Oil on canvas, early nineteenth century
A man of legend more than fact, Jean Laffite is remembered as the patriotic pirate who came to Andrew Jackson’s rescue at New Orleans and, as a reward, was pardoned for his crimes. In reality, little can be said for certain, even what he looked like. At the height of his power, Laffite commanded a force of roughly 1,000 men based in Barataria Bay, near New Orleans, and plundered ships across the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1814 the British approached Laffite, offering a bribe of a captain’s commission, hoping for an alliance in their attack on New Orleans. Yet for unknown reasons Laffite refused, instead offering his services to Andrew Jackson. Laffite served as Jackson’s unofficial “aide-de-camp,” but he was not personally involved in the fighting for New Orleans.
Although President Madison pardoned Laffite, he returned to piracy, operating from a new base in Galveston, Texas. In 1889 this portrait was found buried in a chest in Galveston.