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The Letter That Tried to Scuttle the Baratarians’ Pardon

October 10, 2015 in American History, general history, History, Louisiana History

 

Poindexter Letter To Monroe

Poindexter Letter To Monroe

If George Poindexter had been Sec. of War or President during the end of the War of 1812, the Laffites and Baratarians would never have been pardoned for their past smuggling offenses even though they had given service and assistance to General Andrew Jackson at New Orleans.

Poindexter, who served as a volunteer aide de camp with Major General Carroll at Chalmette, took time away from his role as a judge at Natchez, Miss., to assist Jackson in defending New Orleans from invading British forces.

As soon as he returned home to Natchez, he wasted no time in firing off a confidential letter about his New Orleans experiences to his friend, Sec. of War James Monroe. The content about the pardon process is interesting as it contains some new information:

“Even a band of pirates was drawn into our ranks who were under prosecution of their crimes, and who had been invited to join the British while they occupied the Island near Lake Barataria. You will I hope sir, pardon me for stating to you, the manner, the circumstances of their transition from piracy to Patriotism, in the notorious Lafitte and his banditti. Edward Livingston, whose character is better known to you than myself, had contrived to attach himself and one or two of his adherents to the staff of Genl Jackson, as Volunteer Aids DeCamp (sic). The pirates had previously engaged him as their counsel to defend them in the District Court of the United States at New Orleans, and were by stipulation to give him the sum of twenty thousand dollars in case he succeeded in acquitting them. Knowing as he did that the evidence against them was conclusive, and that an impartial jury necessarily convict them, he advised the leaders of them to make a tender of their services to Genl Jackson in case he would come under a pledge to recommend them to the clemency of the Executive of the United States. Their services were accepted, and the condition acceeded to. How far the country is indebted to them for its safety it does not become me even to suggest an opinion. It is, however, a fact perfectly well known that their energy has been drawn by Mr. Livingston, their counsel; and there can be but little doubt that everything of an official stamp which is presented by the government respecting them, will emanate from the same source. If they are redeemed from  Judicial investigation of their crimes with which they stand charged, his reward will be twenty thousand dollars of their piratical plunderings.

What the practice of Civilized Governments has been on similar occasions I am not fully prepared to say, nor do I remember an instance where pirates falling into the Country and under the power of one belligerent, have been offered protection and pardon of their offences, in case they would take up arms against the other belligerent. They are considered as enemies alike to both belligerents but I have thought it a duty incumbent on me as a good citizen to state the facts which came within my knowledge, as to the motives which led to the employment of these men, without intending them to have any other, than the weight which is your Judgment they merit.

It would seem to be an obvious inference from the past conduct of this band of robbers that if Louisiana should be again invaded, and they are enlarged, they would be restrained by no moral obligation from affording facilities to the Enemy.

I indulge the hope that you will pardon the freedom with which I address you on the present occasion, from a recollection, that when I last had the honor of an interview with you in Washington, you were so good as to allow me the liberty of writing to you confidentially. In that light, I wish you will view this communication, in so far as it may conflict with the wishes and opinions of General Jackson, relative to the grant of a pardon to the pirates, whom he has thought fit to employ in our service.”

Signed, George Poindexter

Poindexter’s rather snippy revelation about Livingston’s fee for representing the Baratarians may or may not have been true. It could have just been battlefield hearsay. If the fee was really $20,000 in 1814 dollars, it would be the close equivalent to $200,000 today.

The letter implies but does not say that Livingston influenced Jackson to accept the Baratarians’ service as a way to ensure he would get his enormous fee. Poindexter hatefully says “it does not become me even to suggest an opinion” relative to the Baratarians’ contribution to the safety of the country. He conveniently forgets the vital contribution of the Laffite flints and powder to Jackson, plus the Baratarian cannoneers’ service. Without them, Poindexter likely would have found himself cooling his heels in a British prison ship on Feb. 5, 1815, instead of comfortably at home in his Natchez mansion.

Thankfully, however, Poindexter’s letter was much too late to even have a chance to stop the presidential pardons for the Baratarians. The same day Poindexter wrote his letter, Monroe sent a letter to Gov. Claiborne enclosing the signed pardons. They had been rushed through the pardon process at record speed, especially considering President James Madison and his cabinet were basically dislocated in Washington at the time and conducting business somewhat haphazardly from various houses. By the time Poindexter’s letter was in Washington, the pardons were in Gov. Claiborne’s hands.

There also happened to be another reason the pardons were accelerated: Monroe was secretly something of an ally to the Laffites and their men, through their mutual friend, Fulwar Skipwith, president of the Louisiana State Senate in 1814, and former President of the short-lived Republic of West Florida in 1810.

