You are browsing the archive for Nautical History.

Bicentennial of Jean Laffite’s Takeover of Galveston Is April 8

April 7, 2017 in American History, Caribbean History, general history, History, Louisiana History, Nautical History, Texas History

Jean Laffite in front of an early 1800s map of the Galveston area.

Jean Laffite in front of an early 1800s map of the Galveston area.


Privateer Jean Laffite, a hero of the Battle of New Orleans, took control of the Island of Galveston in a bloodless coup two hundred years ago this April 8, taking the small pirate base which had been used by Louis-Michel Aury as a point from which to prey against Spanish shipping. Although he had ostensibly taken the island on behalf of Spanish interests, Laffite actually would use it as a camp from which to nettle Spanish shipping for both himself and his brother, Pierre Laffite, plus some of the same corsairs who had been with them some years previously at Barataria in Louisiana.

Aury had first arrived at Galveston in July 1816 and set up a small settlement of crude huts up on the rise of a sandy beach on the higher eastern end of the island. Galveston was a rawboned kind of place at the time, mostly marshland crawling with so many rattlesnakes washed there from the mainland that the island had earned the nickname “Isle of Serpents.”

On a secret mission for the Spanish, Jean Laffite had arrived at Galveston on March 23, 1817, to find six ships in the harbor: Aury’s corsair, Belona, the frigate Cleopatra (commanded by General Francisco Xavier Mina), two captured Spanish brigs, a schooner named General Victoria which had been captured by a corsair armed in New Orleans and commanded by John Davis, and another schooner in the anchorage which had been captured by the General Arismendi, captained by Renato Beluche, Laffite’s old friend from the Grande Terre days. Another former Baratarian associate also was among the captains atGalveston: Johnny Barbe en Feu, who commanded Aury’s armed sloop Congreso Mexicano.

In a diary Jean made as part of his Spanish spying record, he wrote that he spent two weeks at Galveston discussing matters with both Aury and with Aury’s fractious associate, General Mina, who wanted to invade Mexico and the control of it from Spain. The Spanish had sought the help of the Laffite brothers due to the problem of constant depredations by Aury-led corsairs in the Gulf of Mexico on Spanish merchant ships, and Padre Antonio de Sedella had recommended to Don Diego Morphy, Spanish vice consul at New Orleans, that the Laffites were the best men to fix the problem in lieu of a Spanish fleet of war vessels which the King of Spain did not send.

Aury and General Mina each wanted control of the Mexico invasion, but agreed to go together in separate ships with their men to accomplish their goal. They sailed from Galveston on April 7, 1817, but not before burning the huts onshore. Jean Laffite and about 40 men were left with a few ships.

According to Laffite’s diary, “Seeing the port was abandoned by Aury, and in order to better execute the project that John Williams [code name for Arsene Latour, Jean’s friend] and he had planned with No. 13 [Pierre Laffite’s code designation], they named officers and established the administration under their direction. No. 13-2 [Jean Laffite’s code name] has agreed to provide them with men and supplies and to send the supplies immediately from New Orleans in case something should prevent his bringing them himself.”

For the next week, Jean Laffite set up residence on Galveston, which he named Campeche. The men there rebuilt the burned huts, then met April 15, 1817, on the schooner Carmelita, which belonged to Barthelemy Lafon. There all but Jean Laffite signed a document of fealty called the Registry of Deliberations, pledging an oath of allegiance to the Republic of Mexico.

Aury returned to Galveston on May 4 to find to his surprise he had been overthrown as leader in his absence. Although he intended to still be recognized as governor and treasurer general of the settlement, his complaints fell on deaf ears so he sulked about it for a bit, then left for greener pastures, winding up at a new base at Amelia Island off the eastern coast of Florida. The men had remained resolute against Aury, even in Jean Laffite’s absence, as Jean had left April 18 for New Orleans to report to the new Spanish consul.

Pierre Laffite sailed to Galveston and managed the operation there for a few months, but the climate and conditions did not agree with his sickly disposition. Pierre returned to New Orleans, with Jean again assuming control of Galveston, where he would mostly stay. The Laffite Galveston privateering base would go through encroachments by French settlers with the Lallemand Expedition, a massive hurricane in September of 1818 that nearly wiped out the base, and finally, threats of naval action against Laffite and his men by the United States, even though Galveston was outside US territory on land claimed by Spain.

The worst thing of all occurred in late 1819, after Jean had built the settlement back up from the hurricane devastation: the crew of one of his ships, the Le Brave, was found guilty of piracy. A ship’s article paper onboard bore Laffite’s signature. It was the only time his name was ever evidentially connected with a piratical action. The Le Brave captain and some members of the crew were found guilty of piracy and hanged in New Orleans in 1820, shortly after Jean Laffite abandoned Galveston, setting fire to the place, including his Maison Rouge home. All that was left were ashes.

After a temporary incarceration in Cuba, Jean Laffite proceeded on to Carthagena, Colombia, where he became captain of the General Santander privateer ship for Bolivar, harassing ships in the Caribbean until reportedly dying as a result of injuries suffered in a sea battle with two Spanish ships in 1823. Pierre Laffite left New Orleans for the Isla Mujeres area, where he was reported to have been killed in a land battle.

If the Laffites could see their wild and wooly Galveston today, 200 years later, they would not recognize it, with a seawall protecting the Gulf side, a strip of tourist spots and swank hotels all along the beach zone, monster cruise ships at the bayside dock, ornate Victorian mansions in the interior and the Strand’s downtown business district. They’d find a Walmart offering low- dollar goods akin to items they once sold from captured ships, but for prices in the neighborhood of a sailor’s pay for a couple of month’s work in 1817. Would they be surprised to find that there is an historical social group honoring their memory, the Laffite Society, on the island? Perhaps. In the end, they would still recognize two things at Galveston: the waves of the eternal sea, and the glorious sunsets over the Gulf Coast. Some things never change.

The True Tale of Mitchell, the Zombie Pirate

March 11, 2016 in American History, Caribbean History, general history, Louisiana History, Nautical History

mitchellhanging

Mitchell’s privateer ship, Cometa, with Gov. Gonzales hanging from the yard-arm.

When notorious Gulf Coast pirate William Mitchell came back from the dead in 1835, he looked like a zombie from Hell.

One-eyed, the man was covered with horrible scars, evidence of many deep and dangerous wounds he had suffered in his life. The worst of these the grey-haired 56-year-old bore in the front of his neck, where it appeared at some time a boarding pike or bayonet had been thrust completely through. According to the Philadelphia Herald of Oct.. 30, 1837, the pirate also “had a wound in the back of his neck, a musketball in his fore shoulder, had lost the calf of his leg from a splinter, and was otherwise marked upon his arms and legs.” Mitchell obviously had led a very hard “second life” after reportedly dying in 1821 on Great Corn Island off the Mosquito Coast in the Caribbean.

Several newspapers carried reports of his death in 1821. The Watchman of Montpelier, Vt. said in its August 7, 1821 edition that Capt. Mitchell had died on the first of May, and that he was “generally known by the term Pirate Mitchell as he has been several years privateering and pirating in the Gulf of Mexico, and on the coasts of South America. He was born at Bath, in England, and was several years an officer in the Spanish [Patriot] service.”

Much of the intervening time between 1821 and 1835 Mitchell had spent in various prisons, including at Norfolk, and the last two years at Philadelphia, where he was convicted on charges claimed by his wife of bigamy and assault and battery. He said he had wanted to keep her as a “Key West wife” since his legal wife (in New York) refused to accompany him, but apparently the second wife resisted. (Nov. 4, 1837, Gloucester Telegraph, Gloucester, Mass.)

Released from prison at Philadelphia on June 23, 1837, the ever-enterprising Mitchell soon got a ship, a long black schooner called the Blooming Youth, and began to try to recoup his treasure, buried on an island in the Bahamas. He was stymied in this effort late in November 1837 when the captain of the Revenue Cutter Dexter captured him and his six man crew on suspicion of piracy. Mitchell was taken to Mobile, but soon released. He had been suspected of having attacked the packet ship Susquehanna near the New Jersey coast earlier, but there was no proof.

By 1838, he was operating off Key West, attacking Spanish shipping in the vicinity, smuggling slaves into the coastal areas. He visited Mobile frequently.

The June 25, 1838 Mobile newspaper said Mitchell had died as the result of a bullet wound suffered in an escape attempt from the city jail.

“Mitchell, well known about our city as ‘The Pirate,” died this morning about 6 o’clock. Several days ago, he was imprisoned for a riot, and by some means made his escape. He was retaken yesterday and bound, but whilst on his way to the prison, he managed to unloose himself. In securing him, he made resistance, and the guard was obliged to shoot him down. He died from the wound received….He was notorious for having been engaged in several acts of piracy and it was supposed that he commanded the much dreaded ‘low, black schooner’ which overhauled the Susquehanna. At the time of his escape, he held a privateering commission in the service of Texas; and his purpose was to get on board of a boat at the wharf, and to reach a vessel lying at the Balize ready for the expedition. He had several companions leagued with him.” (July 2, 1838, Charleston Courier, S.C.)

This second “death” of Mitchell was no more true than the first, as the Charleston newspaper learned to its chagrin via the next day’s paper from Mobile that the obituary was a hoax perpetrated by one of Mitchell’s friends.

“The individual [Mitchell] whom we unceremoniously shot yesterday, is still among the living. There is no death so easy as that perpetrated by a newspaper. One has but to scribble off a few words and presto! an unhappy mortal is whisked off to eternity without having time to change his clothes for the journey. We beg ‘the Pirate’s’ pardon, and hope he may live a thousand years, and each day grow a better man.

“The best of the joke is, some of our enthusiastic phrenologists applied immediately for the head of the deceased,’ reported the Mobile newspaper. The jailer received the men with some consternation, told them to wait, and relayed their request to his prisoner, Mitchell, coming back with the answer “that Mr. Mitchell had use for his head-that he was very sorry to disappoint the gentlemen-hoped that they would not take it ill for refusing such a trifling request-but as they were the first comers, he should be happy to give them the preference, when he could conveniently dispense with the use of a head.” (July 3, 1837, Charleston Courier.)

Of course, newspapers throughout the United States reprinted the story of Mitchell’s death, but very few published the story of the fact that the second death, like the first, was a hoax.

By Oct. 5, 1838, Mitchell was once again active around the Key West area, very much alive, but a bit more physically handicapped as during the Mobile riot he had managed to get one foot partially crushed, so he now walked with a lurching limp. You can’t keep a good pirate down

In late 1840, Mitchell, in a Baltimore clipper, visited the port at Savannah, Ga., and said he and his crew of five men had been at the Bahamas to look for some money he had buried on what he called “Bull Key” about 20 years’ previous. However, as he had overheard the crew resolving to kill him when they had obtained possession of the money and divide it among themselves, he had refused to point out the spot, and they had finally steered for Savannah. The crew then libelled the Blooming Youth, and imprisoned the captain for not paying their wages. (Jan. 11, 1841 Augusta, Ga., reprint of a report from Savannah, Ga., dated Dec. 23, 1840)

Soon out of jail, Mitchell zealously worked to obtain assistance to make another treasure-retrieving voyage. He avowed he was never a pirate, but a privateer, and that he had been engaged in that capacity for many years, chiefly under the authority of the Brazilian flag.

The treasure he sought to reclaim was said to be worth $7.5 million, including $75,000 in Spanish coin, and the bulk of the remainder in bar gold. Mitchell said there also was a cross of pure gold, manufactured for a church in Havana, weighing 17 pounds; a diamond as large as an egg, and two watches made for the Queen of Portugal. (Ibid.)

Mitchell offered all his hidden wealth, one half to any firm in the city if they would advance money to fit him out, and ten thousand dollars to any young men who would accompany him as companions in the voyage.

According to the Savannah article of Dec. 23, 1840, Mitchell’s “endeavors were successful: a firm in good repute, of which the senior member is a communicant of the Baptist church, and the junior a quondam Methodist preacher, (I spare their names for their reputation’s sake, although the transaction is common talk here,) has chartered a fast sailing schooner, hired a captain at seven hundred dollars a month, and prevailed on a clerk of their own (a religious man) and one or two other young men, in addition, to accompany him. In the mean time, Mitchell has joined the Methodist Church, and promises it a share of the spoils_to the amount of seventy-five thousand dollars.”

Before leaving on the voyage, he met a young French girl of 20 years, a Methodist, and married her the next day. He was about 60. The Savannah newspaper writer noted that “she has probably caught the Captain Kidd infection, and fills her imagination with dreams of luxury and wealth.”

“Mitchell is a tall man, with grey hair, and a very sinister and forbidding aspect. He has lost the sight of one eye, and is lame from an injury to one of his feet, in a conflict with a mob at Mobile.” (Ibid.)

Mitchell and crew go searching for his buried treasure

“The chartered schooner, Magnet, sailed with seven men and Mitchell on board. Various views are entertained in relation to the enterprise. Some imagine that the old fellow is deranged, and that the whole matter will end in smoke. Others entertain serious fears that he desires to get possession of a vessel, that these men will be surprised by wretches in concealment on the key, or coasting in the vicinity, and that Savannah will never see them more. The captain goes well armed, however, for such a contingency.” (Ibid.)

The Savannah writer editorialized, “The worst aspect of the affair is the connection of church members and a church with this abandoned wretch. Admit that he be nothing worse than a privateer-yet he who takes advantage of a conflict between nations other than his own, to prey upon his fellow men, is no better-no, not a whit_than a pirate; and there is an old and true saying that ‘the partaker is as bad as the thief.’ Such circumstances afford triumphant material for those who are disposed to cavil at religious effort, and look upon professing Christians as hypocrites.”

Mitchell, the Magnet and crew returned to Savannah around Jan. 8, 1841, empty-handed, much to the consternation of the crew, and no doubt the Methodist backers as well. The captain took the Savannah to Boston, where the customs collector libelled her May 7, 1841, for forfeiture of the vessel for having been engaged in a foreign voyage while under a coasting license. (May 10, 1841 Boston Courier, United States District Court report)

“It appeared that while the vessel was lying at Savannah, the captain had been prevailed upon by Mitchell, a distinguished rover or privateer in the last war, to undertake an expedition to Cat Key, an island within the jurisdiction of a foreign power, for the purpose of digging up certain specie deposited there by Mitchell some eighteen or twenty years ago. The vessel was to receive $350 a month, and to draw a handsome proportion of the money to be exhumed.” (Ibid.)

