The True & Complete Memoirs of the Pyrate Captain Extraordinaire!
The Illustrious Captain, John ‘Bartholomew’ Roberts
The Most Successful Pyrate of ALL Time!
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Because of a quarrel that had taken place on the passage out between himself & the Captain, Laffite refused to continue the voyage & left the ship. During this same time, a fleet owned by several privateers were outfitting their ships at the island & Lafitte was able to get himself a captaincy on one of the ships.
After a cruise during which he robbed English ships, as well as those of other nations, he was dubbed a pirate.
He stopped at the Seychelles & took on a load of slaves for the Mauritius, but being chased by an English frigate as far north as the equator, he found himself in a very awkward situation, that of not having enough provisions on board his ship to carry him back to the French Colony. Therefore, he conceived the bold project of proceeding to the Bay of Bengal in order to get provisions from some English ships. His ship of two hundred tons, with only two guns & twenty six men, attacked & took a heavily armed English Schooner with a large crew. After putting nineteen of his crew on board the Schooner, he took command of her & proceeded to cruise along the coast of Bengal where he found the Pagoda, a ship belonging to the English East India Company, armed with twenty six, twelve pound guns & manned with one hundred & fifty men. Expecting that the enemy would take him for a pilot of the Ganges, he maneuvered accordingly. The Pagoda manifested no suspicions, whereupon he suddenly darted with his brave followers upon her decks, overturning all who opposed them & speedily took the ship.
After a very successful cruise he arrived safely at the Mauritius, & took command of La Confiance, a ship of twenty six guns & two hundred & fifty men. He then sailed for the coast of British India. Off the Sand Heads In October of 1807 Lafitte fell in with the Queen East Indiaman. With a crew of nearly four hundred men & carrying forty guns he conceived the bold idea to seize her. Never was there beheld a more unequal conflict. Even the height of the ship compared to his relatively feeble privateer augmented the chances against Lafitte but the difficulty & danger, far from discouraging this intrepid sailor, acted as an additional spur to his brilliant valor. After electrifying his crew with a few words of hope & ardor, he maneuvered & ran on board of the enemy. In this position he received a broadside at close range, but Laffite expected this & made his men lay flat upon the deck. After the first fire they all rose & from the yards & tops. The pirates threw bombs & grenades into the forecastle of the Indiaman. This sudden & unforeseen attack caused a great havoc. In an instant, death & terror made them abandon a part of the ship near the mizen-mast. Lafitte, who was very observent, seized the decisive moment, beat to arms forty of his crew, now prepared to board, with pistols in hand & daggers held between their teeth. As soon as they got on her deck, they rushed upon the frighted crowd, who retreated to the steerage & endeavored to defend themselves from there. Lafitte ordered a second division to hoard, which he headed himself. The Captain of the Indiaman was killed & her crew was surrounded in record time. Lafitte loaded a cannon with grapeshot, which he pointed toward the assembled crowd, threatening to exterminate them. Deciding that resistance was futile, the English surrendered & Lafitte quickly put a stop to the slaughter. This unparalled exploit quickly spread his name throughout India & he became known as the terror of English commerce in these latitudes. The terrified British now traversed the Indian Ocean under strong convoys & opportunities to plunder their ships became scarce.
Captain Lafitte decided to visit France. After doubling the Cape of Good Hope he coasted up to the Gulf of Guinea. In the Bight of Benin he seized two valuable prizes loaded with gold dust, ivory & palm oil. With this booty they went to St. Maloes.
After a short stay in his homeland he outfitted a Brigantine, mounting twenty guns, took on a crew of one hundred fifty men & sailed for Gaudaloupe. Amongst the West India Islands he plundered several heavily ladened ships.
The island of Guadaloupe was taken by the British during his absence, so Captain Laffite proceeded to Carthagena & then to Barrataria.
After a period, Laffite's conduct at Barrataria did not appear to be characterized by the audacity & boldness of his former career. He had amassed an immense fortune in booty. He was obliged to have dealings with merchants of the United States & the West Indies, who frequently owed him large sums. An appointed Captain of one of these merchant ships & the cautious dealings necessary to find & conduct a colony of Pirates & Smugglers in the very teeth of a civilized nation, obliged Captain Lafitte to cloak his real character as much as possible.
Most of the privateers, commissioned by the government of Barrataria, were at sea. Those not able to return to any island in West Indies made for Barrataria, to take on supply's of water & provisions, tend to the health of their crews & dispose of their prizes. Since we were at peace with Great Britain at the time, this could not be done in any port of the United States.
