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Jean Laffite’s Curious Payment of Attorney Fees for the John Andrew Whiteman Defense

November 29, 2013 in American History, general history, Louisiana History

Jean Laffite regularly employed attorneys in the course of  his business, and legal fees were a big part of his ordinary expenses. How big a part we may never know, as we don’t have access to his ledger books. He does not usually mention attorney fees in his journal, even when recounting events that involved having Edward Livingston or John Grymes represent him and his interests in court.

One exception appears on p. 151 of the Journal of Jean Laffite, in which he laments having spent $9000 on the defense of “Jn Whitman” who despite all this effort on his behalf was nevertheless found guilty and hanged on March 2, 1818.


“On the second of March Jn Whitman was hanged at New Orleans for having slain an officer of the confederate [sic] army in 1813. His trial had dragged out at length, until finally he could not acquit himself of the charge of having shot first. His lawyers cost me $9,000. The execution of Jn Whitman gave the newspapers a pretext to publish extensive false information about my commune.”

Who was “Jn Whitman”? What was he hanged for? Why was Jean Laffite willing to spend a small fortune to defend him? (Nine thousand dollars in the currency of the day would be worth well over $100,000 today.) I wanted to know!

When I began investigating, the first question was what given name was the abbreviation in the journal meant to stand for. “Jn” is what Jean Laffite used in his own signature. He used it to stand for his given name, which in French was “Jean”, but could also be spelled “John” in English or “Juan” in Spanish. Later, when Laffite changed his name to Lafflin, he signed it Jn Lafflin, Jn standing for “John”. Being trilingual, it is likely that Jean Laffite used whatever version of the Biblical given name suited him at the moment, and he considered what all three names had in common to be what identified the name: starting with a J and ending with an n. It seemed reasonable that the same abbreviation was used for the name of someone in his employ, and since Whitman sounds like an English name, John Whitman was the name intended.

I consulted with Pam Keyes on this question, and she replied there was no John Whitman among Jean Laffite’s captains. There was an Andrew Whiteman who turned state’s evidence. However, in very short time Pam Keyes was able to locate this article from the April 27, 1818 Issue of the Washington Review and Examiner of Washington, PA,  which told of the life, trial and hanging of Andrew Whiteman.

“New Orleans,March 4 (1818).
 On Monday last the awful sentence of the law was executed on Andrew Whitman, who had been convicted before the district court of the state of shooting at one M’Key with intent to commit the crime of murder, an offence which is made capital by statute.
       Whitman was a native of Philadelphia, where his connections, though not wealthy, are respectable. From the age of fifteen years, when he first went to sea in a merchant vessel, till he committed the crime for which he suffered death, his life has been a series of perilous adventures and moving accidents by flood and field. He served some time in the American squadron which in the year 1805 humbled the pirates of the Mediterranean; after receiving his discharge, he again betook himself to the merchant service, and was impressed into the British frigate La Virginie; being transferred to another vessel, he soon contrived to effect his escape to the United States. About the year 1812 he joined the piratical establishment at Barrataria, and it was under the banners of John Lafitte that he shot a custom house officer in the execution of his duty. In 1814 he deserted these his worthy associates, and betrayed Pierre Lafitte to the marshal. About this time he enlisted in the 44th United States regiment of infantry, and was in all the battles which took place during the invasion of Louisiana. Since the peace and subsequent reduction of the army, his career has been extremely vicious; his associates have commonly been the most abandoned villains who fly to New Orleans in order to escape the hand of justice at home; his residence has been in brothels and catalan shops, those sinks of iniquity and receptacles of plunder, where the experienced malefactors may find patrons and coadjutors and the uninitiated are sure to meet with prompters and instructors.
        We hope that the example of Whitman will convince the gang of assassins who infest the city of New Orleans, and whose crimes cry aloud to Heaven for punishment, that Justice, though slow, is sure. and will at last assuredly overtake them, although they may triumph in their wickedness and laugh at the idea of detection; above all, we hope it will convince them that the criminal laws of the states are equally just and terrible in their inflictions, and not a mere cobweb to be evaded by the ingenious or prostrated by the powerful.”

It appears that this Andrew Whitman must be the John Whitman to whom Jean Laffite referred in his journal, and in fact the man’s full legal name was John Andrew Whiteman. But this news item raises many more questions than it answers. If Whiteman, after serving the Laffites, betrayed them and gave information that led to the capture and imprisonment of Pierre Laffite in 1814, why would Jean Laffite spend a fortune on his defense in 1818? Also, if all the Baratarians who served in the Battle of New Orleans were pardoned for any crimes committed in contravention of the Revenue Laws, why would Andrew Whiteman be tried at all for something that happened in 1813 and should have been covered by the pardon?

