The Pirates of Barataria, Auctions
The following data is extracted from The Creoles of Louisiana.
Hither they came, fortified Grande Terre, built storehouses, sailed away upon the Gulf, and re-appeared with prizes which it seems were not always Spanish. The most seductive auctions followed. All along this coast there are vast heaps of a species of clam-shell, too great to admit the idea of their being other than the work of nature. Great oaks grow on them. The aborigines, mound-builders, used these places for temple-sites. One of them, in Barataria, distinguished from larger neighbors by the name of Petit Temple, "the Little Temple," removed of late years for the value of its shells as a paving material, yielded three hundred thousand barrels of them. A notable group of these mounds, on one of the larger islands of Barataria, became the privateers' chief place of sale and barter. It was known as the Temple. There was no scarcity of buyers from New Orleans and the surrounding country. Goods were also smuggled up the various bayous, especially La Fourche. Then the captured vessels were burned or refitted, sails were spread again, and prows were pointed toward the Spanish Main. The Baratarians had virtually revived, in miniature, the life of the long-extinct buccaneers.
On the beautiful, wooded, grassy and fertile “Grande Isle,” lying just west of their stronghold on "Grande Terre," and separated from it only by the narrow pass that led out to sea, storehouses and dwellings were built, farms and orangeries yielded harvests, and green meadows dotted with wax-myrtles, casinos, and storm-dwarfed oaks rose froth the marshy inland side where the children and women plied their shrimp and crab nets, and, running down to the surf-beach, on the southern side, looked across the boundless open Gulf toward the Spanish Main.
The fame of the Baratarians spread far and wide; and while in neighboring States the scandalous openness of their traffic brought load condemnation upon Louisiana citizens and officials alike, the merchants and planters of the Delta, profiting by these practices, with the general public as well, screened the contrabandists and defended their character.
Much ink has been spilled from that day to this to maintain that they sailed under letters of marque. But certainly no commission could be worth the unrolling when carried by men who had removed themselves beyond all the restraints that even seem to distinguish privateering from piracy. They were often overstocked with vessels and booty, but they seem never to have been embarrassed with the care of prisoners.
There lived at this time, in New Orleans, John and Pierre Lafitte. John, the younger, but more conspicuous of the two, was a handsome man, fair, with black hair and eyes, wearing his beard, as the fashion was, shaven neatly away from the front of his face. His manner was generally courteous, though he was irascible and in graver moments somewhat harsh. He spoke fluently English, Spanish, Italian, and French, using them with much affability at the hotel where he resided, and indicating, in the peculiarities of his French, his nativity in the city of Bordeaux.
The elder brother was a seafaring man and had served in the French navy. He appears to have been every way less showy than the other; but beyond doubt both men were above the occupation with which they began life in Louisiana. This was the trade of blacksmith, though at their forge, on the corner of St. Philip and Bourbon Streets, probably none but slave hands swung the sledge or shaped the horseshoe.
It was during the embargo, enforced by the United States Government in 1808, that John Lafitte began to be a merchant. His store was in Royal Street, where, behind a show of legitimate trade, he was busy running the embargo with goods and Africans. He wore the disguise carelessly. He was cool and intrepid and had only the courts to evade, and his unlawful adventures did not lift his name from the published lists of managers of society balls or break his acquaintance with prominent legislators.
In 1810 came the West Indian refugees and the Guadaloupian privateers. The struggle between the North American and the West Indian ideas of public order and morals took new energy on the moment. The plans of the "set of bandits who infested the coast and overran the country " were described by Government as "extensive and well laid," and the confession made that "so general seemed the disposition to aid in their concealment, that but faint hopes were entertained of detecting the parties and bringing them to justice."
Their trade was impudently open. Merchants gave and took orders for their goods in the streets of the town as frankly as for the merchandise of Philadelphia or New York. Frequent seizures lent zest to adventure without greatly impairing the extravagant profits of a commerce that paid neither duties nor first cost.
Source: The Creoles of Louisiana