Mitchell and the Magnet crew made several excavations and dug furiously for several days without so much as finding a single sixpence, according to the court report. Mitchell attributed the failure of the expedition to the erosion of that part of the island where he had buried the treasure. He claimed that the right spot was covered by the ocean.

The owner of the Magnet, a Mr. Lothrop of Cohasset, Mass., said the vessel had been out of his control as at the time it was under a charter party for the coasting trade, and that he neither consented nor knew of her illegal occupation. Results of the libel were not found, but the Magnet was back in business within a month after clearing Boston harbor.

As for Mitchell, he still had Methodist backers to pay back, and he seemed to have convinced them to finance yet another venture, possibly the one which failed to materialize with the Methodist Rev. Capt. Daniel De Putron, related in the Historia Obscura article “The Bizarre Case of the Wannabe Pirate.” The large schooner which was reported near the Balize in mid June 1841 may have been captained by Mitchell himself. De Putron had been waiting with his small schooner to join a larger ship when he was arrested and taken to New Orleans along with his Independence ship on suspicion of piracy. Among the possessions in De Putron’s trunk were a pirate flag and a copy of the recently published “A Pirate’s Own Book,” which ironically included a story about Mitchell’s colorful background near New Orleans.

if the top-sailed schooner that sped like the “Flying Dutchman” by the Balize indeed had Mitchell at the helm, he sailed into oblivion. Nothing more was ever published about any of his exploits after 1841, and no third obituary ever appeared. His true last anchorage is unknown.

So who was Mitchell, before he came back from the dead in 1835? He had been a privateer with a Cartagena commission, and had been associated with Jean Laffite at Grande Terre and Barataria for a time. His true nature was related in his own words to an American captain, Jacob Dunham, during Dunham’s visits in 1815 and 1816 to Old Providence Island near the Mosquito Coast of present-day Nicaragua. Mitchell believed in the War to the Death against the Spanish, and boasted that he had personally killed 87 Spaniards by 1816. In short, he was a sociopath, though he treated friends like Dunham well.

During Dunham’s first visit to Old Providence to trade goods, Mitchell invited him to dine at the home of a local planter, John Taylor, whose daughter, Sarah, was Mitchell’s “wife.” The dinner featured roast pig, poultry, and all the accompaniments, with a dish of roasted plantains used for bread as was the native custom.

“The next day, I was invited to dine on board Capt. Mitchell’s vessel. The table was elegantly furnished with silver platters, plates, knives, forks, spoons, pitchers, tumblers and with the exception of the knife-blades, every article on the table was pure silver. He showed me many valuable diamonds and large quantities of old gold and silver; and the least valuable article I saw on board his vessel was the schooner’s ballast, which consisted of brass cannon,” recalled Dunham in his autobiography, Journal of Voyages, published in 1850.

Over dinner, Mitchell told him a few months earlier [in late 1815] he had captured a small trading schooner, armed her for a privateer, and appointed a Capt. Rose to the command, to go on a cruise.

“While laying here [at Old Providence] I made up my mind to sail for New York…sell my vessel and cargo…retire to private life, thinking my means would support me. One morning, while contemplating my future enjoyments when I got settled in New York, I thought it would much disturb my mind to think that old Gonzales should boast that he had frightened Mitchell, who dared not attack him. He had sent me many saucy messages by trading vessels saying I dare not come to St. Andreas (island) to annoy him, as I had the inhabitants of Old Providence, who were afraid to resist me. These reflections so affected my mind that I immediately ordered my boat manned and went on board Rose’s vessel. I told Rose we would never leave these seas until we had made an attack on St. Andreas,” said Mitchell to Dunham.

The next day, Mitchell with Rose and 46 men sailed to attack the island, some 60 miles away, and arrived shortly after 11 at night. They found the guards sleeping and killed the soldiers, then stormed the governor’s house, where they found him still asleep in bed. The governor, along with his slaves, money and plate, were taken on board ship.

Mitchell proceeded to treat the governor politely, dining with him, feeding him the best the island had, and allowing him lots of Spanish cigars. On the 10th day after the governor’s capture, Mitchell said he gave the old man a good dinner, had a glass of wine with him, and then, not skipping a beat, told the governor he was going to hang him that afternoon.

“He laughed,” related Mitchell, “supposing it a joke, and that I had no intention of harming him. He was sitting in an armchair near the cabin door on deck, smoking a cigar, when I ordered one of the seamen to reave a yard-rope from the fore-yard, bring the end of it aft and put it round his neck. He was soon dragged from the chair to the fore-yard arm (of the ship).”

He told Dunham he let Gov. Gonzales hang for about an hour, then cut the rope and “let the old devil go adrift.”

Dunham said Mitchell should have spared the old man as he could never have done him much harm, to which Mitchell coldly replied, “I have served him the same as they will serve me when they catch me.”

This scary story starkly illustrated that Mitchell was a sociopathic killer with no remorse. Dunham managed to get along with him without incident, but noted that although Mitchell had some education and had the appearance of a gentleman, he could be “one of the greatest tyrants to exercise authority over (his men) that I have ever heard of.” Dunham related in his book that one time Mitchell scalded a ship cook to death with boiling water over a simple mistake, and when a crewman remarked that was a harsh thing to do, he shot the sailor dead.

As Dunham prepared to leave for the Mosquito Coast for more trading, Mitchell said he now was bound to New York to make his permanent residence, but needed to stop off at New Orleans first to smuggle some slaves via a pilot at the Balize. On his way, he would proceed along the Cuban coast to search for Spanish vessels to take as a last venture. His arrival at New Orleans after taking a prize would become his main claim to infamy as a very successful pirate who evaded the noose through New Orleans connections and legal shenanigans.

In early April, 1816 as Mitchell was approaching the Balize in his swift-saling Cometa privateer, the US Boxer under the direction of Capt. Porter captured the Cometa, arrested Mitchell, and sent a crew on board to take the ship and crew to New Orleans for adjudication. The Cometa was laden with treasure said to be worth from $50 to $60,000; one small basket contained an estimated $10,000 in jewelry. The captain’s cabin had a great quantity of beautiful china ware, and Mitchell’s wardrobe was extremely elegant, according to naval officer’s letter published in the July 10, 1816 American of Hanover, N.H,

The Cometa’s main gun was a 1648 dated “long tom” 12-pounder on a pivot, with five other guns, from 3 to 6 pounders, all brass.

Mitchell and his crew remained in prison in New Orleans until their piracy trial that June. During the trial, Mitchell freely admitted having killed the governor of St. Andreas, and avowed he was a privateer involved in the Venezuelan War to the Death against Spanish royalists. He claimed to have Carthagenian privateer papers, but the court thought those papers were forged. Nevertheless, Mitchell soon walked out of court a free man, ready to plunder again, thanks to his secret connection to the New Orleans Association. Mitchell happened to be commander of a fleet of privateers working for the New Orleans cartel headed by attorney Edward Livingston, and had garnered prize goods worth at least $100,000 for the association’s benefit. (“Privateersmen of the Gulf and Their Prizes” By Stanley Faye, Louisiana Historical Quarterly 22, 1939) [See more about Livingston in the Historia Obscura article “Edward Livingston: A Famous Man That Few Have Heard Of.“]

Following his piracy trial, Mitchell concerned himself with smuggling like his former partners the Laffites, but along the Lake Ponchartrain shore, rather than Barataria. In 1817, an armed force tried to take him and did shoot him in the shoulder, but he escaped. By early 1818 he was once again sailing in a small schooner around the Florida keys area, but then he decided to return to smuggling in the Barataria area, where he brought down the ire of Customs Collector Beverly Chew. In July 1818, at the Balize, Mitchell managed to steal Chew’s unguarded revenue cutter with her six brass guns, only to lose it to a US naval schooner in October of that year. Mitchell escaped again. [See more about Chew in the Historia Obscura article “Beverly Chew: The Man Behind The Curtain In Early New Orleans.”]

A year later, Mitchell and eight others in an armed boat were doing a series of attacks on small ships approaching the Balize, further nettling Chew and the revenue agents. Finally he tired of that and proceeded to Cuba, where he captured a schooner at Santiago de Cuba, and left to prowl around the Mosquito Coast before dropping out of sight in 1821 when his first death story appeared in the newspapers.

Mitchell had been a very lucky pirate and/or privateer in his time, with more lives than the proverbial cat. He made friends with the right people to avoid the noose, and always managed to elude full vengeance from his enemies. It was almost, one might say, like he had made a bargain with the Devil.

 

The Bizarre Case of the Wannabe Pirate

February 18, 2016 in American History, general history, History, Louisiana History, Nautical History

The type of pirate flag found in De Putron's trunk.

The type of pirate flag found in De Putron’s trunk.

Methodist missionary Daniel F. De Putron sought more adventure in his life, so in late spring of 1841 he bought a small schooner in New Orleans, got a sidekick of an affable Irishman with the nickname of “Happy Jack,” and kept a skull and crossbones flag ready for the moment when he planned to partner with a pirate cruising off the Gulf Coast. He had, after all, dispensed with his Bible in favor of a copy of the “Pirate’s Own Book,” kept in his cabin.

A series of unfortunate circumstances coupled with an over-zealous revenue officer led to the reverend captain’s denouncement as a pirate, imprisonment, and colorful court appearance in New Orleans. All that saved him and his crew from the rope was the discovery that a bloody-decked ship whose occupants were thought to have been his victims turned out to be just a hoax done by that ship’s dishonest captain after some insurance money.

Capt. De Putron’s story began with his arrival in the Crescent City in early 1841. He led a quiet life for a few months and seemed low on funds until he unexpectedly paid cash for the schooner Independence, intended for the coasting trade. Licensure requirements demanded that only US citizens could be masters of ships entering that trade, so De Putron claimed to be a US citizen who lived at New Orleans. After this, he cleared out with a small crew and once in the Gulf, remained some weeks cruising about the Chandeleur Islands, making occasional forays to Mobile for supplies and crewmen, trying to keep a low profile as he waited for the large schooner to show up with which his Independence would serve as tender.

New Orleans-based Revenue Officer William B.G. Taylor in the Izard also was looking for that rumored pirate ship in the Gulf, in late May 1841. He stopped and boarded every vessel he ran across. A small black schooner oddly anchored at the north of the Chandeleur Islands caught his eye. When he stopped to inspect her, he found the captain absent and only six crewmen aboard. The man in charge said the captain was out with a fishing party and had the ship’s license with him. Nothing appeared amiss other than the number of sweeps or long oars aboard, so Taylor returned to the Izard. He stayed suspicious of the vessel because it had no cargo, and anchored a mile above the schooner to the north to spend the night.

The next morning, while the Izard was speeding along with the wind past the black schooner, Capt. Taylor was jolted by the sight of a man jumping overboard from her and swimming rapidly towards the Izard, calling out “Captain Taylor, protect me!” Taylor clapped the Izard’s helm and tacked sharply in response, reaching the man just as two other men in a skiff from the schooner approached. Brought on board, the swimmer said his name was Thompson, that he had been kidnapped in Mobile, that the schooner (named Independence) was a piratical vessel, and to prove what he said, if Taylor would protect him, he would go back onboard that ship and show him where the arms were concealed.

On his second boarding, Taylor with Thompson’s aid found arms stowed under the bread lockers, and ammunition consisting of balls and powder in abundance. Convinced he had found a piratical ship, he seized the vessel, removed the arms and ammunition to the Izard, and made sail for the Balize with seven prisoners in irons. Once at the Balize, the prisoners were placed under guard to await transfer upriver to New Orleans to Collector of the Port Denis Prieur.

Upon a more thorough investigation of the contents of the Independence, Taylor reported finding “seven pair more of high-priced pistols, a back and breast-piece of heavy iron armor and skull-cap to suit, dirk and bowie knives in plenty, a ship’s articles of war and no quarter, and two calling cards of the absent captain, the Rev. Daniel F. De Putron.” He also found something striking: a pirate’s flag bearing a skull and crossbones in white against a blue bunting background, in the same chest with a copy of the “Pirate’s Own Book,” a popular work which related tales of past pirates and privateers (including New Orlean’s own Jean Laffite).

The Pirates Own Book, published in 1837, a copy of which De Putron had in his trunk.

The Pirates Own Book, published in 1837, a copy of which De Putron had in his trunk.

The Articles of Agreement contained some scary wording:

“We the undersigned, being the children of nature, have lawfully and wholly as much right to enjoy here, in all her stores, as any other who is of woman born; but being deprived of all these blessings by the artful designs of those who possess in more than superabundance the stores that were intended for all, we are compelled to come forward, protest against all the world, and thus obtain our rights. From this day we declare war against the world … no quarters are offered us, none can be expected__We do, and have formed a constitution this day for the better regulation of ourselves, knowing it to be for our mutual benefit, and as order and safety may be concerned, we are bound to ourselves and to one another. Our tie is cemented with blood, and nothing less than blood will propitiate, and atone for any of us who act contrary to our laws. Death being the warrant knell of all those who in time of action, shall through cowardice, negligence, or disaffection yield, cause others to yield, or cry for quarters.”

After reading that, Taylor and the other officers of the Izard were convinced that an infamous scheme had been nipped in the bud.

Taylor’s seizure of a pirate ship and crew caused a sensation in New Orleans. The Times-Picayune of June 6, 1841, reported: “it created an excitement in our city which extended from the center to the uttermost bounds of the faubourgs. Some asserted that they were a squad of rowdies, and that their ‘articles of agreement’ were written for a ‘lark.’ A religious old lady up town said they were nothing more nor less than missionaries going out to convert the natives of the Sandwich Islands_and this assumption was not the farthest from probabilty, since the captain (of the Independence) turns out to be a reverend gentleman.”

On the morning after the seizure, Taylor and pilots at the Balize had put out in chase of the schooner’s absent captain. They found Capt. Daniel F. De Putron looking for his missing schooner, made him a prisoner, strip-searched him, and brought him to New Orleans in irons. Capt. De Putron thought this was just all a big mistake, and before his arrest, wrote a lengthy letter to the port collector .