Most of the commissions granted to privateers by the French government at Gaudaloupe expired after the Declaration of Independence of Carthagena. Many of the privateers went to that port, for the purpose of obtaining new government commissions for cruising against Spanish ships. Having duly obtained their commissions, they blockaded all the ports belonging to the royalists, making numerous captures, taking the ships & booty to Barrataria which found its harbor frequented by the Pirates.
At Grand Terre, the privateers publicly held auctions to sell their cargos of booty. People from all parts of Lower Louisiana went to Barrataria without making any attempt to conceal the objective of their journey. Even the most respectable inhabitants of the state, especially those living in the country, were in the habit of purchasing smuggled goods coming from Barrataria. This practice continued until the government of the United States sent an expedition under Commodore Patterson, to disperse the settlement of marauders at Barrataria.
Chartres Street, the most famous thoroughfare in New Orleans & the principal street of the Vieux Carré (old French quarter), dates back to the earliest settlement in 1718. It's famous spots include a house built for Napoleon, the site of the old New Orleans city & the blacksmith shop of Jean Laffite.
To Captain Lockyer.
Barrataria, 4th Sept. 1814.
"Sir, The confusion which prevailed in our camp yesterday & this morning, & of which you have a complete knowledge, has prevented me from answering in a precise manner to the object of your mission; nor even at this moment can I give you all the satisfaction that you desire; however, if you could grant me a fortnight, I would be entirely at your disposal at the end of that time. This delay is indispensable to enable me to put my affairs in order. You may communicate with me by sending a boat to the eastern point of the pass, where I will be found. You have inspired me with more confidence than the admiral, your knowledge, has prevented me from answering in a precise manner to the object of your mission; nor even at this moment can I give you all the satisfaction that render to you yours.
His object in writing that letter was, by appearing disposed to accede to their proposals, to give time to communicate the affair to the officers of the state government, & to receive from them instructions how to act, under circumstances so critical & important to the country. He accordingly wrote on the 4th of September to Mr. Blanque, one of the representatives of the state, sending him all the papers delivered to him by the British officers with a letter addressed to his excellency, Gov. Claiborne of the state of Louisiana.
To Gov. Claiborne.
Barrataria, Sept. 4th, 1814.
"Sir. In the firm persuasion that the choice made of you to fill the office of first magistrate of this state, was dictated by the esteem of your fellow citizens, & was conferred on merit, I confidently address you on an affair on which may depend the safety of this country. I offer to you to restore to this state several citizens, who perhaps in your eyes have lost that sacred title. I offer you them, however, such as you could wish to find them, ready to exert their utmost efforts in defence of the country. This point of Louisiana, which I occupy, is of great importance in the present crisis. I tender my services to defend it; & the only reward I ask is that a stop be put to the proscription against me & my adherents, by an act of oblivion, for all that has been done hitherto. I am the stray sheep wishing to return to the fold. If you are thoroughly acquainted with the nature of my offences, I should appear to you much less guilty, & still worthy to discharge the duties of a good citizen. I have never sailed under any flag but that of the republic of Carthagena, & my vessels are perfectly regular in that respect. If I could have brought my lawful prizes into the ports of this state, I should not have employed the illicit means that have caused me to be proscribed. I decline saying more on the subject, until I have the honor of your excellency's answer, which I am persuaded can be dictated only by wisdom. Should your answer not be favorable to my ardent desires, I declare to you that I will instantly leave the country, to avoid the imputation of having cooperated towards an invasion on this point, which cannot fail to take place, & to rest secure in the acquittal of my conscience.
