The Mystery of Jean Lafitte (Privateer, Smuggler, Pirate, Patriot, Spy) and His Lost Treasure by Don Luenser

Pirate treasure lost

Jean Laffite 1873

In Louisiana, whenever treasure is mentioned, most assuredly the name of Jean Lafitte will work its way into the conversation. Lafitte had been rumored to have buried treasure in both Louisiana and Texas.

Occasionally, a rumor of a location will again stir the desires of people to once again begin a search for his buried treasure. Most of the general locations are inlets of rivers and streams that empty into the Gulf of Mexico, including the Sabine river that flows the boarder of Texas and Louisiana. Other sites considered to contain Lafitte treasure are islands south of New Orleans and Galveston Island in Texas.

Besides the mysteries surrounding the locations of Lafitte’s buried booty, comes the mystery of the man himself. Even the location and date of his birth varies on the document or biography at hand. Most likely, Jean was born in 1780 in France and immigrated to New Orleans with his mother and older brother, Pierre in the early 1780s.

The early life of Jean Lafitte and Pierre varies as well, but Jean most likely spent his youth in the wetlands and bayous south of New Orleans. He was once said to know every inlet better than any other man alive. Jean finally settled on a small island south of New Orleans called Barataria, in Barataria bay and set up smuggling operations.

Pierre, who has been thought to start the smuggling operations, stayed in New Orleans and set up a warehouse and possibly a store on Royal Street to handle their goods in the city. People in New Orleans were grateful to the Lafitte’s for supplying goods otherwise prohibited by embargos.

Seaman from all over flocked to Barataria where Jean outfitted privateers and arranged for the smuggling of goods. Men worked the docks in hope to one day be chosen for the crew of a privateer.  The brothers eventually acquired 3 ships and armed them by capturing various ships and stripping them of their cannons. Jean would then return the stripped ships to their captain and crew. They were known to treat captured crews with respect.

With the start or the war of 1812, the British navy was large and the United States navy was small. The United States gave Lafitte letters of marque, which basically gave Jean Lafitte legal (as far as the US was concerned) right to pirate British ships and turn the booty into the US, which he did. The other ships they pirated, they disposed of the stolen goods in the normal manner in Barataria. Jean Lafitte committed his crew and ships to the defense of New Orleans. The British never had a chance against the skill and knowledge of the Lafitte’s ships in the bayou country south of New Orleans.

Of course Lafitte was still considered a criminal and when Andrew Jackson arrived in New Orleans he made a deal with Lafitte to pardon all his men for help with the continued defense of New Orleans, which he did and he and his men were praised for valor and skill.

In 1815-1816 Spain hired the Lafitte brothers as spies for the Mexican War of Independence and was sent to Galveston which was part of Spanish Texas, but within two weeks the rebels left the island and Lafitte set up smuggling operations there. Eventually, the US sent the USS Enterprise to remove Lafitte from the Gulf. He left Galveston without a fight, but left with massive amounts of treasure that was believed to have been buried to avoid capture.

Since 1957, the city of Lake Charles, Louisiana, hosts an annual festival during the first two weeks of May called ‘Contraband Days’, in honor of Lafitte. The festival celebrates Lafitte’s exploits and the legend of buried treasure. The festival features actors who portray Lafitte and his pirates that sail into the city’s lake, capture the mayor, and make him “walk the plank.”

South of New Orleans, in the Mississippi River Delta, there is a Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, named for Jean Lafitte and seeks to illustrate the influence of the environment and history and development of a unique regional culture.

~Post by Don Luenser

Don Luenser

Author Don Luenser is a retired administrator from the Louisiana Community and Technical College System. During his tenure with the college system, he held the position of Forest Technology Instructor, Curriculum Specialist, Dean of Workforce Development, and Assistant Campus Dean.

Don is author of the To Lose the Sun trilogy, which includes the books, To Lose the Sun, The Caverns of Adentta, and Our Only Other Chance. These books are available in paperback from ToLoseTheSun‘s website or the electronic version at

Don is a longtime resident of the historic town of Natchitoches, Louisiana and a lover of puzzles and mysteries.


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2 Responses

  1. admin says:

    Great article Don! I didn’t realize this Pirate had such a rich history! I want to find his lost treasure even more now…… 🙂

  2. JC1117 says:

    Thanks, Don.

    Interesting story. Pirate AND Patriot? That’s quite a mix…but certainly fitting with genuine tyrants preying on…and meddling in…the lives of innocent folks for THEIR profit.

    Sounds like ol’ Jean was certainly Lafitte for the task! 🙂

    I’d like to shake his hand one day.

    Thanks, Don and Jenny.

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