Along with Magloire Guichard, Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Louisiana state legislature, Skipwith had sponsored a resolution to grant amnesty to “the privateers lately resorting to Barataria, who might be deterred from offering their services for fear of persecution.” This was done around mid December 1814, not long before General Jackson shut the legislature down due to civil unrest within it. Skipwith must have informed Monroe about this very soon after it happened, with Jackson accepting the services of the Baratarians who were freed from prison, plus others who had not been caught in the September 1814 raid on Barataria, like the Laffite brothers. Due to wartime blockades of sea traffic by the British, letters had to be sent by post rider back east, with the time to delivery often being as much as a month or more. The request for presidential pardons from James Madison must have been made before the Battle of New Orleans, given that Monroe enclosed the pardons in his letter to Claiborne on Feb. 5, 1814.

The real reason the presidential pardons were fast-tracked lies in an understanding of the web of influence and political power between the Laffites, Skipwith, and Monroe. Even if Poindexter’s letter trying to defuse any possibility of pardons for the Baratarians had been received in time for consideration, in all probability it would never have been read by President Madison.

Monroe and Skipwith were old friends, from at least their days together in France, where Monroe was ambassador in 1795 when he named Skipwith to be the US Consul-General to France. Both men worked in the Napoleonic court together, fine tuning the Louisiana Purchase. Both men were Masonic brothers. Also, both men shared strong ties to Thomas Jefferson, Skipwith by relation as a distant cousin, and Monroe as a neighbor and very close friend.

There is a question of how Skipwith became associated with the Laffites. The most likely manner occurred not long after the Virginian moved to a plantation in Spanish West Florida in 1809. He started running privateers, at about the same time the Laffites were setting up their own smuggling and privateering business. No paper proof has been found linking them, but the actions of Skipwith in 1814 favorable to the Laffites would seem to indicate that they were, indeed, associates of some kind. Thus the Laffites had friends in some very high places.

Only a handful of Baratarians ever retrieved their pardons. The Laffites never applied or received any. Nor did Dominique Youx, the main gunner at Battery No. 3, or Renato Beluche, also a gunner at Battery No. 3.

As for what happened to George Poindexter, the man who wanted to deny pardons to the Baratarians despite their service to Jackson, he became the second governor of Mississippi and had a moderately successful political career.

Skipwith and Monroe kept up their correspondence for several years and apparently were lifelong friends.

For further reading about the hidden gems of early American history, I heartily recommend perusing Daniel Preston’s fine “A Comprehensive Catalogue of the Correspondence and Papers of James Monroe.” Thanks go to him for providing the Poindexter letter copy from the Monroe Papers. For more about Fulwar Skipwith, the man with the memorable name, and the Republic of West Florida, see William C. Davis’ “The Rogue Republic, How Would-Be Patriots Waged the Shortest Revolution in American History.”

 

 

 

 

 

John Dick’s Letter To Monroe Honoring the Baratarians

August 4, 2015 in American History, general history, History, Legal History, Texas History

 

John Dick letter to James Monroe

John Dick letter to James Monroe

John Dick, US District Attorney for Louisiana in 1815, was a man with a conscience, a strong devotion to what was fair and just, even when it conflicted with an earlier opinion that he had fostered. He had a keen sense of respect for those who had earned special consideration, like the Laffites and the Baratarians with their service and supplies in the battles against the British below New Orleans.

Even after President James Madison gave a blanket pardon to all the Baratarians who had served, Dick wanted to make sure that the powers that be in Washington knew exactly the extent of the privateersmen’s help, so he sat down at his New Orleans desk on March 17, 1815, and wrote a letter detailing the events to Secretary of State James Monroe.

It is nothing less than astonishing that Dick wrote about the Baratarians at all, considering when he had been a practicing attorney earlier, they had been thorns in his side in courtroom battles, to the extent that a man of lesser character would be loath to praise at all those from the “Isle of Barataria.” Dick had, after all, been the attorney for Commodore Daniel T. Patterson and Col. George T. Ross in their court actions the fall of 1814 for proceeds from ships and goods seized during the US raid against Grande Terre of September 1814. Moreover, Ross was Dick’s best friend.

Plus during that same fall of 1814 as the winds of war blew toward New Orleans from Great Britain, Dick had grown so exasperated by the actions of former district attorney John Grymes who had chosen to represent the Baratarians, that he openly insulted Grymes by accusing him of having been “seduced out of the path of honor and duty by the bloodstained gold of pirates.” Grymes responded by challenging him to a duel, in which both were wounded, Dick with a shot to one thigh, and Grymes with a shot to one calf.