De Putron claimed the error of his ship’s seizure and his crew’s imprisonment was due to the “misrepresentation on the part of one of my crew, who had some spite against me…It was never my intention to use her (Independence) on this coast, and never have done it. I have been endeavoring to obtain Texas papers for the Independence, it being difficult, she being under tonnage…I have nothing on board on which the laws of the United States can take her up. There was no negro irons on board, and nothing but a few small arms for self protection, and belonging to my person. The papers were on board during the detention of the vessel; although I was absent she was taken from where she lay. I immediately followed her after I had been apprized …I take this opportunity to inform you of her detention, which is unlawful, she not being carrying any unlawful trade; and whatever others may say of her, she is intended to act as a tender to another schooner, after she has obtained Texas papers. The expenses incurred during the detention of this vessel I must obtain. And I now demand the immediate release of the vessel, which you will please to order, also of the men; and whatever may be said about her, it can never be said, that she has done any unlawful act, or injured the United States’ revenue.”

Unhappily for De Putron, just as he was arrested, word was received that the ship Charles, which had departed New Orleans a few days previous, had been found with no one on board, all the goods missing, and worse yet, blood in various spots on the deck. The gossip-mongers naturally figured De Putron, the reverend with the pirate flag, had done the deed, or the larger pirate schooner he had been waiting for at the Chandeleur North Point was the culprit. De Putron was promptly reviled in the press as the “Pirate of the Gulf.” Capt. Taylor and his men, along with several other volunteer ships, went out scouring the coast for De Putron’s supposed accomplice pirate ship with no success.

On June 4, the Charles was found by the captain of the Tiger abandoned but still full of her lumber cargo, near the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi River some 40 miles from the Balize. All her sails were set, and the jib appeared to have been cut loose. There was slight water in the hold. Not a solitary living being was on board. Inside the cabin were some recently broken port bottles with contents glazing the floor. On the ship’s deck on one side was a small pool of blood running towards the scupper, and the other side had eight blood stains which appeared to have been made by some wounded person carried or forced over the ship’s side. The Tiger proceeded to look for the longboat from the ship in the area with no success, but about 10 miles distant, found the Charles’ jolly-boat whose lone occupant was a dog said to belong to one of that ship’s passengers, plus a box of sardines. The dog was rescued by the crew, and did not appear to have been adrift long. No other boats were found in the area, so Capt. Crowell of the Tiger took the Charles in tow and returned to New Orleans, arriving by 7 a.m. June 6, 1841.

As soon as the Charles appeared at the wharf, “horrid rumors of murder and piracy, mutiny and assassination, flew from mouth to mouth with incredible rapidity” reported the New Orleans Bee.

The only clue about the Charles’ fate was a logbook slate entry found which said “the ship continues to make water,” but when discovered, the ship was not sinking, and had only a slight amount of water in the hold which was readily pumped out.

The Charles had carried 23 cabin passengers, some of them women. The mostly French merchants were going to make their annual purchases in France. All of them were presumed to have been carrying considerable amounts of specie.

Several armed militia units went out on boats and ships to scour the bays, inlets, and Gulf for the big topsail schooner which had been spotted earlier before the Charles incident and which was suspected to be De Putron’s partner. Capt. Taylor of the Izard offered $500 reward to any of the fishermen of the coastal area who could provide solid leads to the capture of the pirate, and wrote that he was “confident of finding and securing the murderers (of the Charles’ crew and passengers.) He added that “You may depend I will leave nothing undone to detect and bring out all this villainy.” (Note: Taylor was still pirate-happy some 22 years after his capture of the Jean Laffite ship Le Brave, whose captain and part of the crew were found guilty of piracy and hanged in New Orleans in 1819-1820. Taylor had been a young second lieutenant at the time.)

In a letter to Prieur dated June 18, 1841, from the Balize, Capt. Taylor said Julius Watson, master of the Hercules ship, informed him he had seen the pirate schooner around June 8, carrying sail like the Flying Dutchman. “That such a vessel has been prowling our coast, and that the Independence was her tender-shipping and kidnapping men and getting supplies for her–is in my mind a stubborn truth, and that she committed the piracy on the ship Charles, I also firmly believe,” wrote Taylor.

According to news accounts in New Orleans, the articles taken from the Charles were “just such as a newly fitted pirate would be most desirous of obtaining: beds and bedding, cabin chairs, clothing, and everything in the way of arms such as axes, knives, crow bars and muskets.”

Capt. Taylor added that a fisherman from the Chandeleur who had accompanied Capt. De Putron earlier said the potential pirate had 300 doubloons about him when he saw him last, but when Capt. Taylor searched De Putron, he found neither the doubloons, nor the captain’s gold watch.

In the wake of the public alarm over the Charles and the worry that a murdering pirate was loose on the Gulf, several people in the vicinity of New Orleans were arrested just on suspicion of the supposed piracy and murder on board the ship Charles. At least one paper reported that some New Orleanians even thought that the old “pirate” Lafitte [sic] who was thought to be living at Paraguay, had returned again to his “congenial pursuits.” (Jean Laffite, by the way, had been reported in the Times-Picayune of Feb. 17, 1841 as having recently visited New Orleans, where someone recognized him and said he had the “same piercing eye he had in youth, but slightly bent with age.” Laffite quite apparently had not died in the reported sea battle off the coast of Honduras in February 1823, or else that was his ghost strolling the French Quarter in 1841.)

On June 24, 1841, the Times-Picayune printed a lengthy protest written by the imprisoned Capt. De Putron:

“I have been for the past three weeks a prisoner–my property has been seized–my name calumniated. The press has teemed with rumors which have been converted into ‘confirmation strong as proofs of holy writ.’ and untried, without the opportunity of a defense, I have been held up to public detestation as a Pirate…The piratical acts which I am presumed to have committed are the taking of the cargo of the ship Charles and the murder of her crew and passengers. I am legally advised that piracy is the commission of a felony on the high seas. Judging from what I have read and heard, there is still some doubt as to the commission of the felony, and in the absence of all direct testimony on the subject, the probabilities are decidedly that the deed was committed by persons on board (the Charles). It is absolutely certain that the whole affair transpired while I was laying with my schooner, the Independence, at anchor off the Chandeleurs, or while I was in actual custody. It is fortunately within my power to prove, by a chain of witnesses, the points at which I was during the entire interval that elapsed from my departure from the port of New Orleans and my return in irons.”

“No one saw me do the deed__I have never confessed the deed__I was not near the place of the deed__I have not been for any length a time unaccountably absent__none of the articles from the pillaged ship have been found in my possession. Why then do men call me guilty?”

“I am answered ‘because there are suspicious circumstances attending you.’ These suspicious circumstances, so far as I can learn, are the following: that a quantity of arms were found on board the Independence; that in my trunk was found a suit of defensive armor, pistol proof; that in my trunk also was found a peculiar flag, called a pirate’s, or black flag; that there was found on board the Independence a paper containing what have been called ‘articles of agreement,’ of a piratical nature.”

“And lastly, the general facts that my vessel was moored in an unusual place, had no cargo on board and was ostensibly engaged in no trade. These, I presume, cover all the suspicious circumstances that have been alleged against me,” wrote De Putron.

He proceeded to relate his own history of the affair surrounding his arrest, that he had gone to the Balize and demanded the release of his schooner, whereupon he was arrested and brought to the jail of the Parish of Orleans.

Next he endeavored to explain the suspicious circumstances that surrounded him and his ship, particularly the number of arms aboard:

“I have a right as a man, a free man, a citizen of the world, to own and keep in my own house or on board my own ship, armor, both offensive and defensive, of such a kind and of such a quantity as I may please. There are pirates on the high seas. I have a right to be prepared to defend myself against their attacks. No seaman who knows what I do of the coast of Africa and its inhabitants would venture among them unarmed.”

“I have been advised that there are municipal regulations forbidding the carrying of offensive weapons concealed about the person. Has it ever entered into the head of any legislator to forbid the wearing of defensive armor?”

“Thirdly, the ‘flag’__the piratical flag that was found in my trunk. That is conclusive he (de Putron) is a pirate! Which should I feel most strongly, derision or indignation? A piratical flag! Has the law of actions, or of any one nation ever declared a piece of bunting with a particular device upon it, a piratical flag, and made it an offense to have and carry such a flag? If not, then have I been guilty of no offense. If so, then would a Pirate be the last man to carry such a flag?”

“The fellow who made the flag informed others that he had made a suspicious flag for me, and perhaps intimated that my intentions were of a piratical nature; and the result was that I received applications from a number of persons who wished to join me for such an expedition. I informed those persons that they had utterly mistaken the man to whom they were applying, and that I had none other than proper and lawful purposes in view. In the course of the day, after the so-called piratical flag was completed, I received no less than one hundred applications of this kind. I was astonished, and at the same time, not a little alarmed. ..I therefore determined to leave New Orleans immediately on my previously intended trip to the Texas coast. My schooner, however, needed caulking, and I had not yet purchased the larger vessel to which the schooner was to act as tender. I proceeded to Mobile (to get supplies),” wrote De Putron.

As for the “no quarter given” articles of agreement found on his schooner, De Putron pointed out it was unsigned and said that was just his translation into English of a pamphlet of piratical articles of agreement document in French and Portuguese, and had been copied in pencil just because he had been struck by the original’s ideas and style.

Thompson’s statement to Capt. Taylor that the Independence was a piratical vessel was attributed by De Putron to bad blood between Thompson and the rest of the crew. Domingos, the cook, in particular had beaten him in a disagreement.

“If I were a Pirate they try to make me out to be, I would never have allowed (Thompson) to have such constant opportunities to escape and inform against me. His carcass would have fattened some shark long ago. Whatever else I am, I am neither a fool nor a coward,” added De Putron.

Before De Putron and his crew had their day in court, the captain, passengers, crew and goods from the supposedly plundered Charles were all found safe and sound. They had departed the Charles due to what Capt. Gorham claimed to be a sinking condition of the vessel, and were immediately transferred to the Louis Quatorze, which was heading to Havana. The blood on the deck was explained by a crewman’s hand that had suffered a bad cut during the disembarkation. Word that all were safe took about three weeks before being known at New Orleans, and the ire there against the captain for his negligance in notifying authorities quickly was so great they hung him in effigy dockside. Even though there was some relief that the Charles had not been victimized by a pirate, the New Orleanians were still thoroughly interested in the case of the possible pirate, De Putron, as court convened July 2, 1841.

The Times-Picayune reporter noted that it was steamy hot that day but nevertheless men in fancy frockcoats, vests and high collars packed the courtroom so tightly they hardly had room to breathe, and as the testimony began and proceeded lengthily, all were melting with prespiration by the afternoon. No one wanted to miss the “pirate” hearing.

De Putron entered the courtroom without shackles and necks craned to get a good look at the missionary turned buccaneer. He was blond, a young man of about 25, respectable-looking, with hair combed forward as was the style. He did not seem particularly ferocious. During testimony he stood “as stiffly as though a noose already dangled above his head,” recounted journalist and spectator Charles Hooton in his 1845 article “The Crescent City.” The Times-Picayune reporter on the scene said De Putron seemed “better adapted for the cassock than the coat of mail–more fit to tell his beads than to wield his Bowie knife.”

Accompanying De Putron were his fellow imprisoned crewmen: Osborno Abbott, John Tully alias Happy Jack, Luis Bargasse, Manuel Domingos and John Peaston. The other crewman, Johnson, had turned state’s evidence.

Ballie Peyton, US District Attorney, and J.W. Smith represented the US. C.K. Johnson and Randall Hunt appeared for the prisoners. Recorder Baldwin presided.

The Independence captain and crew learned the charges against them for the first time that morning, even though they had been held in prison for some three weeks.

De Putron was charged with perjury–for representing himself at the custom house as a US citizen and as having been born in the US, contrary to the facts.

The second charge was having employed men, and fitted out and armed a schooner for the purpose of embarking in the African slave trade, in defiance of and contrary to the laws of the United States.

The third charge was for having aided, assisted and corresponded with pirates.

First up on the stand was Capt. Taylor, boarding officer at the Balize for several years. He said he was told by a fisherman that a suspicious craft lay at the Chandeleurs. He put out after her, well armed and ready for a scratch, for he expected one. He came up to her, went on board, met Abbott and told him who he was and what was his business. Abbott told him the captain was not on board, that they were merely on a pleasure or fishing excursion, and had no arms but a fowling piece, which he showed him. Taylor said he went down into the cabin which he called a dark-looking hole, could find nothing, and came up as if he had left a steam bath; was still not satisfied that everything was right, told Abbott when the captain should arrive he must see his papers, and left for the Izard. The next day when he was passing near the Independence (the suspicious vessel), he saw Thompson jump off and swim towards him. He took him on board, and Thompson told him the Independence was a pirate vessel, that the captain had kidnapped him in Mobile, and that if the witness would protect him and come with him on board the Independence he would show him arms enough to “shingle a ten-pin alley.”

Attorney Johnson interrupted Capt. Taylor and said that Thompson’s narrative related by himself was not relevant, and he was not to give in evidence anything that Thompson or anyone else told him.

Peyton said the prisoners were charged with fitting out a piratical vessel for the slave trade (which according to US laws of the time, was piracy) and for conspiring to act as pirates.

Capt. Taylor resumed his testimony and said he went with Thompson on board the Independence, went down to the cabin, and found a large lot of what he called “plunder” in the captain’s (De Putron’s) chest. The items he found were on display in the court: the skull and crossbones pirate flag, the steel armor and helmet, and a colossal Bowie knife.

Also on display were the other items found on board: two guns, a large spring bayonet, a pioneer knife or sword, ten pair of pistols, a pair of Colt’s patent repeating pistols, one keg of powder, two silk handkerchiefs filled with pistol and musket balls, one pair of bullet molds, nine dirks, a pair of double barrelled pistols which were charged with balls, a large case of percussion caps, five powder flasks, a map of the coast, the Pirate’s Own Book and articles of agreement.