I have the honor to be your excellency's,
The contents of these letters do honor to Captain Lafitte's judgment & reveal his sincere attachment to the American cause. Upon receipt of this letter the governor convened the committee of defense. Mr. Rancher, the bearer of Captain Lafitte's letter was sent back with a verbal answer for Lafitte not to take any steps until it should be determined what was to be done. The message also had assurance that in the meantime no action would be taken against him for his past offences against the laws of the United States. At the expiration of the time agreed on with Captain Lockyer, his ship appeared again on the coast with two others, & continued standing off & on before the pass for several days. But he pretended not to perceive the return of the sloop of war, who tired of waiting to no purpose put out to sea & disappeared. Captain Lafitte having received a guarantee from General Jackson for his safe passage from Barrataria to New Orleans & back, he proceeded forthwith to the city where he had an interview with Gov. Claiborne & the General. After the usual formalities & courtesies had taken place between these gentlemen, Captain Lafitte addressed the Governor of Louisiana nearly as follows. I have offered to defend for you that part of Louisianna I now hold. But not as an outlaw., would I be its defender. In that confidence, with which you have inspired me, I offer to restore to the state many citizens, now under my command. As I have remarked before, the point I occupy is of great importance in the present crisis. I tender not only my own services to defend it, but those of all I command & the only reward I ask is, that a stop be put to the proscription against me & my adherents, by an act of oblivion for all that has been done hitherto. "My dear sir," said the Governor, who together with General Jackson, was impressed with admiration of his sentiments, "Your praise worthy wishes shall be laid before the council of the state & I will confer with my august friend here present, upon this important affair & send you an answer to-morrow." At Lafitte withdrew, the General said farewell; when we meet again, I trust it will be in the ranks of the American army. The result of the conference was the issuing the following order. The Governor of Louisiana, informed that many individuals implicated in the offences heretofore committed against the United States at Barrataria, express a willingness at the present crisis to enroll themselves & march against the enemy. He does hereby invite them to join the standard of the United States & is authorised to say, should their conduct in the field meet the approbation of the Major General, that that officer will unite with the governor in a request to the president of the United States to extend to each & every individual, so marching & acting, a free & full pardon. These general orders were placed in the hands of Captain Lafitte, who circulated them among his dispersed followers, most of whom readily embraced the conditions of pardon they held out. In a few days many brave men & skillful artillerists, whose services contributed greatly to the safety of the invaded state, flocked to the standard of the United States & by their conduct, received the highest approbation of General Jackson.
By the President of the United States of America.
"Among the many evils produced by the wars, which, with little intermission, have afflicted Europe and extended their ravages into other quarters of the globe, for a period exceeding twenty years, the dispersion of a considerable portion of the inhabitants of different countries, in sorrow and in want, has not been the least injurious to human happiness, nor the least severe in the trial of human virtue." It had been long ascertained that many foreigners, flying from the dangers of their own home, and that some citizens, forgetful of their duty, had co-operated in forming an establishment on the island of Barrataria, near the mouth of the river Mississippi, for the purpose of a clandestine and lawless trade. The government of the United States caused the establishment to be broken up and destroyed; and, having obtained the means of designating the offenders of every description, it only remained to answer the demands of justice by inflicting an exemplary punishment.
"But it has since been represented that the offenders have manifested a sincere penitence; that they have abandoned the prosecution of the worst cause for the support of the best, and, particularly, that they have exhibited, in the defense of New Orleans, unequivocal traits of courage & fidelity. Offenders, who have refused to become the associates of the enemy in the war, upon the most seducing terms of invitation; & who have aided to repel his hostile invasion of the territory of the United States, can no longer be considered as objects of punishment, but as objects of a generous forgiveness.'' It has therefore been seen, with great satisfaction, that the General Assembly of the State of Louisiana earnestly recommend those offenders to the benefit of a full pardon; & in compliance with that recommendation, as well as in consideration of all the other extraordinary circumstances in the case, I, James Madison, President of the United States of America, do issue this proclamation, hereby granting, publishing & declaring, a free & full pardon of all offences committed in violation of any act or acts of the Congress of the said United States, touching the revenue, trade and navigation thereof, or touching the intercourse and commerce of the United States with foreign nations, at any time before the eighth day of January, in the present year one thousand eight hundred and fifteen, by any person or persons whatsoever, being inhabitants of New Orleans and the adjacent country, or being inhabitants of the said island of Barrataria and the places adjacent; Provided, that every person, claiming the benefit of this full pardon, in order to entitle himself therabandoned the prosecution of the worst cause for the support of the best, and, particularly, that they have exhibited, in the defense of New Orleans, unequivocal traits of courage and fidelity. Offenders, who have refused to become the associates of the enemy in the war, upon the most seducing terms of invitation and who have aided to repel his hostile invasion of the territory of the United States, can no longer be considered as objects of punishment, but as objects of a generous forgiveness. It has therefore been seen, with great satisfaction, that the General Assembly of the State of Louisiana earnestly recommend those offenders to the DONE at the City of Washington, the sixth day of February, in the year one thousand eight hundred and fifteen and of the independence of the United States the thirty-ninth."
"By the President, James Madison and James Monroe, Acting Secretary of State."