Thus not only had Dick been against the Baratarians in court, he had even been wounded in a duel because he had insulted their attorney!

So why did Dick write to Monroe in favor of the Baratarians in March of 1815, most particularly since his friend Ross had just left New Orleans for Washington to petition Congress for monies acquired from the raid on Barataria? At the time, the Laffites were seeking restitution of these same monies in New Orleans court.

Dick heard the Laffites and Baratarians’ side in the court system,and although he took no action in New Orleans in their favor, he deliberately wrote to the secretry of state and went against the stance of Ross, who had just left New Orleans for Washington to petition Congress for monies acquired from the September 1814 US raid on Barataria. The district attorney obviously thought Ross’ motives for profiting off of the raid were personally unsettling, and wanted Washington to know the truth, least that truth be lost in the flurry of post-battle self-aggrandisements among others who had served with Major General Andrew Jackson at the plains of Chalmette. It reflects great resolve on Dick’s part that he took such an action considering he had a permanent limp from that duel he had fought regarding his insult to the Baratarians’ lawyer just a few months’ previous.

Dick’s letter to Monroe, now in the National Archives, came to light some 200 years later during a search for another research topic. Daniel Preston, editor of the wonderful annotated Complete Catalogue of the Correspondence and Papers of James Monroe (2001), kindly made a full copy of Dick’s letter available.

Dick begins his letter by acknowledging receipt of a letter from Monroe of Feb. 8, 1815, along with a copy of James Madison’s presidential pardon of the Baratarians.

“The measures which have already taken place with respect to some of the persons connected with the association lately existing at Barataria, and the reasons and authority upon which these measures were founded I should like the liberty to lay before you__

At the period of the late invasion of Louisiana, when the danger was imminent, and it had become necessary to call forth the whole means of the state to repel the invaders, strong appeal was made to Majr. General Jackson by the individuals composing the French volunteer companies on behalf of the Baratarians then in confinement. (Ed. Note: these men were taken during the Sept. 1814 raid on Grande Terre, Barataria, by the US forces under Patterson and Ross) These companies formed the most efficient force of the city, and they had, on this occasion, displayed great zeal, and manifested dispositions highly patriotick (sic). It was important that this spirit should be fostered and extended and no circumstance, it was imagined, could contribute more to these desirable ends than a compliance with the wishes thus expressed. [The Baratarians], although culpable, were brave, skilfull, and enterprising, and their associates were numerous, and their connexions (sic) extensive; it was felt, that, if to be depended upon, their personal exertions might be eminently useful, while their ardour and example would inspirit (sic) others.”

Dick continued that for the Baratarians’ conduct and reliability, “we had the assurances of a large and respectable portion of the community, guaranteed by their own national antipathies, domestic feelings, and private interests.”

After the state legislature passed a resolution along the same views as the French volunteers, Dick said on Dec. 18, 1814, everyone in confinement with offences “growing out of the unlawful association at Barataria” were freed.

“I need not say that the conduct of these men (Baratarians), throughout our late arduous and distinguished struggle, did not violate the confidence that was thus reposed in them. The commanding general has noticed their services,, and has done justice to them notwithstanding their circumstances.”

Dick said when he took office as district attorney in February 1815, he faced an unpleasant quandary as he felt it incumbent upon himself to prefer indictments upon presentments of the grand jury against the Baratarians, and it would have meant re-imprisoning those who had just served to help win the Battle of New Orleans. Dick wrote Monroe that such a move by the courts would have excited discontent in the community re the Baratarians “whose gallantry and patriotism had won the highest praise, and who deserved favors and indulgence even in their mistaken sympathies and opinions.”

He went on to say that he was “relieved from the embarassment arising from this apparent conflict of duty with policy and justice by the permit of a letter from the Attorney General of the United States addressed to his excellency Governor Claiborne, in relation to the Baratarians,which worked very satisfactorily and unequivocably, a disposition to lenity on the part of the President, even before the latter inducements to it existed.”

With such assurances of policy, Dick declared nolle prosequi in nine cases, including those of the Laffites and Dominique Youx, for offences growing out of the “unlawful establishment at Barataria.” (Nolle prosequi is the abandonment by a prosecutor of all or part of a suit or action in court.)

“It is a very Sensible Satisfaction to me to believe that my conduct in this subject has corresponded with the wishes and intentions of the Government; and that it has received, in addition to the sanction which immediately declared it, that contained in the President’s proclamation of the 6th of February,” Dick concluded.