Could it be that because Whiteman enlisted in 44th United States regiment of infantry prior to fighting in the Battle of New Orleans, he was not eligible for President Madison’s pardon? If he had stayed loyal to his original employers, the Laffites, would he have been immune from prosecution for something that he did in 1813 while in their employ? And if he was in fact a member of the 44th regiment, was he present at the Patterson-Ross raid, on the government’s side? If so, how could Jean Laffite see his way clear to helping such a man in any way?

The answers to these questions may in fact be linked to Daniel T. Patterson’s own double dealings with the British, which are detailed in the article by Pam Keyes:

Could John Andrew Whiteman have known something that might have implicated Daniel T. Patterson in treason? Was he threatening to tell? Is this why the powers that be decided he must die? Is that why Jean Laffite wanted him kept away from the hangman’s noose?

The matter is currently under investigation by Pam Keyes.  I am looking forward to seeing what else may be found to shed light on this mystery.


Daniel Todd Patterson’s Secret Visits to Dauphin Island in 1814

November 24, 2013 in American History, general history, History, Louisiana History

Daniel Todd Patterson

Daniel Todd Patterson

Daniel Todd Patterson, commander of the New Orleans Station, made a curious visit to New Orleans notary John Lynd in late summer 1814 to record a document testifying to his continued assistance with an unnamed stranded ship at Dauphin Island, not far from Mobile. He said in the document that he was assisting the ship captain (again unnamed) with offloading cargo and supplies and bringing them to New Orleans.

Found in New Orleans’ historic treasure trove of the Notarial Archives, the Patterson document is odd for a few reasons. Chief among these reasons is Dauphin Island was quite some distance on the Gulf Coast from New Orleans, and British warships such as HMS Herald had been keeping a steady blockade of all sea traffic to and from New Orleans since early 1813. Patterson’s small fleet of gunboats could not battle a British ship full of trained sailors, yet in the document he says he is taking one boat out to the stranded ship and making a series of long trips to offload the items. The second reason the US commander’s action is strange is why would he take such an interest in assisting a ship while risking losing  one of his boats, plus placing himself at risk of capture from one of the British ships? The third reason the mission was odd is the most bizarre: during the late summer of 1814, the British forces were making concerted preparations for invading New Orleans, including forays among the Indian tribes along the Gulf Coast, and they had set up a temporary base camp at Dauphin Island (proof of this is the fact that in the late 20th century, treasure hunters uncovered a cache of unused British uniform buttons at Dauphin Island, supplies that were intended to be used at New Orleans by occupying forces.)
History books of the War of 1812 on the Gulf Coast do not tell the story about Patterson’s visits to Dauphin Island in late summer of 1814. What was he really doing there? The main thing we read about Patterson during that time period is his “defeat” of the Baratarians at the Laffite brother’s smuggling base of Grande Terre, a raid by all of the New Orleans naval flotilla in which not a single shot was fired at the American forces. And then, of course, Andrew Jackson arrived on the scene at New Orleans in December 1814, and Patterson provided naval support and men to help Jackson against the British, culminating in the American victory at the Battle of New Orleans on Jan. 8, 1815. Historian Robert Remini went so far as to call Patterson “one of the most important and valuable figures in the defense of New Orleans.”

The question remains, however: what was a US naval commander doing going back and forth to Dauphin Island at a time when British forces were present there? If he was spying on them, reports of such endeavors do not appear in any official US records. Since he was able to go back and forth to New Orleans without interference from the blockaders, it looks more likely that he was spying *for* the British forces, acting as a double agent.

And then there’s the weird coincidence of the British attack on Fort Bowyer near Mobile and Dauphin Island which occurred at almost the same time in mid September 1814 as the Patterson-Ross raid on Grande Terre. The British ships failed in their mission to take Fort Bowyer even though the US Naval forces were all busy way off to the west approaching Grande Terre  to arrest Baratarians and seize goods and ships.  One of the British ships at Fort Bowyer was the HMS Sophie. Capt. Nicholas Lockyer of the Sophie had less than two weeks previous tried to bribe Jean Laffite at Grande Terre to join the British forces. The Sophie was supposed to return to Grande Terre within a fortnight to get Laffite’s reply, but the ship and crew never did. The timing coincidence is mysterious. The truth of what really happened behind the scenes will probably never be known.

A check of New York native Daniel Todd Patterson’s genealogy is interesting: his father came to the US in 1750 from Ireland, and was a British soldier in the US during the French and Indian War. His paternal uncle was the first Royal Governor of Prince Edward Island. Patterson’s mother was from the socially prominent and wealthy Livingston family of New York, so he was a kinsman of New Orleans attorney Edward Livingston, who just happened to represent privateers Jean and Pierre Laffite in legal matters. Livingston’s familial connections to Patterson were not known by their New Orleans contemporaries.

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