The morning of the of January 8th, was ushered in with the discharge of rockets, the sound of cannon, & the cheers of the British soldiers advancing to the attack. The Americans, behind the breastwork, awaited in calm intrepidity their approach. The enemy advanced in close column of sixty men in front, shouldering their muskets & carrying fascines & ladders. A storm of rockets preceded them & an incessant fire opened from the battery, which commanded the advanced column. The musketry & rifles from the Kentuckians & Tennesseeans, joined the artillery fire & in a few moments was heard along the line a rolling fire, whose tremendous noise resembled the reverberation of rolling thunder. One of these guns, a twenty four pounder drew, from the fatal skill & activity with which it was managed, even in the heat of battle, the admiration of both Americans & British. this became one of most dreaded sections he advancing foe. Here was stationed Captain Lafitte & his lieutenant Dominique & a large band of his men, who during the continuance of the battle, fought with unparalleled bravery. The British already had been twice driven back in the utmost confusion, with the loss of their Commander-in-chief & two general officers. Two other batteries were manned by the Barratarians, who served their pieces with the steadiness & precision of veteran gunners. In the first attack of the enemy, a column pushed forward between the levee & river & so precipitate was their charge that the outposts were forced to retire, closely pressed by the enemy. Before the batteries could meet the charge, clearing the ditch, they gained the redoubt through the embrasures, leaping over the parapet & overhelming by their superior force the small party stationed there. Captain Lafitte, who was commanding in conjunction with his officers, at one of the guns, no sooner saw the bold movement of the enemy, than calling a few of his best men by his side, he sprung forward to the point of danger & clearing the breastwork of the entrenchments, leaped, cutlass in hand, into the midst of the enemy, followed by a score of his men, who in many a hard fought battle upon his own deck, had been well tried. Astonished at the intrepidity which could lead men to leave their entrenchments & meet them hand to hand & pressed by the suddenness of the charge, which was made with the recklessness, skill & rapidity of practiced boarders bounding upon the deck of an enemy's vessel, they began to give way, while one after another, two British officers fell before the cutlass of the pirate, as they were bravely encouraging their men. All the energies of the British were now concentrated to scale the breastwork, which one daring officer had already mounted. While Captain Lafitte & his followers, seconding a gallant band of volunteer riflemen, formed a phalanx which they in vain assayed to penetrate. The British finding it impossible to take the city & the havock in their ranks being dreadful, made a precipitate retreat, leaving the field covered with their dead & wounded. General Jackson, in his correspondence with the secretary of war did not fail to notice the conduct of the "Corsairs of Barrataria," who were, as we have already seen, employed in the artillery service. In the course of the campaign they proved, in an unequivocal manner, that they had been misjudged by the enemy, who a short time previous to the invasion of Louisiana, had hoped to enlist them in his cause. Many of them were killed or wounded in the defence of the country. Their zeal, courage & skill, weas revered by the whole army, who could no longer consider such brave men as criminals. In a few days peace was declared between Great Britain & the United States. The piratical establishment of Barrataria having been broken up & Captain Lafitte not being content with leading an honest, peaceful life, procured some fast sailing ships & with a great number of his followers, proceeded to Galvezton Bay, in Texas. In 1819 he received a commission from General Long & had five ships generally cruising & about 300 men. Two open boats bearing commissions from General Humbert, of Galvezton, having robbed a plantation on the Marmento river, of negroes & money were captured in the Sabine river, by the boats of the United States schooner Lynx. One of the men was hung by Captain Lafitte, who dreaded the vengeance of the American government. The Lynx also captured one of his schooners. One of his cruisers, named the Jupiter, returned safe to Galvezton after a short cruise with a valuable cargo, principally specie. She was the first ship that sailed under the authority of Texas. The American government well knowing that where Captain Lafitte was, piracy & smuggling would be the order of the day, sent a Man of War to cruise in the Gulf of Mexico & scour the coasts of Texas. Captain Lafitte having been appointed governor of Galvezton & one of the cruisers being stationed off the port to watch his motions, it so annoyed him that he wrote the following letter to her commander, Lieutenant Madison.
"To the commandant of the American cruiser, off the port of Galvezton.
Sir. I am convinced that you are a cruiser of the navy, ordered by your government. I have therefore deemed it proper to inquire into the cause of your living before this port without communicating your intention. I shall by this message inform you, that the port of Galvezton belongs to and is in the possession of the republic of Texas and was made a port of entry the 9th October last. And whereas the supreme congress of said republic have thought proper to appoint me as governor of this place, in consequence of which, if you have any demands on said government, or persons belonging to or residing in the same, you will please to send an officer with such demands, whom you may be assured will be treated with the greatest politeness and receive every satisfaction required. But if you are ordered, or should attempt to enter this port in a hostile manner, my oath and duty to the government compels me to rebut your intentions.