Continuing his testimony, Capt. Taylor said he brought the arrested crewmen to the Balize, and when De Putron came there looking for his ship, he arrested him and found on his person a pair of loaded pistols, a dirk and a Bowie knife. (At the time, New Orleans had a law against concealed weapons.)  De Putron told him the Independence was intended as a tender to a slaver to do business on the Texas coast.

Next up on the stand was the accused, De Putron. He recognized all the items in display as his, including several papers which were read. One was his will, signed at the island of Guernsey April 10, 1840, saying he was the son of Daniel De Putron of Guernsey. Among beneficiaries in the will were the British and Foreign Bible Society, plus several pounds sterling to widows and orphans of Guernsey. Another, more peculiar paper that was read was a manuscript memoir of his short life, which started “Born February the 23d, 1817,” but had the place cut out. The memoir covered his life from 1820 up to 1838 and consisted of voyages form the West Indies to England, England to New Holland, New Holland to France, France to America, and America to Africa.

Next on the witness stand was Thompson, who said he first met Capt. De Putron in Mobile about two months earlier, and was convinced to come on board the ship by Happy Jack, who enticed him with some grog to stay and join the crew. He said the Independence had been at the Chandeluers about three weeks, and though the captain would say he was going off fishing, there was never any fishing apparatus on board. He heard it whispered on board that a topsail schooner was expected, and every vessel coming from the east was signalled.

Thompson said De Putron told him the pirate’s flag was to frighten off intruders on the coast of Africa, and also that he thought he had a right to use the prefix of reverend to his name as he was educated for the Protestant ministry and was born in Cincinnati. However, Thompson noted that De Putron’s accent was very like that of a British Cockney.

Thompson said he had been whipped by Domingos once for losing some knives overboard during washing. He added that Domingos had often threatened his life, with both a knife and a hatchet in hand but not used.

Testimony concluded that afternoon to be continued the next morning, when Smith of the US counsel said he would leave it to the court to determine whether or not the charge of confederating and corresponding with pirates, had been sustained by the evidence offered; but they (the US counsel) contended that the charge of equipping and fitting out a vessel to engage in the African slave trade was fully established against the whole of the prisoners, and that the charge of perjury against De Putron was clearly proven.

Smith read the laws enacted for the suppression of the African slave trade, particularly the law of 1817, which said transgressors were liable to a penalty of $5,000 each, and imprisonment not exceeding seven and not less than three years.

He noted that “De Putron’s failure to give proof he was engaged in legal commercial business and in honest enterprize was confirmation of his guilt.” Smith added that from the memoir read in court it was shown the captain’s relatives in Guernsey were slave traders, that his uncle in the Brazils was a slave dealer, and that from his boyhood up, De Putron had been engaged in the slave trade and knew all the means necessary for such a business, including proficiency in various languages.

Johnson, for the defense, replied:  “At first there was a monstrous piracy (the Charles)__there were foul and bloody murders. And this, which was attributed to the prisoners at the bar, turns out to be, after all, neither piracy nor murder. The piracy was no more than a cowardly, rascally captain deserting his ship and causing the passengers to do the same, and the murders and the bloody deck all ended with a cut finger (of a crewman).”

At question, continued Johnson, was not “Did the evidence show any degree of moral guilt on the part of the prisoners?”, but was it enough to ensure their legal conviction before a jury.

Smith argued at length about how it appeared the Independence was indeed being outfitted for the slave trade, and not, as Johnson commented as part of his argument, that De Putron only intended on going to Africa for oil.

The hearing concluded with Abbott and Domingos discharged, and De Putron returned to prison, on both the slave trade and perjury charges, with bail set at $6,500. Happy Jack and the other crewmen were free to go.

De Putron lingered in prison awaiting his next court appearance, which came Jan. 16, 1842, when he went to trial and was found guilty of perjury. He did not go to trial in US Circuit Court until Feb. 12, 1842, for his second, and greater, charge of fitting out the Independence with the intent to employ her in the African slave trade..

The Times Picayune reported “This magnificently magnified pirate, smuggler, and all that sort of thing, was yesterday set at liberty, after an incarceration of some ten months…” De Putron was acquitted on the charge of fitting out for the slave trade, and US District Attorney Peyton moved that a nolle prosequi be entered on the charge of corresponding with pirates. “Thus ends the great De Putron case,” quipped the Times-Picayune, reprinted in the May 3, 1842 New Bedford Register of New Bedford, Mass.

De Putron vanished from the newspapers after his release from prison, where he had been kept for nearly a year. Genealogical data seems to indicate he returned to Guernsey, where he married and likely resumed the clerical life.

Capt. Taylor did not live long after the De Putron case concluded. He and his new US Revenue Cutter Vigilant were lost at sea near Key West in a gale in 1844.

Mysteries remain about the De Putron case, especially where did he get the funds to purchase the Independence, and who was captain of the large top-sailed schooner with whom the Independence never rendezvoused? The answers to those questions might be found with the subject of the next article: the return of pirate William Mitchell from the grave.

 

Paddy Scott: The Irish Pirate Who Plagued Mobile

January 30, 2016 in American History, general history, History, Nautical History

A scene of bayside pirates from the Pirates' Own Book

A scene of bayside pirates from the Pirates’ Own Book

Irish pirate Paddy Scott terrorized residents and visitors of the Mobile Bay area for some ten years over the 1820s and 1830s, earning himself national notoriety as that “vile pirate.” Oddly, no one now seems to know his story at all, and his legend lies dormant, buried with his bones. Only the old contemporary newspapers are left to tell his tale of mischief and mayhem.

The history of this freebooter begins with an 1818 ad seeking customers to send freight on his brand new “excellent forty ton barge” at Tuscaloosa Falls. Under his proper name, Patrick Scott, the young man boasted “the unusual goodness of his boat added to his practical experience of the navigation of the channel, offers an insurance of safety to whatever is committed to his charge.” (Alabama Republican, April 18, 1818)

By 1824, Patrick, now known as “Paddy” Scott, had gone the “breaking bad” route, leading Mobile newspapers to caution captains around Mobile and environs, as Scott and 10 Spaniards had gotten a long Spanish launch with a four pound shot hole in her gunwale which they were cruizing about the coast. The mayor of Mobile was concerned enough about this gang to offer a reward of $50 for the leader, as Scott had called on board the British Tar, lying in Mobile Bay a couple of days previous, and had helped himself and crew to provisions, etc., demanding liquors but finding none. The article stated they were bound for the lakes, and pulled for Pass Heron. A Pensacola man informed the newspaper that ten of the crew of the Spanish armed ship Ceres, prize to a South American Patriot privateer, had stolen a boat and absconded. “They have, it appears, made Scott, alias Glass, their commander. The public will do well to be on their guard.” (New York National Advocate, May 24, 1824)

(As one of his many aliases, Scott decided to appropriate the famous mountain man Hugh Glass’ name, probably inspired by the the current newspaper accounts of Glass’ near-fatal encounter with a grizzly bear and subsequent revenge trek seeking justice on his companions who had left him for dead. Paddy Scott, however, did not have the horrid scars of a bear attack and thus most definitely was not Glass.)

Not long after Paddy’s first foray into crime, Curtis Lewis, one of the inspectors of revenue for the Port of Mobile, returned from his expedition on Pascagoula Bay, having found a further quantity of goods which had been stolen from the schooner Barbaretta. Lewis also had taken and jailed two men who had stolen the goods in question from the first thieves (Scott and Francis). Six lots of goods were plundered from the Barbaretta, and recovered by the customs officer, who placed them in the custom house under lock and key. Seven of the original thieves were then caught, including the leader. Scott, Francis Keating, and Bruce, imprisoned for stealing the items from the ship, were sent on board the steamer Colombia, to be confined in jail at Cahawba, to face trial at the next session of the District Court. (Spectator, New York, N.Y. June 8, 1824)

However, Scott did not linger in irons very long, even in the supposedly more secure jail at Cahawba. By the 14th of July, Scott the desperado was again at large. He with four others made their escape from the Cahawba Jail. Reid, the celebrated smuggler, who was committed in Baldwin county a few months previous for passing counterfeit money and sent to Cahawba for safe keeping, was one of the escapees, and it was through his means the escape was effected. A reward of $200 was offered for their apprehension, and several parties went in different directions in pursuit. One of the five sprained his ankle in getting out, and was retaken before he left the town. Keating, one of Scott’s accomplices in plundering the Schooner Barbaretta, and who turned states’ evidence,  died in prison a few days after they reached Cahawba from Mobile. (Independent Chronicle and Patriot, Boston, Mass. August 25, 1824)

By summer of 1826, Paddy Scott had proven to be a constant pest on the Alabama and Mississippi coastline, particularly around Mobile Bay. The Pensacola Gazette of June 17, 1826 reported that Scott and a colorful accomplice known only as Smiley “are hovering in and around Mobile Bay, and have for some time past made Fowl River his rendezvous, with a sloop boat called the John Fowler, armed with muskets, pistols and sabers, all in good order. Is there not promptness enough in the country, to take such measures as will lead to the capture of so vile a pirate as he is known to be? Or shall we suffer him to go at large, to and fro, seeking whom he may devour?”

Scott and Smiley were soon apprehended. Reports from Mobile said  that “a man named Paddy Scott has been arrested and imprisoned with a man named Smilie (sic). He was captured off Horn Island, in a small sloop, by Capt. Foster of the Revenue Cutter. Six shots were fired at him before he surrendered. Scott has long been accused of piracy, and is said to be a desperate fellow. He broke from prison at Cahawba and had been occasionally seen about the coast of Alabama. Since he has been taken, a party of armed men had been seen about the jail, supposed for the purpose of rescuing their companion, Scott, but they were pursued, and effected their escape in a boat.” (New York Daily Advertiser, June 30, 1826)

By July 3, 1826, Scott had acquired such a dangerous reputation that the Daily National Journal of Washington, D.C. devoted a lengthy article to him: “Paddy Scott has rendered himself notorious in Mobile by his depradations. About two years ago a prize to the Colombian privateer Centilla, lying in the river, was robbed of a quantity of dry goods and other articles of value; the District Court being in session, a bill of indictment was found against Scott and several others for piracy, but they were not apprehended until after the court adjourned. Scott broke jail..a few weeks afterward, he went on board a Mobile packet for New Orleans under the promise of being landed somewhere along the coast. He was brought to Mobile and delivered up to the Marshal. The jail being considered insecure, the prisoners were taken to Cahawba. Before the next term, however, all but one escaped, and he who had turned state’s evidence died in jail. For several months Scott was seen about the Bay, and suspected of piratical intentions; it was said he threatened to burn the city, for which the Mayor offered a large reward for his apprehension. He then disappeared, and had been only recently seen, and then in a boat, with several armed men. Once they boarded a vessel in the bay, and how they subsisted is unknown. He is a native of Ireland and says his real name is Glass.”

The jail at Mobile was indeed as insecure as authorities feared, for by late September 1826, both Scott and Smiley made good their escape. The Charleston Courier of Oct. 14, 1826 reported from Mobile that Smiley had by some means managed to saw off his irons, and late in the afternoon called upon the jailer to give him some water, whereupon entering the cell the jailer was knocked down. Smiley then wrested the keys from him and locked him in the cell, and deliberately proceeded to Scott’s cell, unlocked it, took off his irons, and both escaped after carefully locking the jail door.

Scott and Smiley headed for New Orleans, a bad move on their part, as Scott was arrested on Oct. 5 and Smiley the next day.

Strangely, the newspapers are silent about Paddy’s actions for almost two years. He and his cronies do not pop up again until early September 1828, in an article in the Louisiana Advertiser headed “Pirates.” Paddy Scott was said to be leading a group of 12 desperadoes on a small sloop called the Lalla Rookh, of about 10 tons, 30-35 feet long, fitted out at Pensacola, with black upper works, white molding and green interior, complete with a quantity of arms and provisions on board. The Advertiser stated the sloop called at the Bay of St. Louis on August 26 and Paddy and co. stole a whale boat from Charles Matthews along with other petty thefts, then loitered in the area, presenting several “very impudent threats to those on shore.” The writer opined that the general presumption is that they are bound on a piratical cruise and said “Should they not be looked after?”

Once again, Paddy went to New Orleans, and once again, he got arrested there, and taken to the New Orleans mayor for examination, according to the Baltimore Gazette of October 9, 1828. Nothing appears to have come of this arrest, and he was apparently released.

As of late March 1829, Scott and some four associates stole a small boat near New Orleans and were said to be lurking among the islands off the Bay of Biloxi, according to the Custom House Collector of New Orleans. (Commercial Advertiser, New York, N.Y. April 6, 1829)

Another lull in Scott’s dramatic misdeeds occurred until the fall of 1832, when the Charleston Courier reported that Scott was again actively doing nefarious deeds. Some “respectable citizens” of Charleston who apparently were unaware of Scott’s piratical tendencies hired him to take them in a small boat from the Bay of St. Louis to the Bay of Biloxi, stopping midway to go on shore for a bit of hunting while leaving their trunks and other effects on the boat. Scott of course seized the opportunity to cast off and put out into the lake at once, leaving his victims stranded on shore. Unhappily for Scott, Capt. Benjamin Holly ran across him fleeing the scene in his boat, thought it odd there was only one man in a schooner rigged craft, and successfully pursued him. He took possession of the craft, and brought the trunks and baggage to the Bay of St. Louis, where the owners were so happy to see their belongings they gave Holly a reward of $50. Nothing was mentioned about what happened to Paddy, and for some years, once again, he was idle__until a land pirate raid on some settlers in Baldwin County, Ala., in August 1837.

The Mobile Register of August 28, 1837 and New Orleans Times-Picayune of Sept. 23, 1837 reported vile outrages against some female settlers were committed in Baldwin County by a gang of desperadoes led by Paddy Scott. Bailey, one of Scott’s accomplices, was soon taken on Mobile Point but Paddy escaped in his schooner. He soon turned up walking the streets in New Orleans while citizens of Mobile offered a reward of five hundred dollars for his arrest. New Orleans authorities seemed to turn a blind eye to the wronged Mobile citizens: although Paddy was arrested in New Orleans under the vagrant act, for want of any evidence to justify his detention, he was soon liberated. (Evening Star, New York, Oct. 2, 1837)

By late 1839, the New Orleans Times-Picayune was calling Paddy Scott “the modern Lafitte” and noted that after he had been in the city about five days, he was arrested on the Levee. In a description of him given that year, he is said to be above the middle size, and “on the wrong side of 40.”

