Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Books for Adults - Nonfiction
Jean Lafitte (also spelled Laffite) remains somewhat of an enigma nearly two centuries after he and his men helped Andrew Jackson and the Americans win the Battle of New Orleans. The British offered him the opportunity to aid them in their struggle to gain control of the Mississippi and this city that was more European than American; instead he chose a different path that led to a hero’s tribute as one of the saviors of New Orleans. In 1930 Lyle Saxon published a biography of this man in which he “tried to present a truthful picture” by separating fact from legend. He consulted “contemporary documents and letters, and . . . crumbling files of century-old newspapers.” He likened the task to “trying to put together a jig-saw puzzle, a portrait of a man which had been cut into a thousand fragments, and further complicated because upon the reverse side of the portrait was another picture similar in coloring . . .” (ix) Lafitte the Pirate is that book, which Pelican has republished for a new generation to enjoy.
The book opens with a letter, written by a young boy, who chanced to meet Captain Jean Lafitte and his brother, Pierre. From there Saxon acquaints readers with descriptions of the two men and what little is known of their early lives. Subsequent chapters discuss New Orleans history, how the Lafittes joined with the Baratarians, key associates, quadroons, and Governor Claiborne’s repeated attempts to thwart the smugglers and privateers. Following their participation in the Battle of New Orleans, the author explores their spying for Spain, how public opinion regarding Jean Lafitte’s smuggling and privateering enterprise changed, his years at Galveston, what became of him after he left Texas, and the legend that grew up around him.
Lafitte the Pirate was the first book I read about Jean Laffite, and the volume that started my collection of pirate books. Saxon’s knowledge of Louisiana and its history shines throughout the book, spinning a vivid tale that transports readers back to the places where this gentleman pirate lived. His style of storytelling makes this a quick read and whets the reader’s appetite to learn more. The one drawback to this book is that Saxon doesn’t always cite his sources, and at times, the legend intrudes where it shouldn’t. After reading Saxon’s book, I highly recommend reading William Davis’ The Pirates Laffite, which provides a more thorough account of Jean Laffite and his compatriots that incorporates information unavailable to Saxon. Lafitte the Pirate, however, remains one of my treasured possessions and will always have a place within the shelves of my library. It is well worth the read and the journey back to old New Orleans won’t disappoint. Suydam’s black-and-white sketches add spice to the voyage, providing readers with extraordinary glimpses of a time and place that no longer exists.
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