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Friday, October 27, 2006

Jean Lafitte, pirate, Sephardic Jew, AGAIN!!

I've written about Laffite (Laffitte, etc) several times before. People just keep arguing about this and leaving comments! A reader recently pointed me to the following article.

Extracts from
The Jewish Pirate
by Edward Bernard Blick for the Jerusalem Post, Jul. 13, 2006

One of the things I do since I retired from Philadelphia's Temple University in 1991 is lecture on cruise ships. My signature talk is the 50-century-old history of piracy, whose practitioners I call the Seafaring Gangsters of the World.

I sent a draft of the talk to my history-buff sister, Phyllis. She liked it, but she was very unhappy that I had not mentioned Jean Lafitte. She said I simply had to talk about Lafitte because he was unique. He was a Sephardi Jew, as was his first wife, who was born in the Danish Virgin Islands.

Though I didn't lecture about Lafitte at first, a circumstance of serendipity has made me do so ever since.

I was flying to Norfolk, Virginia. The man in the seat next to me, born in France, ... now lives in Switzerland. We ... had the following conversation [small talk followed by]:

"... I'll be giving lectures on a ship..."

"What do you lecture about?"

"... I always begin a cruise with a lecture on pirates. The kids love it, and the old folks like it, too."

"Are you are going talk about Jean Lafitte?"

"No," and I repeated what my sister had told me.

He pulled out his wallet and handed me a business card. It had "Melvyn J. Lafitte" written on it. Then he said, "I could tell you that as we were chatting I printed this card on a nano-sized printing press hidden in my pocket. And of course, you wouldn't believe me. But the truth is that I am a direct descendant of Jean Lafitte. Your sister, Phyllis, is absolutely right.

"Our family, originally named Lefitto, lived in the Iberian Peninsula for centuries. When Ferdinand and Isabella reconquered Spain and expelled the Muslims and the Jews in 1492, most of the Jews fled to North Africa. Others went to the Balkans or to Greece and Turkey. But some Sephardi Jews, my ancestors among them, crossed the Pyrenees and settled in France, where Jean was born in about 1780. He moved to French Santo Domingo during the Napoleonic period. However, a slave rebellion forced him to flee to New Orleans. Eventually, he became a pirate, but he always called himself a privateer because that label has a more legal ring to it.

"In 1814, the British sought his aid in their pending attack on New Orleans," he continued. "However, he passed their plans to the Americans and helped General Andrew Jackson beat them in 1815. A grateful Jackson, not yet president, saw to it that Lafitte and his family became American citizens. And by the way, did you know that there is a town of Jean Lafitte, as well as a Jean Lafitte National Historical Park in Southwestern Louisiana?"

I was flabbergasted ... by the fact that the two of us had met so coincidentally in the skies over Georgia....

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At 10:42 AM, Blogger Alma said...

Excellent article! My family and I were fortunate enough to visit New Orleans last year... right before Katrina... The writer is right, the kids were intrigued by the story of this real live pirate.

At 11:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing. ~~~~Susanlynn , history lover and pirate lover

At 9:48 PM, Blogger silverlight said...

I find the idea of Sephardic Jews being Priates amazing. That would similar to, let's see, Catholic Monk's doing that.
Or maybe the Amish.
Never happen.

At 2:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jean Lafitte's life is well documented in a book by Lyle Saxon entitled "Lafitte The Pirate"

More at a child's level is "Lafitte, The Terror Of The Gulf" by Catherine Gonzales.

If you ever go to the town of Jean Lafitte a must see is the Exhibit in the town's Tourism Center. It is a visual portrayal in 12 scenes and is unique.

At 9:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A slight correction, the town of Lafitte is in Southeastern Louisiana below New Orleans. Many descendants of the pirates still live in that area. They are a tough bunch even by Louisiana standards. Most of Southwest Louisiana was still Indian land during Lafitte's life, however, some of his treasure was found on Jefferson Island near New Iberia where he spent time now and then. Most of the major towns in Louisiana were primary accessed by rivers such as the Teche so it was much easier to hop along the coast than travel by land. I'm sure this suited him well. He had many friends among the gentry in the area and was welcomed guest at many a prominent table.


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