Paddy’s luck would soon turn sour after his next release. In January 1840 he murdered James Burgoyne in New Orleans by stabbing him in the back, then fled to his old haunts around Mobile.

The coroner’s inquest on Burgoyne’s body, reported in the Times-Picayune of Feb. 6, 1840, said the deceased was stabbed in the back just below the shoulder, the wound entering the chest cavity and penetrating the lungs. Dr. J.E. Kerr noted a singular peculiarity about Burgoyne in that his heart was on the right, rather than left, side of his body,

The Grand Jury at New Orleans issued a bill of indictment for murder against Scott, and he was arrested in June of 1840 in Mobile, then transferred to New Orleans. His aliases in addition to Hugh Glass included John Scott and John Carney.

The Sept. 6, 1840 Times-Picayune reported that after being found guilty of murder and at his death sentencing, Paddy Scott was asked by Judge Canonge if there was anything he wished to say. Seeming half-choked with “fear and feeling” Scott said in a voice “scarcely audible” that he should wish the court to defer passing sentence on him. The jury, he understood, were about addressing the Governor on his behalf. Six of the jury members which found him guilty signed a memorial to the Governor, praying that Scott not be made to suffer capital punishment. The T-P writer said at the sentencing hearing Scott “cried like a child. He is an idiotic, mindless looking man, and apparently devoid of all physical courage.”

By February of 1841, Scott had been pardoned by the Louisiana governor, and the sentence of death recorded against him was commuted to two years’ imprisonment at hard labor. (Times-Picayune, March 3, 1841)

Scott’s last appearance in the press was in the Jan. 3, 1844  issue of the Times-Picayune. The brief article stated “Paddy Scott, well known as a pilot on Lake Ponchartrain, died suddenly at Milneburg on New Year’s night.”

 

 

Beverly Chew: the Man Behind the Curtain in Early New Orleans

November 19, 2015 in American History, general history, History, Legal History, Louisiana History, Nautical History, Texas History

Beverly Chew at the height of his power in New Orleans

Beverly Chew at the height of his power in New Orleans

Life was good for the New Orleans business firm of Chew & Relf in the early 1800s: young partners Beverly Chew and Richard Relf controlled a virtual monopoly of the banking, shipping, trading, insurance, and smuggling business in the port city until around 1809, when the Laffite brothers came to town, quickly and systematically cutting into the profits of Chew & Relf’s Gulf Coast network empire.

Jean and Pierre Laffite successfully snatched away the market share of the smuggling business from Chew, Relf and their cohorts Daniel Clark, mainly because since they were getting their goods and slaves from privateers’ captured Spanish prizes, they paid nothing for their wares and consequently could sell them much cheaper because there was no middleman to pay.

The Laffites made an enemy for life of Chew in particular, and he would strike back like a snake when a prime opportunity presented itself eight years later. He wielded much more power in New Orleans than most people realized, and could carry a grudge for years. Along with his partner and other backers, he controlled business in the city for more than 30 years in the early 1800s. Through study of his business connections, deals, and political machinations it is evident that Chew, not Edward Livingston as commonly supposed, was the true power monger behind the curtain of New Orleans, with the help of Relf. Moreover, Chew stayed at the top of the exclusive business elite in New Orleans through the 1830s.

Historian John G. Clark said “The elite which emerged in New Orleans between 1803 and the War of 1812 possessed power and responsibilities unprecedented in the almost 100-year existence of the city.’ (The Business Elite of New Orleans Before 1815)

Born in Virginia in 1773, Chew moved to New Orleans in 1797 from Philadelphia, where he had been an apprentice for prominent merchant Daniel William Coxe and associates, and also had learned financial finagling from Natchez plantation owner William Dunbar, who had traded cotton through Coxe.

According to historian Arthur H. DeRosier Jr., Dunbar used Chew and Relf in the early 1800s to ship bales of cotton through New Orleans, for pre-negotiated prices to Liverpool, seldom taking specie alone for the transactions. Every shipment of cotton included a list of goods Dunbar wanted, which Dunbar would resell for more in the American markets. He floated the real money (gold and silver specie) like so many chess pieces among his agents to make purchases as needed, or to stall payment until goods were delivered from England. Knowing exactly where all the specie, cotton, and goods were took a very careful system of bookkeeping, which Dunbar did well. His protégé, Chew, implemented this system himself upon Dunbar’s death in 1810. (William Dunbar: Scientific Pioneer of the Old Southwest)

Chew and Relf both came to Louisiana about the same time shortly before the turn of the 19th century, in league with the well-known Irish land speculator and businessman Daniel Clark, believed to be one of the wealthiest men in America, and the notorious double-dealing General James Wilkinson, who often was complicit with Spanish authorities.

Chew counted among his personal and confidential close friends the adventurer Philip Nolan, clandestine agent of Wilkinson re Spanish land grant schemes in Louisiana territory. In 1797, before moving to New Orleans, Chew wrote Nolan that he could draw from the Spanish king’s coffers at New Orleans any sum he would have named on account of the General, and it was reported and pretty generally credited then that Nolan had indeed received as much as $5,000. In 1798, Chew wrote to Nolan that he was departing on a voyage to Bilbao, Spain, saying “respecting the connection we have so long contemplated, you will find my wishes for it undiminished, and will be able to make it much more advantageous on my part than when I last saw you.” Details about Chew’s dealings with the Spanish authorities have not been found.

In mid 1804, as President Thomas Jefferson sought input about who to recommend for positions in New Orleans, an unknown letter writer advised that “Beverly Chew of Virginia, connected with M.D. Clark, is a man of very respectable standing and most deservedly so_He loves his Country and is a zealot in its support__He has served Gov. Claiborne essentially.” One wonders if the writer happened to know that Jefferson was a distant cousin of Chew’s. Chew also was a kinsman of Mississippi territorial governor William C. C. Claiborne. Letters of the late 1700s and early 1800s between Jefferson, Coxe, and Dunbar make it look like Jefferson was at least partially responsible for placing Chew in New Orleans to assist Claiborne and learn about Spanish and French plans for the port city.

Claiborne named Chew a justice of the Court of Common Pleas at New Orleans in 1805, and a short time later, appointed him as first postmaster of New Orleans, a temporary position of a few months. This came after an incident in 1803 when the New Orleans City Council had barred Chew and Relf from importing West Indian slaves into the US, largely because when his own slaves were arrested for theft of some whiskey and tobacco from someone named Bond, Chew had admitted in court to accompanying the slaves that night. In 1805, Chew simply skirted the law by having slaves smuggled up the Bayou LaFourche to be sold  there, out of the court’s jurisdiction. The Laffites would later use the same bayou to transport both slaves and goods for smuggling into New Orleans, and may have studied the methods Chew had earlier employed.

“The firm of Chew & Relf …engaged in enterprises that circumvented the law. After the importation of African slaves was outlawed by federal law in 1808, they often acted as middlemen for other firms, some as distant as Charleston, S.C., that wished to import slaves….They used their business contacts with Spanish officials in West Florida to facilitate the landing of slave ships and the distribution of their cargoes at Mobile,” according to Junius P. Rodriguez, in The Louisiana Purchase: A Historical and Geographical Encyclopedia.

Chew counted among his close business associates John Forbes of West Florida, an internationally known trader of long-standing with the British. Forbes was a loyalist who had been with the well-entrenched West Florida frontier firm of Panton, Leslie & Co., earlier. He sold mostly trade goods which came from Britain, including guns, lead and gunpowder. He had a post at Mobile, from which goods could be sold to avoid the New Orleans duties. He was associated with Chew as both a personal friend and merchant through at least 1816.

Despite their often illegal smuggling and other questionable business activities, Chew and Relf never were charged with any crimes as they had their hands in almost every major New Orleans business: they were originators, original shareholders, and members of the board of directors of the New Orleans Insurance Co., insuring vessels, cargoes and specie. Plus they were exclusive agents of the London-based Phoenix Fire Insurance Co. Banking interests formed a major part of their portfolios: Chew was on the board of directors of the Bank of the United States New Orleans branch as well as major stockholder of the Bank of Louisiana. Additionally, in 1805, Chew was on the board of directors of the US Bank of Philadelphia branch at New Orleans along with his good friend Thomas Callender.

Phoenix Fire Insurance which Chew & Relf sold

Chew and Relf had started their New Orleans Anglo-American empire quite early, in 1801, when they joined with land speculator and business dynamo Clark. They dealt in goods for Reed and Forde of Philadelphia, freighted and leased vessels to St. Domingue, Bordeaux and London; received English goods on consignment, and bought and sold staples and groceries on their own account. In one deal, William Dunbar forwarded 3,000 pounds sterling in notes on London endorsed by Chew and Relf to a Charleston, S.C. slave trader as half down, with the balance paid to Chew and Relf. They had a store on St. Louis Street, between Royal and Chartres streets, which served as a “one-stop” shop for a myriad of needs.

According to historian Ernest Obadele-starks in Freebooters and Smugglers: The Foreign Slave Trade in the United States, “Chew and Relf were part of a solidly entrenched business circle that dominated the town (New Orleans) politically, set its social tempo, and controlled economic development by legal, extralegal or illicit means.”

Chew’s British business connections remained solid through all of the War of 1812, but oddly no one in New Orleans ever questioned his loyalties. When almost every other trader was financially hard hit by embargoes and British blockades of US seaports, Chew & Relf did not suffer major losses, not even when their financial backer, Daniel Clark, unexpectedly died in 1813.

In 1810, Chew had increased his political power in the city by marrying Maria Theodore Duer, a relative of the immensely powerful Livingston family of New York, and a cousin to Edward Livingston of New Orleans.

President James Madison appointed Chew as vice consul for Russia at New Orleans in July, 1812, to handle commercial reciprocity between US and Russia since Russia was said to take a favorable view of the American effort to defend neutral shipping rights. Madison either overlooked or was unaware of Chew’s ties to British concerns.

Sensing that the war between the US and England might prove problematic to his business interests, Chew tried to hedge his bets by pushing westward with land speculation in Louisiana. Rapides Parish records files of Oct. 24, 1812, show that Beverly Chew claimed a tract of four hundred acres of land on the left bank of Bayou Rapides, sold to him by a man named Fulton, with the land having been inhabited and cultivated as required by law of the time. No records are available regarding what use Chew made of this property, nor if he later sold it to someone else.

In the summer of 1813, and while his backer Clark was ill, Chew decided to make a trip back east to visit relatives and business concerns in the Philadelphia and Virginia areas. On July 24, 1813, Chew, his wife, and their daughter arrived at Philadelphia from New Orleans on board the brig Astra, making the voyage following a stop in Havana in only eight days. They passed the British blockading squadron around the Cape Henlopen side, without incident as the ship was in ballast.

While Chew was gone from New Orleans, Relf took care of Clark, who died suddenly after appearing to be getting better. A second will which Clark had made disappeared immediately after his death, leaving his original 1811 will, which named Chew and Relf as his co-executors. Clark’s mother, Mary, was named sole inheritor in the original will, but she never received a penny of the estate. Chew and Relf claimed after paying debts and expenses due to wartime, there was no money left, but their business did not suffer any such losses, and no formal accounting of the estate expenses was ever made. The second, missing, will had named different executors and had given a major bequest to Daniel’s sole heir, a daughter named Myra. The controversy over the Clark estate and what happened to all the money would be the focus of an extended and famous Supreme Court battle waged by the Clark daughter, Myra Clark Gaines, in later years.

During the British invasion of Louisiana in 1814-1815 and subsequent Battle of New Orleans, Chew served as a volunteer rifleman under General Andrew Jackson in Beale’s Rifles.

In late 1816, Chew was appointed customs collector for the Mississippi River port at New Orleans following the resignation of P.L. B. Duplessis. He set to his new role with a special fervor against smuggling interests other than the ones which boosted his own bottom line.

Chew must have felt elated in August 1817 that finally he could do something to strike back at the Laffite brothers, considering they had interfered with his business concens for years in the New Orleans and Gulf Coast area. Now that they had set up a privateering enterprise just outside US territory at Galveston, Chew saw a way to convince Secretary of Treasury William H. Crawford to get rid of the Laffite threat to commercial shipping heading to and from New Orleans.

The customs collector felt confidant he could sway Washington politicos to his wishes because for several years, he had been the top leader among the handful of business elite that controlled New Orleans and all the trade that plied the Gulf Coast of Louisiana. His new role as customs collector was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what he manipulated directly or indirectly through banking, insurance, shipping, and trade interests.

In his lengthy letter to Crawford of August 1817, Chew pointed out, “I deem it my duty to state that the most shameful violations of the slave act, as well as our revenue laws, continue to be practiced, with impunity, by a motley mixture of freebooters and smugglers, at Galveston, under the Mexican flag; and being, in reality, little else than the re-establishment of the Barrataria (sic) band, removed somewhat more out of the reach of justice.…Among the most conspicuous characters…at Galveston, were many of the notorious offenders against our laws, who had so lately been indulged with a remission of the punishment, who so far from gratefully availing themselves of the lenity of the government to return to, or commence an orderly and honest life, seem to have regarded its indulgence almost as an encouragement to the renewal of their offences. You will readily perceive I allude to the Baratarians, among whom the Lafittes may be classed foremost, and most actively engaged in the Galveston trade, and owners of several cruisers under the Mexican flag. Many of our citizens are equally guilty, and are universally known to be owners of the same kind of vessels.”

(The Baratarians had been given presidential pardons for their aid and service to General Andrew Jackson in the concluding battles of the War of 1812, culminating with the Jan. 8, 1815, Battle of New Orleans, a decisive victory against the British forces, due in no small part to the skill of the Baratarian gunners and the flints and powder provided by the Laffites.)

Chew proceeded to go on at length about the supposed crimes and revenue avoidance perpetrated by the Galveston parties, which is ironic, as it is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. No one in Washington knew it, but Chew himself had long been a very successful coordinator of smuggling slaves and goods in the New Orleans area, West Florida territory, and southern seaboard. He had started early: between 1804 and 1807, he and his longtime business partner Relf had sold around 430 slaves, many of which were obtained via illegal channels. Almost all had been smuggled.

