels in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico and bring the stolen slaves and goods back. 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. The Lafittes, however, would prove only loyal to themselves, as they were also hired as Spanish spies to collect information on American military forces.
In 1817, the Lafittes were run out of New Orleans. They next set up shop near Galveston, Texas, where they took over a huge mansion, which they heavily fortified with armor and cannons. After one of their privateer ships attacked an American vessel in the Gulf of Mexico, they were forced to leave Galveston and burn their mansion. The Lafittes then set up an operation off the coast of Mexico, but by this time their operations had shrunk substantially. Jean Lafitte is thought to have died in 1826 of a fever in Mexico, though no one really knows for sure. Although he claimed to have stashed a great treasure of gold and jewels somewhere among the swamps of southern Louisiana or on Galveston Island, it has never been found.
Today, Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, in the heart of New Orleans, is named in his honor.