About this time one Mitchell, who had formerly belonged to Captain Lafitte's gang, collected upwards of one hundred & fifty desperadoes & fortified himself on an island near Barrataria, with several pieces of cannon; & swore that he & all his comrades would perish within their trenches before they would surrender to any man. Four of this gang having gone to New Orleans on a frolic, information was given to the city watch, & the house surrounded, when the whole four with cocked pistols in both hands sallied out & marched through the crowd which made way for them & no person dared to make an attempt to arrest them. The United States cutter, Alabama, on her way to the station off the mouth of the Mississippi, captured a piratical schooner belonging to Captain Lafitte. She carried two guns & twenty five men & was fitted out at New Orleans, & commanded by one of Captain Lafitte's lieutenants, named LeFage. The schooner had a prize in company & being hailed by the cutter, poured into her a volley of musketry. The cutter then opened upon the privateer & a smart action ensued which terminated in favor of the cutter, which had four men wounded, two dangerously but the pirate had six men killed. Both ships were captured & brought into the Bayou St. John. An expedition was now sent to dislodge Mitchell & his comrades from the island he had taken possession of, after coming to anchor, a summons was sent for him to surrender, which was answered by a brisk cannonade from his breastwork. The ships were warped close in shore & the boats manned & sent on shore whilst the ships opened upon the pirates. The crews landed under a galling fire of grape shot & formed in the most undaunted manner & although a severe loss was sustained they entered the breastwork at the point of the bayonet after a desperate fight the pirates gave way, many were taken prisoners but Mitchell & the greatest part escaped to the cypress swamps where it was impossible to arrest them. A large quantity of dry goods & specie together with other booty was taken. Twenty of the pirates were taken & brought to New Orleans & tried before Judge Hall, of the Circuit Court of the United States, sixteen were brought in guilty & after the Judge had finished pronouncing sentence of death upon the hardened wretches, several of them cried out in open court, Murder by God Accounts of these transactions having reached Lafitte, he plainly perceived there was a determination to sweep all his cruisers from the sea & a war of extermination appeared to be waged against him. In a fit of desperation he procured a large & fast sailing brigantine mounting sixteen guns & having selected a crew of one hundred & sixty men he started without any commission as a regular pirate determined to rob all nations & neither to give or receive quarter.
A British sloop of war which was cruising in the Gulf of Mexico, having heard that Captain Lafitte himself was at sea, kept a sharp look out from the mast head when one morning as an officer was sweeping the horizon with his glass he discovered a long dark looking vessel, low in the water, but having very tall masts, with sails white as the driven snow. As the sloop of war had the weather gage of the pirate & could outsail her before the wind, she set her studding sails & crowded every inch of canvass in chase. As soon as Captain Lafitte ascertained the character of his opponent, he ordered the awnings to be furled & set his big square sail & shot rapidly through the water; but as the breeze freshened the sloop of war came up rapidly with the pirate, who, finding no chance of escaping, determined to sell his life as dearly as possible. The guns were cast loose & the shot handed up & a fire opened upon the ship which killed a number of men & carried away her foretopmast, but she reserved her fire until within cable's distance of the pirate. When she fired a general discharge from her broadside & a volley of small arms, the broadside was too much elevated to hit the low hull of the brigantine, but was not without effect. The foretopmast fell, the jaws of the main gaff were severed & a large proportion of the rigging came rattling down on deck. Ten of the pirates were killed, but Captain Lafitte remained unhurt. The Sloop of War entered her men over the starboard bow & a terriffic contest with pistols & cutlasses ensued.Captain Lafitte received two wounds at this time which disabled him, a grape shot broke the bone of his right leg & he received a cut in the abdomen, but his crew fought like tigers & the deck was ankle deep with blood & gore. The Captain of the boarders received such a tremendous blow on the head from the butt end of a musket, knocked him senseless on the deck near Captain Lafitte, who raised his dagger to stab him to the heart. But the tide of his existence was ebbing like a torrent, his brain was giddy, his aim faltered & the point descended in the Captain's right thigh dragging away the blade with the last convulsive energy of a death struggle, he lacerated the wound. Again the reeking steel was upheld & Lafitte placed his left hand near the Captain's heart, to make his aim more sure. Again the dizziness of dissolution spread over his sight, down came the dagger into the captain's left thigh & Captain Lafitte was a corpse. The upper deck was cleared & the boarders rushed below on the main deck to complete their conquest. Here the slaughter was dreadful, till the pirates called out for quarter & the carnage ceased. All the pirates that surrendered were taken to Jamaica & tried before the Admiralty court where sixteen were condemned to die, six were subsequently pardoned & ten executed. Thus perished Captain Lafitte, a man superior in talent, in knowledge of his profession, in courage & moreover in physical strength, but unfortunately his reckless career was marked with crimes of the darkest dye.
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