As a customs agent, Chew benefitted from the fees collected at customs, while at the same time he also participated in his own smuggling operations. He frequently overlooked slave importations any time he could profit personally. Although he ordered that all ships arriving from the Laffites’ base at Galveston be searched, it was not because they were importing goods into New Orleans, but because he suspected that they were not authorized by the Mexican government as privateers. Without a valid letter of marque or commission, the ship and cargoes could be seized by the customs agents, and Chew, of course, would profit.

Secretary of Treasury William Crawford outlined specific instructions for the conduct of US revenue officers which Chew zealously overstepped whenever it suited him. Crawford wrote “While I recommend, in the strongest terms, to the respective officers, activity, vigilance, and firmness, I feel no less solicitude that their department may be marked in prudence, moderation and good temper. Upon these last qualities, not less than the former, must depend the success, usefulness, and consequently, the continuance of the establishment, in which they are included. They will always remember to keep in mind, that their countrymen are freemen and, as such, are impatient of every thing that bears the mark of the domineering spirit. They will, therefore, refrain, with the most guarded circumspection, from whatever has the semblance of haughtiness, rudeness, or insult…They will endeavor to overcome difficulties, if any are experienced, by a cool and temperate perserverance in their duty__by address and moderation rather than by vehemence or violence.” Crawford’s express intent that smugglers be treated in a gentlemanly manner was blithely ignored by Chew.

Chew’s series of letters to Crawford about the Laffite problem at Galveston went on to discussion at Washington, with Congress reviewing documents in January 1818 consisting mostly of Chew’s complaints about Jean Laffite’s occupation of Galveston Island and how he was using it as a base to launch attacks against shipping in the Gulf of Mexico, plus the “pirates” were engaged in smuggling slaves into the United States. John Quincy Adams followed Chew’s invective avidly, agreeing that after Louis Aury left, Galveston became, “indisputedly” piratical in nature. Adams further went on to publish diatribes in the press under his pen name Phocion in which he called Galveston an “association of adventurers, renegades and desperadoes from the four corners of the earth, whose sole aim was the indiscriminate plunder of commercial shipping.” Adams asserted the right of the US to “constitute itself the protector of its own seas and protest the renewal of the scenes of horror such as when ‘Lafitte’ held Barataria.”

Monroe came out with a presidential proclamation about Galveston and Aury’s new base at Amelia Island, but he repeatedly suspended orders to seize Galveston, which must have made Chew apoplectic with anger.

When US authorities finally did move against Galveston in early 1820, it was not with warships, but diplomacy through Commodore Daniel T. Patterson of New Orleans, with encouragement to end the privateering establishment there. Beset by turmoils within and without Galveston from others, the Laffites left voluntarily, with a safe conduct pass from Patterson. They didn’t leave because the US wanted them to go: they went because privateering was becoming much less profitable and the captains who served them were turning more unmanageable.

Chew’s friends back in New Orleans, however, took the news as a sign of their custom agent’s political clout to get things done. Even two years later, in 1822, his friends were still crowing about how Chew had almost single-handedly vanquished Galveston, as evidenced in this editorial in the Louisiana Advertiser:

“The banditti who infested Galvestown (sic), and the coast of Western Louisiana have been driven away by the vigilance of our officers and, we do not believe, there is at this moment a piratical rendezvous from the Cape of Florida to the Isthmus of Darien…They have been totally expelled from the American shore by the vigilance of our collector, his subordinate officers, and our small naval force. As resulting from the prostration of the ancient system of smuggling and the breaking up of the haunts of the villains who were engaged in it, the principles of an honourable and legitimate commerce begin to flourish. We have thus traced the progress of this improvement in our character, and amelioration of our commercial morality; and for their instrumentality in producing such results we openly affirm that Beverly Chew, and the officers under the control of his department, are eminently entitled to the lasting gratitude of the citizens of New Orleans, and of every honest inhabitant of the Gulf of Mexico.”

Chew did not stop engaging in  illegal activities just because he had become a well-respected port collector. According to Obadele-starks, “In June 1824 Chew authorized the ship Ceres to enter New Orleans with slaves despite the fact its crew presented no manifest. In 1825, he informed the New Orleans major of his intent to allow a free African family from Port au Prince into Louisiana although they lacked the legal documents to enter the country.” Additionally, Chew turned a blind eye to some other slave cargoes in that time, especially when the owners were friends and fellow church members of his.

Chew had served as collector for over 12 years when new President Andrew Jackson refused to re-appoint him, naming another New Orleanian in his place in 1829. Jackson’s chief of surgery during the campaign against the British, New Orleans physician Dr. David C. Kerr, recalled that “So virulent was Chew in his opposition to Jackson, that he even refused permission to hoist a flag on the church of which he was vestryman or to have bells rung on the 8th of January” in honor of Jackson’s great victory. The antipathy between the men could possibly be explained by the fact that in 1828 while still customs collector, Chew had been unanimously elected president of the United States Bank of New Orleans. Jackson was extremely opposed to the US Bank.

Even though Chew was employed as a bank president after his dismissal, his cronies lamented Jackson’s cruelty in casting him aside in his old age. According to the May 18, 1829 issue of the Courrier de la Louisiane, a group of Chew’s friends gathered together at the Exchange Coffeehouse to express their “regrets at the removal of that gentleman as collector” with Thomas Urquhart acting as chairman and John Hagan, secretary. They lauded Chew to the highest degree, saying he was a skillful, able and efficient officer as collector at the port of New Orleans; that he always had at heart the interest of the government, and the punctual observance of the laws; and that he had endeared himself to the public by his constant and strict attention to these interests; and by his gentlemanly deportment.

The friends said “we sympathize with him that after so many years devoted to the public service, he retires into private life without fortune, and with a large family, dependent upon everyone, that at his late period of life, must find new channels, through which to earn them a support,” and agreed to gather subscriptions from the public sufficient to offer Chew a suitable present upon which shall be inscribed “what their hearts may dictate as our feeling and their judgment.”

Chew stayed in the banking industry, resigning from the Second Bank of the U.S. to become cashier of Canal and Banking Co. of Louisiana in 1831. A year later, in 1832, he assumed the presidency of that financial institution.

He still kept his old ways about meddling in land speculation while he had some money and power, as in 1836, he was a member of the Texas filibusters group called the Native American Association, involved in the Texas revolution to seize lands from Spain.

From 1834 until the end of his life, in 1851, Chew would be plagued with lawsuits and trials over the Daniel Clark will and the unsettled rights of Daniel’s daughter, Myra Clark Gaines, to her inheritance. The tangle of legal testimony and lawyers would reach all the way to the Supreme Court and become one of the longest running cases in history (it ended in 1891), but neither Chew nor Relf would ever present a word of testimony in court, letting their attorneys handle it all.

The collective attorney fees and court expenses ate through whatever financial gains Chew had had, so that by his death, he had hardly anything in his estate to leave his heirs. Probate records show that Chew died with no funds to afford his children a “liberal education,” and advised them to sell ten lots of land in Lafayette, Jefferson Parish. The land speculator who had once held the purse-strings of New Orleans and ruled the city’s business for over 30 years died virtually broke.

In a coda to this story, Chew’s remains are not still at rest in the Girod Street Cemetery in New Orleans where he was entombed. Due to severe vandalism, in 1957 that cemetery was deconsecrated and all the remains were relocated in an anonymous mass tomb at Hope Mausoleum in New Orleans. The site of Chew’s first tomb is now beneath the Superdome parking garage.

The Spy Who Led the British to the Back Door of New Orleans in 1814

January 11, 2015 in American History, general history, History, Louisiana History, Nautical History

Capt. Robert Cavendish Spencer

Capt. Robert Cavendish Spencer

Because he was multilingual and adept at spying, the 23-year-old Capt. Robert Cavendish Spencer, an ancestor of the current British royal family, was one of the most valuable assets the British forces had during their 1814-1815 campaign to take New Orleans during the War of 1812.

“Captain Spencer (of the HMS Carron)  was very usefully employed in the expedition against New Orleans. From his knowledge of the French and Spanish languages, he was selected by Sir Alexander Cochrane to obtain information respecting the state of Louisiana, and procure guides, pilots, and c. for the approaching expedition….”  according to a biographical entry about Spencer in a British book (The Annual Biography and Obituary) in 1832.

After a mission to Pensacola where he barely escaped being captured by (General Andrew) Jackson’s troops on Nov. 6, 1814,  and his participation in the British victory at the Battle of Lake Borgne on Dec. 14, 1814, “Captain Spencer was selected to reconnoitre Lac Borgne (sic), in company with Major (John) Peddie, for the purpose of discovering where a landing could be best effected. Having obtained considerable influence over the emigrated Spaniards and Frenchmen settled as fishermen, & c., he prevailed on one of them to take Major Peddie, himself, and coxswain in a canoe up the creek; and this party actually penetrated to the suburbs of New Orleans, and walked over the very ground afterwards taken up by General Jackson as the position for his formidable line of defense.”

Spencer was said to have bribed the fishermen to guide him and Peddie, and also received from them some clothing to disguise themselves. One thing Spencer could not disguise, though, was his bright red hair.

The two British spies walked around the Villere plantation all the way to the Mississippi River levee, whose waters mapmaker Peddie declared were “sweet and good.” Having discovered an eligible spot for the disembarkation, Spencer undertook, with Colonel Thornton, and about thirty of the 85th and 95th regiments (from the HMS Tonnant), to dislodge a strong picket of the enemy, a service which they performed most efficiently, without a shot being fired, or an alarm given.” (This included the near-capture of Gabriel Villere at his home near Villere Canal. Villere was ordered by Jackson to block the Villere Canal but had not fulfilled the order. He escaped from the British successfully, got a pirogue to cross the river to the West Bank, and proceeded from there quickly to New Orleans to alert Jackson to the British incursion. Denis de La Ronde, whose plantation adjoined Villere’s, also eluded the British and got to New Orleans safely. Latour made a successful spying excursion himself to the area of the LaCoste and Villere plantations to ascertain the strength of the British troops and judged their number to be around 1,800 men, reporting back to Jackson by 1:30 p.m. Dec. 23. The Night Battle of Dec. 2 happened later that same day when Jackson decided to attack the British encampment with ground troops aided by cannon fire from the US Carolina.)

The information about Spencer is confirmed in an 1818 obscure history of the War of 1812,  A Full and Correct Account of the Military Occurrences of the Late War Between Great Britain and the United States of America, Vol. 2, by New Orleans campaign veteran William James.

“This point (Villere) had been reconnoitered since the night of the 18th (Dec.) by the honorable Captain Spencer, of the Carron, and Lieut. Peddie, of the quarter-master-general’s department. These officers, with a smuggler as their guide, had pulled up the bayou in a canoe and advanced to the high road, without seeing any person, or preparations.,” wrote James.

According to Arsene Lacarriere Latour’s Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana, fishermen and part-time smugglers living in a makeshift fishing village at the Bayou Bienvenue were responsible for guiding Spencer and Peddie to the entrance from the bayou to the Villere Canal. Once the two British officers had satisfactorily surveyed the path to the Villere plantation, they returned to lead the 85th and 95th regiments, Captain Lane’s rocketeers, one hundred men of the engineer corps, and the 4th regiment by boats from Pea Island on Lake Borgne to Bayou Bienvenue to Villere Canal. The British landed at Villere plantation by 4 a.m. on Dec. 23, at which time they rested for some hours.

American General James Wilkinson, analysing the facts in his published memoir years after General Andrew Jackson’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans, said Spencer’s guidance of the British to Villere Plantation by Dec. 22, 1814, narrowly missed being a crushing blow to Jackson.

“As the enemy had, unperceived, got within two hours’ march of the city, if they had proceeded directly forward, the advantages of General Jackson’s position, which afterwards became all important, could not have availed him, because the enemy would have carried surprise with them, would have found the American corps dispersed__without concert, and unprepared for combat; and, making the attack with a superior numerical force of disciplined troops, against a body composed chiefly of irregulars, under such circumstances, no soldier of experience will pause for a conclusion. The most heroic bravery would have proved unavailing, and the capital of Louisiana, with its millions of property, would have been lost. But, blinded by confidence, beguiled by calculations injurious to the honor of the high-mettled patriot-sons of Louisiana, and considering the game safe, they gave themselves up to security, took repose, and waited for reinforcements,” wrote Wilkinson.

In addition to his participation in the Lake Borgne battle, Spencer and the HMS Carron had been among the British warships who unsuccessfully tried to take Ft. Bowyer in September 1814, and was also involved in the successful seizure of that same fort in 1815, following the Battle of New Orleans. That seizure was declared null following ratification of the Treaty of Ghent by the United States in February 1815. For his valuable assistance, Spencer received special commendation from Cochrane and was awarded the captaincy of the HMS Cydnus in early 1815..

As younger brother of  the Earl of Spencer,  Prince William and Prince Harry’s direct ancestor, Robert Cavendish Spencer was  the princes’ great-great-great  uncle.

For related articles, see:

Capt. Percy’s Folly at Fort Bowyer

The British Visit to Laffite: a Study of Events 200 Years Later

Patterson’s Mistake: the Battle of Lake Borgne Revisited

Commemoration of a Hero: Jean Laffite and the Battle of New Orleans

Patterson’s Mistake: the Battle of Lake Borgne Revisited

December 30, 2014 in American History, general history, History, Louisiana History, Nautical History

Battle on Lake Borgne

Battle on Lake Borgne

American Commodore Daniel T. Patterson made the single biggest mistake of the Louisiana portion of the War of 1812 when he deployed almost all of his naval force to patrol and spy along the coastal area of Lake Borgne in December 1814 while he remained in New Orleans. His tactical error not only gave the British control of Lake Borgne during their invasion, it also gave them the light draft American ships to move their troops as quickly as possible over the wide expanse of the lake to a disembarkation point at Pea Island, some 60 miles above where the British warships were anchored.

