Thursday, August 1, 2013

Jean Lafitte and Pirate Treasure

by Kathleen Y'Barbo

Growing up on the Texas Gulf Coast, the shrimp came right off the boat to our dinner table, and the beach was just down the road. Many summer days were spent wading in the warm water of the Gulf of Mexico or looking up and down the sandy shore for sand dollars or sea shells to bring home. And then there were the tales of pirate treasure left behind by the mysterious pirate Jean Lafitte.

Depending on who is telling the story, Jean Lafitte was  born in one of several regions in France or in
the French colony of Sant-Domingue (present-day Haiti). Most biographers agree that his was a seafaring childhood as one of six children. Some would argue that much of his early years were spent in the marshland and bayous of South Louisiana, though it is thought that this was claimed due to Lafitte's almost encyclopedic knowledge of the area later in life. Details beyond these are sparse, but it is widely agreed based on records at the time that Jean Lafitte was living and working in New Orleans by 1806. Many say his arrival was much sooner. Few doubt that he was the captain of a network of men, called Barataians, who preyed on vessels and hid away their ill-gotten gains in the bayous.

Whenever the date, the purpose of his presence in New Orleans was much more obvious. Lafitte and his brothers captained vessels that brought goods into the city, and thanks to the Embargo Act of 1807, these were often goods sold on the flourishing black market rather than in reputable stores. Based in the Barataria region, Lafitte was able to navigate marshes and keep ahead of anyone who might be in pursuit. Later, during the War of 1812, the Lafitte brothers used their ability to procure items on the black market to aid the battle against the British by providing flint for muskets that would otherwise have been useless.

Public opinion of the Lafitte brothers waxed and waned in the ensuing years, and finally under pressure from authorities he once aided, Jean Lafitte sailed off to make his new home in on Galveston Island in a colony he called Campeche. As if to taunt anyone who dared to come against him, he built a home that stood above the others on the island and then had it tinted a brilliant crimson color. Though almost 200 years old, the remains of that red house, called Maison Rouge, still stands at 1417 Harborside Drive in contrast to the modern city and port that grew up around it.

Rumors circulated that Lafitte was up to his old tricks of pirating vessels and hiding the spoils just as he had done while based in Barataria. In 1821, the United States Navy ousted him from the island and sent his men off to sail other waters. Some say he was wounded at sea several years later. Others disagree and claim that Lafitte lived to a ripe old age in some undisclosed foreign country. Just as his early years are shrouded in mystery, so are his later years.

Perhaps because of the air of mystery surrounding the enigmatic pirate, stories circulated of treasures buried by Lafitte and his Baratarians, treasures that were lost or forgotten over the years. With hurricanes pounding the coast every few years, it isn't hard to understand why a marker might be moved or the signs that were so obvious when something was hidden are obscured or obliterated. Certainly many generations of treasure hunters have searched, and it is likely that many more will continue to do just that. All it takes is for a few pieces of eight or gold doubloons to be detected under a few layers of Texas sand or Louisiana bayou mud and the hunt is on again.

So, what do you think? Is there buried treasure along the Gulf Coast?


Want to read more about treasure hunting? Like stories of Southern romance with a dash of steampunk? Perhaps you have a preference for handsome Pinkertons who dabble in the latest inventions? Millie's Treasure, the second book in The Secret Lives of Will Tucker series, releases August 1. See the trailer for this Romantic Times Top Pick here: Millie's Treasure.

Bestselling author Kathleen Y’Barbo is a multiple Carol Award and RITA nominee of forty-five novels with almost two million copies of her books in print in the US and abroad. A Romantic Times Top Pick recipient of her novels, Kathleen is a proud military wife and an expatriate Texan cheering on her beloved Texas Aggies from north of the Red River. To find out more about Kathleen or connect with her through social media, check out her website at



  1. Good Morning! :) I love your story! It had me excited! I live in South Louisiana and legends of Jean Lafitte abound down here! They even have a town named after him!(townofJeanLafitte{dot}com)
    My husband's family is from Grande Isle, LA (grandisle{dot}us) and a lot of people that are from there trace their family history to Jean Lafitte and his men.
    Legend here states that Jean Lafitte retired to Grande Isle and not some "undisclosed foreign country". But if that's true or not no one knows anymore.
    I can't wait to read your new book! :) Thank-you for the article! :)

  2. Loved this post! I hadn't heard of Jean Lafitte. I love legends! Thanks for sharing.

    tscmshupe [at] pemtel [dot] net

  3. This is fascinating info, Kathleen. And I'd say yes. I bet there is a treasure Lafitte left somewhere--maybe more than one.

  4. I've always loved the stories of pirates and read some about LaFitte. Thanks for an interesting article. Some useful information for my new series. I'm using a former LaFitte pirate as the catalyst for the three stories about a brother and sister and their cousin who find a letter written by their great-grandfather about a "hidden treasure"
    See you Saturday.

  5. Great post, Kathleen. I love Jean Laffitte and all the stories tales surrounding him. Most of what I've heard surrounds Louisiana, so this bit is very interesting to me. How neat it must have been to grow up with such tales.

  6. I've heard of Jean Laffitte's name, but never heard or read anything about his story/background. I have no clue if there is buried treasure, but it's sure fun to think there is! Fun post!
    kam110476 (at) gmail (dot) com

  7. I've always been intrigued by sunken treasure! I know there is so much down at the bottom of the sea, or buried and hidden that we cannot even fathom it. :) Great post!

  8. I don't think there is buried treasure along the Gulf Coast-lots of fish and sealife, but no treasure. We took a swamp ride to see alligators with the Jean LaFitte company. I found it interesting to read your article about him. sharon, CA

  9. Terrific post, Kathleen. If I wasn't a dyed in the wool cowgirl, I'd definitely want to be a swashbuckler—a female D'Artagnan! Your post made me look up books about swashbuckling women in literature. Robert E. Howard and C.L. Moore wrote of female swordsmen in their historical fiction. Spense and Ariosto included women knights as characters. What fun!

  10. Joanna, you're right. There are so many theories on where Lafitte and his men landed. Some say Cuba, many say he went right back to where he was most comfortable in Louisiana. Certainly he would be hard to track there! I love the history of Grand Isle and just may write about it someday. I have friends who hail from Cut Off who would like to see me write about that area too. So much to write about in Louisiana! It is hard to know where to start!

  11. Thank you for the great comments, ladies. Actually, Sharon, there are treasures hidden there. Every time a hurricane passes through, something gets unearthed. Many are from shipwrecks but some have been buried and their location markers lost by time or storms. Believe me, there is a huge market for metal detectors on the Gulf Coast!

  12. Enjoyed this blog entry - I think buried treasure along the Gulf coast is very possible, as well as other areas of the USA.