On the morning of Dec. 14, 1814, American Lieut. Thomas ap Catesby Jones regarded with both trepidation and elation the three columns of armed British rowboats full of men pulling towards Jones’ fleet of five American gunboats lined up at the entrance to Lake Borgne near Malheureux Island. He had carefully picked his position to line up the light draft gunboats to use their broadsides to best effect, but the tides and wind had betrayed the Americans’ best efforts, and some were pulled somewhat out of formation, and Jones’ flagship Gunboat No. 156, along with another, had grounded for the second time and was mired on the bottom: there was no way to shift position, or continue to retreat to the safety of the fortification guns at Petite Coquilles: they would have to fight off the British where they were.

Even though Jones and his 181 men were outnumbered nearly seven to one by the 1,200 advancing British in 42 armed longboats, Jones was eager to take them on and merit the post captain promotion he would surely deserve for such a feat. He was young and impetuous, qualities which his commander, Patterson, utilized to the fullest extent. Patterson had instructed him to “sink or be sunk” in a possible confrontation with the British, and he didn’t intend to let any of his five gunboats go down.

It must have unsettled Jones when the British fleet’s commander, Nicholas Lockyer, halted the rowboats just out of gun range so all his men could enjoy an early lunch before the assault after having rowed 30 miles from their ships. Lockyer, commodore of HMS Sophie, was a seasoned British commander and knew the value of psychological, as well as tactical, battle strategy. When lunch was over, and the men fortified, he ordered the fleets to renew rowing toward the gunboats. All the British were chanting “Give Way!” and cheering as boisterously as they could while the single carronades mounted at the bows of each of their boats fired intermittently at the gunboats, with Jones’ No. 156 flagship being targeted first.

“The Americans being moored in line, at least four hundred yards apart from one other, the attacking boats were a good deal divided, and each boat pulling away wildly came to close quarters,” wrote Capt. Cooke in his “Narrative of the British Attack on New Orleans.” “The clouds of smoke rolled upwards, and the splashing of round and grape shot in the water, and the loud exhortations of “Give way!” presented an animated scene at mid-day.”

“Capt. Lockyer, in the barge of the Seahorse, was first up to the mark (Jones’ 156), and his boat’s crew were most uncourteously handled by the American commodore, who at first would not let Capt. Lockyer get aboard, and a rough tussle took place, but other boats coming up, the sailors, sword in hand, being covered by the fire from the small arms of the marines, cut away their defensive netting that was coiled round her decks like a spider’s web,” continued Cooke.

“The British at last mastered the Americans, and captured all the five vessels in succession, making their different crews prisoners, but not before some of the guns of the captured vessels had been turned upon those that still resisted, to enable the boarders to complete their victory.”

Leading his men on the boarding assault on No. 156, Lockyer suffered three wounds, at least one of a severe nature, and Jones, too, was severely wounded when a musket ball slammed into his left shoulder early in the boarding fray. He was taken below and replaced by his second in command, Masters Mate George Parker, who also fell wounded during the hand to hand combat that ensued.

When the British took control of No. 156, its guns were brought to bore on No. 163, and the rest in succession soon fell like a line of tipped over dominoes.

The whole battle took less than two hours. Both commanders were injured severely, and the battle took a significant toll on both sides. The Americans lost 10 killed in action, 35 wounded, with 86 captured, and the British had 17 killed in action, with 77 wounded in action. The wounded were evacuated, and the British renamed the gunboats HMS Ambush, Firebrand, Destruction, Harlequin and Eagle. They proceeded to use the gunboats to speed up transportation to their disembarkation point of Pea Island, 30 miles further up Lake Borgne, near the mouth of the Pearl River.

In his Dec. 16, 1814, letter to John Wilson Croker, secretary to the British Admiralty,  Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane had nothing but the highest praise for Lockyer and his men:

“Lockyer had the good fortune to close with the flotilla, which he attacked with such judgment and determined bravery, that notwithstanding their formidable force, their advantage of a chosen position, and their studied and deliberate preparation, he succeeded in capturing the whole of the vessels, in so serviceable a state as to afford at once the most essential aid to the expedition…Our loss has been severe, particularly in officers, but considering that the successful enterprize has given us command of Lac Borgne (sic), and considerably reduced our deficiency of transportation, the effort has answered our fullest expectations.”

Even though he must have been in extreme pain from his wounds, Lockyer managed to write a letter to Cochrane four days later from onboard the HMS Sophie detailing the Lake Borgne operation and commending individual officers:

“After several minutes’ obstinate resistance in which the greater part of the officers and crew of this boat were either killed or wounded, myself amongst the latter, severely, we succeeded in boarding, and being seconded by the Sea Horse’s first barge, commanded by Mr. White, midshipman, and aided by the boats of the Tonnant, commanded by Lieut. Tatnell, we soon carried her, and turned her guns with good effect upon the remaining four…In about five minutes we had possession of the whole of the flotilla.”

Jones and the rest of the captured Americans were taken onboard the HMS Gorgon, later to be transferred to Bermuda. It would be mid March of 1815 before they would be on US soil again. Jones faced a court of enquiry upon his return, but passed it with flying colors for his bravery and courage, thanks to the afterglow of the Battle of New Orleans.

The British victory led by Lockyer was an American disaster, as following it, Gen. Andrew Jackson had no lookouts or defenses on Lake Borgne, plus there was no defensive gunpower to hold the forts on the Rigolets and Bayou St. Jean. It is likely things would have happened much differently with the ensuing battles if the crew of the tender USS Sea Horse had not escaped capture after blowing up their supply ship on its way to get stores from Bay St. Louis, not long before Lockyer and company successfully took the five gunboats. Capt. William Johnson from the US tender, after observing the gunboats’ battle from a tree, traveled quickly to Patterson in New Orleans to tell him of the advancing British, as he knew about it within a day after it had occurred, while the British were still laboriously transporting men, guns and supplies to Pea Island, using their seized gunboats. Patterson relayed the bad news to Gen. Andrew Jackson, who must have been absolutely livid, considering he knew full well that now he had no eyes at all on the British and was, for all intents and purposes, blind.

Patterson’s small navy had been reduced to the Carolina schooner and Louisiana sloop, both at New Orleans, and one gunboat at Ft. St. Phillip on the Mississippi River. Six fast armed schooners taken in the Patterson-Ross raid of Jean Laffite’s Barataria sat idle at the Navy yard in New Orleans, but couldn’t be used for two reasons: there were no sailors to man them, and they were still awaiting judgment in admiralty court, so it was like they weren’t even there. The Louisiana also couldn’t be used initially due to a lack of men. Only the Carolina boasted a full crew of New Englanders who had arrived with the ship in August 1814. Patterson’s unpopularity with sometime privateer crews made him anathema for them to want to work for his navy.

In “The Amphibious Campaign for West Florida and Louisiana 1814-1815,” historian Wilburt S. Brown, retired Marine Corps major general, said the Lake Borgne battle was  a “classic example of an operation in which the defenders were almost stripped of naval strength before the operation was begun, while the attackers’ naval strength remained overwhelming.”

Patterson’s mistake began early in December, shortly after Jackson’s arrival in New Orleans, when the five gunboats and tender Sea Horse were sent into the waters around Pass Christian to watch for British ships and movements. Jones had dispatched two of the gunboats, No. 23, and 163, under command of Isaac McKeever and Sailing Master Robert Ulrick, toward Dauphin Island to provide an early warning. Those two gunboats spied the British fleet advancing, and fired a shot or two off at the HMS Armide (Vice Admiral Cochrane’s flagship) and HMS Seahorse before darting into the shoals and racing back to the other three gunboats near Ship Island to sound the alarm. The Armide gave chase, then could not pursue due to almost grounding; Jones’s No. 156 grounded temporarily, but he managed to get it free overnight with the next tide. In the meantime, the British tried to capture the US Sea Horse supply tender only to be stymied when her captain blew her up. They then proceeded with the barges (longboats) against the US gunboats.

McKeever and Ulrick behaved somewhat irresponsibly in firing at the massive fifth rate British ships, as the chase that followed drew the invading fleet’s attention to the whole gun boat group near the lower opening of  Lake Borgne. The gunboats were only supposed to spy on the British movements, then retreat en masse back to the coverage of the fort at Petite Coquilles. It is unknown if Jones gave them instructions to fire. The schooner-rigged gunboats, popularly known as “Jeffs,” were known as poor sailing vessels even though they only drew five feet of water. Their main advantage was in the shoal waters where the large frigates and other warships could not go, but even there they had to use caution as tricky tides could find them in water barely chest high.

Patterson’s mistake of sending all five gunboats for the spying mission together could easily have been avoided by sending just a few men in light rowboats or the like to watch the coast and report back. Jones also erred when he decided to hold tight and battle a superior force rather than blow up the gunboats so they could not be used by the enemy. The only good achieved by the American side from the Battle of Lake Borgne was the false intelligence the British received from the prisoners regarding the size of Jackson’s army, which they had exaggerated.

Lockyer came out the clear winner of the Lake Borgne contest, but due to his injuries, he missed out on the rest of the campaign. He was not proclaimed out of medical danger (sepsis killed many wounded from infection) until mid-January 1815. He received a promotion from commodore to post captain in 1815 for his service.

Subsequent mistakes made on the British side, plus Jackson’s keen tactical skills and a supply of needed flints and powder to the Americans from the Laffites led to the Jan. 8, 1815 Battle of New Orleans overwhelming victory for the US.

For related articles, see:

The Saga of Melita and the Patterson-Ross Raid at Barataria

The Case of the Spanish Prize Ship at Dauphin Island

The British Visit To Laffite, a Study of Events 200 Years Later

 

The Saga of Melita and the Patterson-Ross Raid at Barataria

December 15, 2014 in American History, general history, History, Louisiana History, Nautical History

The Balize as it looked in the early 1820s

The Balize as it looked in the early 1820s

A series of unfortunate events plagued Joseph Martinot, supercargo of the Carthagenian merchant schooner Melita. First, he had been stymied in his attempt to enter the Mississippi and arrive at New Orleans by the presence of the British blockade near the Balize; then, off the coast of Louisiana to the westward of the Balize, he had been caught in a storm while trying to slip by the British: his ship had been damaged by the squall, so he made for the closest place for repairs, which happened to be  Jean Laffite’s smuggling base at Grande Terre; next, he had endured hassles trying to lawfully bring his goods to New Orleans, and now, back at Grande Terre to oversee ship repairs, he found himself fleeing for his life in a pirogue paddled by frantic Baratarians as men on a US Navy barge fired musketry and an occasional cannon shot their way.

The Navy barge soon closed the distance between the vessels, and Martinot found his lot cast in with Dominique You and the Baratarians in the Sept. 16, 1814, raid of Grande Terre by Commodore Daniel T. Patterson of the New Orleans Naval Station and Col. George Ross of the 44th US Infantry.

At least, thought  Martinot, he had covered himself by declaring his goods and paying the appropriate duties at the New Orleans customhouse some days earlier. There was proof of that with Notary John Lynd in town, so he believed  Patterson would treat him with the appropriate consideration. Martinot and his ship had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Patterson and company, however, did not see it that way.

Comm. Daniel Todd Patterson

Comm. Daniel Todd Patterson

Martinot and the others were conducted onboard the gunboat of  Comm. Patterson, who made the supercargo open a trunk he had taken with him in his flight from the raid. Then Patterson somewhat belligerently searched through the trunk himself, confiscated a telescope and a poignard (type of Spanish knife) , then directed Acting Lieut. Isaac McKeever, to proceed with a  modified strip search of Martinot.

According to Martinot’s later deposition to Lynd, he took off his vest and laid it on the deck of the gunboat, then opened his pantaloons, and McKeever raised up the supercargo’s shirt to see whether he had any money or valuables concealed on his person, but none were found. Then Martinot was ordered to take off his boots, and they too were searched, with nothing found concealed in them, either. Frustrated in their endeavors to find valuables, Patterson then went through the pockets of the vest which was on the deck, and in the corner of a handkerchief he probably smiled as he pulled out  a folded batch of bank notes, which must have made him quite happy, considering there was a total of  $700, or the equivalent of over $9,000 in today’s currency. Martinot had been carrying a small fortune in that vest.

Patterson demanded that Martinot tell him how much money was in the handkerchief, to which the supercargo replied he did not know, so Patterson proceeded to count out the notes and told Martinot to count the amount as well. Martinot thought this demonstration might mean he would get the money returned to him as his own property over which they (the naval authorities) had no right, and said the same to Patterson, whereupon McKeever likely laughed as he said there was little chance of the prisoner recovering it. Patterson would not give him a receipt, just told Martinot brusquely to see him at his office in New Orleans later.

Alarmed at the loss of his money, Martinot explained the nature of his business at Grande Terre, and that he had been there but two days, repairing his vessel (the Melita), and pointed out the ship which was moored to the shore as she had been half full of water and had only recently been pumped out dry to start repairs. Martinot continued by saying the Melita had been regularly reported to the customhouse, and the duties of her cargo paid, that he had brought provisions for her repairs from town, and had deposited them in Msr. Lafitte’s (sic) store, with the ship’s rigging, sails, anchor, cables, and five barrels of bread. Patterson turned a deaf ear to Martinot’s account.

Worse was to come for Martinot. On the evening previous to his departure from Grande Terre, Patterson demanded of Martinot a list of the sails, and said he had no knowledge of any other articles. Then the next day shortly before he left (and after the officers and soldiers had thoroughly scavenged and retrieved anything of value on the island),  the commander ordered the dry-docked schooner burned. Martinot was allowed to go on shore to see if he could find anything belonging to his ship, but of course nothing was left to find.

Patterson and Ross, with their men, had claimed and seized all the “booty” and ships that they could, and destroyed the rest. All told, they had seized close to half a million dollars’ worth in the raid.

Martinot was not jailed for very long, as by Sept. 29, he was back in the office of Notary John Lynd, deposing his protest against “Commodore Patterson, his officers, and all others who may concern (sic) for the loss and damage done by him and them, or by his order to the said vessel (Melita) and her stores and materials, for the value of which he holds him and them responsible, and which he will endeavor to recover of him or them by all lawful ways and means.” Records show that Martinot did pursue them in the court system, but due to rapidly transpiring events with the British invasion, nothing was resolved, and although Patterson told him to see him at his office for a recipt for the $700, etc., that, too, must not have transpired, considering Martinot filed the protest. The man’s telescope must have remained part of Patterson’s seizures, too, and it was a valuable instrument in itself.

The saga of the Melita’s and Martinot’s troubles began in July 9, 1814, when the schooner left Cartagena bound for New Orleans. During the voyage, as well as previous to their departure, the master and supercargo of the Melita were repeatedly warned by various captains of other ships in the Gulf not to attempt to enter the Mississippi River by way of the Balize as they would run a great risk of being captured by the British warships blockading off the bar there. The Carthagenian privateer General Bolivar , owned by Laffite associate Renato Beluche, had recently attempted to enter the Balize only to be chased off by the British.

Martinot said in his testimony to Lynd in a sea protest filed August 4, 1814, that due to the warnings about the British, they therefore endeavored to fall in with Grande Terre, to westward of the Balize, and came to anchor on the coast in five fathoms of water: while there, a storm arrived from the south so heavy that it parted their cable, and they lost part of it along with the anchor. The ship limped to Grande Terre, where Martinot in his role of supercargo took the goods off the ship, loaded them on some pirogues, and proceeded up the bayous to the Customhouse at New Orleans to make a good faith declaration to the Revenue Department so that even though the Melita could not arrive at New Orleans the regular way, her cargo would be lawfully entered at the port.

Martinot made sure to attest that it was only due to fear of the superior force of the British off the Balize that the Melita had diverted to Grande Terre, where she went by necessity, and self-preservation, and not any sinister view, nor intent to defraud the revenue of the United States.

Accordingly, P.L. Dubourg, clerk of the New Orleans Customhouse, then gave Martinot written permission on August 5 to bring the goods, consisting of four trunks and fourteen boxes of dry goods, marked “Mt” through the lakes to the landing opposite the Custom house, then to make report, and wait a regular permit for landing.

Martinot brought his goods to the Customhouse, where two city merchants, Francis Ayme and J.S. David, estimated the value to arrive at the duties payable. Martinot paid same to the collector, then faced a new hurdle. Although Dubourg gave permission for Martinot to take the goods to his friend and fellow agent Joseph L. Carpentier’s store in New Orleans, as they were repacking the trunks, naval officer Edwin Sequin abruptly stepped in and declared he would seize the goods, and did so.

Martinot immediately went to get Lynd to come to the Customhouse and speak to Seguin about the matter to demand the goods be delivered up to Martinot, to which Seguin probably blithely replied he would not do so then, but only after he had had the quantities and qualities of the goods verified, and their value estimated by two other merchants. This resulted in Martinot filing a protest on August 11 with Lynd against the naval officer and all others for any losses and damages suffered by the unwarrantable detention and seizure of the Melita’s goods. (He must have wondered at this point why he had even bothered to try to do the right thing in not smuggling the items into New Orleans.)

By the 10th of September, Martinot had settled the lengthy matter of dispersal of the goods and purchased the necessary items to repair the Melita, so he left New Orleans for Grande Terre, taking the speedy bayou route and arriving on Sept. 14. To his dismay, he found the schooner moored to the shore, half full of water, and was told by the officer left in charge of her that he had been obliged to run her on shore as he had been fearful she might sink otherwise. On the 15th, the Melita was pumped dry, and Martinot told the Baratarian carpenters to begin the repairs immediately in order to get the ship to New Orleans as soon as possible. He decided to store the ship’s sails, rigging and provisions in Laffite’s warehouse. Martinot probably breathed a sigh of relief, but then the hurricane of the US Navy descended early on the morrow.

Around 8 a.m. on Sept. 16, Patterson and Ross made the island of Grande Terre after a five day journey of the US Carolina, barges and gunboats down the Mississippi River. In a letter to the Secretary of the Navy William Jones, Patterson recounted that they discovered “a number of vessels in the harbor, some of which shewed Carthaginian colors.” Within an hour, the “pirates” formed a “line of battle near the entrance making every preparation to offer me battle,” so Patterson and Ross formed an order of battle themselves, then found the Carolina drew too much water to cross the bar and enter the harbor. The closest she could approach, wrote Patterson later, was two miles from the bar, as otherwise she would ground.

The Baratarians then made signals to each other with smoke along the coast, and Patterson said at the same time, “A white flag was hoisted onboard a schooner at the fore, an American flag at the main masthead, and a Carthagenian flag below.” As Patterson replied with a white flag, he saw that the Baratarians had set fire to  two of their best schooners, so then he made the signal for battle, and the chase began, with the Baratarians dispersing rapidly without firing on the Americans, or offering any resistance, other than setting fire to their own ships. This unexpected response irritated Patterson greatly, as he was spoiling for a glorious battle, and later he stated in his letter to Jones , “I have no doubt the appearance of the Carolina in the squadron had great effect on the pirates.” As soon as he left Barataria, while he was at the Balize, Patterson dispatched a letter to Louisiana governor William C.C. Claiborne, crowing about his success, and boasting that “From the number of the enemy’s vessels, and their advantageous position, I had anticipated a sharp, short contest which must have terminated most fatally to them,” but instead of fighting, the Baratarians had scattered, which Col. Ross ignorantly attributed to their fear of seeing the American flag at the mast of the Carolina…even though the Carolina could barely get near enough to Barataria Pass so the privateers could see her colors.

In addition to the spoils of the raid, Patterson and Ross and their men brought six Baratarian ships to New Orleans, including three which Patterson boasted were “admirably adapted for the public service on this station, being uncommonly fleet sailors and light draught of water, and would be of infinite public utility.” (Those same ships would sit at the New Orleans wharf throughout the time of the British invasion, presumably caught up in legalities to prevent their use until properly adjuticated, even though Jackson’s martial law edict of Dec. 16 would have superceded any bars to their use by American forces. It has never been explained exactly why those ships sat idle, except for the fact that following the Barataria raid Patterson found it almost impossible to obtain any sailors.)

Martinot was only one of more than a few merchants and other visitors to Grande Terre who were accidentally caught up in the Patterson-Ross raid, but he seems to have suffered the most collateral damage from it. He had tried to do everything properly and by the book, only to learn that when greedy naval officers act like the pirates they claim they dispersed in their rush to seize money, ships and goods, the rule books get thrown overboard.

NOTE: Thanks go to Sally Reeves, archivist of the fabulous Notarial Archives of New Orleans, for providing  the John Lynd notarial acts involving Joseph Martinot and the Melita. The Notarial Archives is a veritable treasure-trove of historical information, with literally thousands of such stories as Martinot’s waiting to be told.

Also See:

The British Visit To Laffite: A Study of Events 200 Years Later

Commemoration of a Hero: Jean Laffite and the Battle of New Orleans

The Case of the Spanish Prize Ship at Dauphin Island

 

Laffite Talk at Battle of New Orleans Historical Symposium Jan. 10, 2015

October 5, 2014 in American History, History, Louisiana History, Native American History, Nautical History

battle of New Orleans

Get your travel plans ready now for the Third Annual Battle of New Orleans Historical Symposium slated Jan. 9 and 10,  2015,  at Nunez Community College Auditorium at Chalmette, La., near the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park.

Among featured speakers will be William C. Davis, who will deliver the keynote address about “The Pirates Laffite” at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 10. Davis is the author of  The Pirates Laffite,  the Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf, largely regarded as the most definitive biography of the Laffite brothers ever written.

“The actions of Jean and Pierre Laffite immediately before, during, and after the British invasion of 1814-1815 and the Battle of New Orleans, have been the stuff of myth and romance for two centuries.  The result is that most of what Americans think they know of the story is pure invention, or at best garbled tradition laced with bits of fact.  This talk explores the real background of their involvement and carefully follows the documentary trail, such as it is, in some interesting directions that Lyle Saxon and Cecil B. DeMille missed.  As so often with the brothers Laffite, the result is a mixed and still somewhat elusive tale of self-interest, patriotism, and betrayal.”   said Davis regarding his plans for the talk at Nunez.

Director of programs for the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at  Virginia Tech before his retirement, Davis is a widely sought speaker who has written over 40 books on Civil War and other Southern US history.

 

Here is the full schedule for the symposium, which will be presented by The Louisiana Institute of Higher Education:

 

The Third Annual Battle of New Orleans Historical Symposium

January 9th & 10th, 2015 – at the Nunez Community College Auditorium

 

(You will hear lectures likely on the very spot that soldiers mustered for the Battle – though some comforts have been added in the last 200 years)

Friday, January 9th, 2015

A British Perspective

10:30 to 10:35 am – Welcome – Dr. Samantha Cavell

10:40 to 11:15 am – The Battle: January 8th, the Fateful Day  

Ron Chapman will discuss the Battle, especially the operations on the West Bank.

11:20 to 12:05 pm – Jazz Brunch Demonstrations, exhibits/artifacts, informal interaction

12:10 to 12:45 pm – Cochrane, Tonnant, and the War of 1812: A British Admiral and His French Ship in the American War

William Griffin will deliver a portrait of a dominant yet often dismissed figure in the War of 1812: the honourable Sir Alexander Forester Inglis Cochrane, Knight of the Bath, Vice Admiral of the Red Squadron of His Majesty’s Fleet, Commander in Chief of His Majesty’s Ships & Vessels on the Halifax & Jamaica Sations, as well as of his favourite ship, HMS Tonnant, 80 guns.

12:50 to 1:25 pm – The British Navy – Dr. Samantha Cavell

1:30 to 2:05 pm – What might have happened to America had the British won – Dr. Robert Wettemann, U.S. Air Force Academy Center for Oral History

2:10 to 2:45 pm – Andrew Jackson – Dr. Jason Wiese, Williams Research Center

2:50 to 3:25 pm –Weaponry in the Battle-Philip Schreier, National Firearms Museum

3:30 to 4:05 p.m.-History of the 44th Regiment of Infantry from Activation to Consolidation 1812-1815)-Harold Youman

4:10 to 4:15 p.m.-Closing Remarks-Curtis Manning

All events, including the Jazz Brunches, are free and open to the public. At 3710 Paris Rd., Chalmette, LA. Parking is nearby and free. Contact Curtis Manning (504 512 5120 / manning.curtis@gmail.com) for details

Saturday, January 10th, 2015  

An American Perspective

10:30 to 10:40 am – Welcome – Martin K. A. Morgan

10:40 to 11:15 am – St. Bernard Parish in 1815 – Dr. Christina Vella

11:20 to 12:05 pm – Jazz Brunch Demonstrations, exhibits/artifacts, informal interaction, book-signings

12:10 to 12:45 pm– Locals & the land (Chalmette, Denis de La Ronde and Villere)-William Hyland

12:50 to 1:25 pm – Kentuckians – Eddie Price

1:30 to 2:30 pm –Keynote Address – Pirates Laffite – William Davis

2:35 to 3:10 pm – Free People of Color & Slaves – Dr. Ina Fandrich

3:15 to 3:50 pm – The Experience of Defeat: the Influence of the Battle on Post-War National Defense Planning

Martin K. A. Morgan will compare the construction of the U.S. 3rd System of Fortifications after the War of 1812 to the construction of the French Maginot Line after World War I and argue that, in both cases, the experience of defeat led swiftly to a frontier-oriented defensive posture that was both costly and ineffective

3:55 to 4:00 pm – Closing Remarks – Curtis Manning

 

 

 

 

Jean Laffite and the Treaty of Ghent — Satirical Editorial of 1814

September 18, 2014 in American History, general history, History, Louisiana History, Nautical History

lafitte1828redoA rare 1828 book about Jean Laffite

While angling in the old newspaper archives, the following wonderfully  satirical editiorial about Jean Laffite and the War of 1812 Treaty of Ghent negotiations was discovered in the Nov. 11, 1814,  issue of the Daily National Intelligencer of Washington, D.C. It was reprinted from the Weekly Aurora newspaper of Philadelphia, and the author was undoubtedly that paper’s editor, William Duane, given the style matches his. He was spurred to pen the piece in response to the news that Laffite had turned down the British in September when they sought his assistance and ships at Barataria. The editorial makes light of what might have happened if Laffite had joined the British.

“How unfortunate for the British Commissioners at Ghent, that the pirates of the island of Barataria refused the treaty of alliance and friendship offered to them by the gallant officer of his Britannic majesty! Had M. Lafitte accepted the generous offers of that worthy officer, Colonel Nicholls, and determined to fight for the cause of order and regular government, and the cause of morality and religion, in order to deliver the poor Americans from the tyrannical government under which they groan, the American Commissioners would have been furnished, at their next meeting, with a new sine qua non to an amicable adjustment. The independence of Barataria might have been insisted upon, & an acknowledgement, on our part, of this new power, would have been demanded; we should have been required to increase the Baratarian territory, and not to purchase an of their newly acquired lands, but to admit to an entry into our ports_to receive and pay for every kind of merchandize acquired by their laudable industry upon the high seas, which they would have been pleased to send to us.

Had our Commissioners rejected such moderate and honorable terms, my Lord Castlereagh’s friends amongst the friends of peace, would have, with great propriety, declaimed against an administration, which instead of accepting such a trifling condition, would prolong the horrors of such an impious and iniquitous war! The adhesion of these buccaneers to his Britannic majesty’s offers would have added a new sovereign to the list of deliverers of Europe and America, and in the Congress of Vienna: my Lord Castlereagh would have introduced Mr. Lafitte and the red chiefs Split Log and Walk-in-the-Water, with Ohee-go-ke-fus-kee_to their majesties the Emperors of Russia, Austria, and King of Prussia, as their worthy co-adjutors in the great work of the restoration of good order and government in both hemispheres. What a short sighted fellow that Monsieur Lafitte must have been! instead of opposing himself to the disagreeable risk of being hanged as a pirate, he would now be sovereign of Barataria, and an ally of the sovereign of the united kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland! and perhaps might have had a Bible society in correspondence with the bench of bishops.”

AURORA

Duane was known for writing lots of political editorials in his Jeffersonian publication. The Aurora editor would later receive and publish a letter to the editor from Jean Laffite in late 1815 when Laffite was seeking restitution in Washington for the goods and ships taken in the raid on Barataria on Sept. 16, 1814. Duane was a sympathizer to the Carthagenian privateers, and in the 1820s even went to Colombia in person. Laffite seems to have read the Aurora frequently, so one has to wonder if he ever read the humorous editorial about himself.

Skip to toolbar