A couple of weeks before Dick wrote his letter, and after the Baratarian indictments were dropped, Ross left New Orleans in March 1815 for Washington, D.C. to petition Congress with the help of a Congressional friend for the monies from the Barataria raid. The bill for the relief of Ross and Patterson was read for the first time in Congress on April 1816, a month before the sickly Ross died at a relative’s home in Pennsylvania. Jean Laffite went to Washington, too, but not until December 1815, when he wrote a letter to President Madison on Dec. 27 seeking recovery of the raid monies. Madison’s response is unknown, but at that time, he was not in Washington. On Feb. 22, 1817, President Madison signed into law an amended bill supported by Congress that directed the secretary of the treasury to pay Ross and Patterson $50,000 from the proceeds of the Barataria raid. It was, of course, too late for Ross. In his will, Ross directed Dick to see that the sum granted him from Barataria was paid to his wife and children in New Orleans, but proof that that happened is non-existent.

Dick quickly turned about once more in his estimation of the Baratarians and Laffites following the afterglow of the Battle of New Orleans, mostly due to piratical actions in the spring of 1815 by one of Laffite’s men, Vincent Gambie, who had been wounded in fighting on Jan. 8, 1815. He was unsuccessful in bringing Gambie to justice due to sympthetic jurists, but in late 1817 Gambie’s own men beheaded him with an axe following a dispute over money.

In 1819, prompted by an increasing turn of New Orleans public sentiment against the Laffites at their new base at Galveston, and the US capture of the Laffite’s newly acquired ship Le Brave after it seized a Spanish ship carrying American cargo  near La Balize, Dick successfully brought piracy charges against the captain and crew, the first time a Laffite ship had officially been found guilty of piracy. The captain and most of the crew were hanged in 1820, not long after the Laffites abandoned Galveston.

Dick married Mary Farar of Laurel Hill near Natchez in January 1820. By November of the same year, she died along with their stillborn child and her mother at the Dick’s vacation home at Bay St. Louis, victims of yellow fever. Dick also had it but recovered. Grief-stricken, he resigned his position as US Attorney and moved out of his opulent New Orleans house as it bore too many memories of his wife. However, US District Judge Dominick Hall died the next month , creating an opening, and President Monroe appointed Dick federal judge in New Orleans in 1821. In 1823, he married his first wife’s second cousin, Frances Ann Kenner. Their marriage would not last long. John Dick died April 23, 1824, of consumption.

In one of the strangest twists of the John Dick story, although he had felt the Baratarians deserved better treatment after their role in the Battle of New Orleans, he did not feel so warm-hearted to Jackson at the time, possibly due to his unconstitutional use of martial law in New Orleans, and the incarceration of Judge Hall. As soon as peace was declared, Dick indicted Jackson on charges of obstruction of justice for imprisoning Judge Hall when he had charged Jackson with contempt of court. When Jackson appeared in court for the indictment, he refused to answer interrogations, received a fine of $1,000, paid it and left the court, carried away by a cheering crowd of Baratarians. Years later, Jackson remembered Dick as his “sworn enemy,” but Dick actually revered Old Hickory. In his will, Judge Dick left a personal library which included four portraits on the walls, depicting George Washington, President James Monroe, Napoleon, and Jackson. Dick was a complex man with mutable ideals.

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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

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

 

The Case of the Spanish Prize Ship at Dauphin Island

December 8, 2014 in American History, general history, Louisiana History

The HMS Sophie gives chase to a privateer

The HMS Sophie gives chase to a privateer

Capt. Nicholas Lockyer of HMS Sophie was furious when he gave the order to weigh anchor just off Grande Terre island on Sept. 4, 1814. He and his fellow British officers had been released a couple of hours earlier from a sleepless night in a crude, dirty cell where they had been subjected to threats and jeers from mostly French Baratarians throughout the night. His demands to see Jean Laffite had been steadfastly ignored until the morning, when Laffite had shown back up, profusely apologizing for his men’s behavior towards them after he had left the British suddenly following their attempt to bribe him into service.

The day before, Lockyer had brought the Baratarian leader British letters seeking to entice him to join the British campaign to seize Louisiana, but now he could tell that visit had been a precious waste of time, and he had to report empty-handed to his commanding officer Sir William Percy of HMS Hermes.

First he had to return four pilots to the Balize at the mouth of the Mississippi, where he had picked them up a few days earlier to help him navigate the tricky tides of Barataria Pass at Grande Terre. Why he needed four pilots for this job is unknown.

New research has found Army Commanding Officer Charles Wollstonecraft at Fort St. Philip had gotten word from one of these pilots about the visit Sophie made to Laffite, as he wrote about it in a letter to Gen. Andrew Jackson on Sept. 13, 1814: “About a week past, a British Schooner, the Sophia (sic), took from the Balize four pilots, she sailed for Barataria bearing a white flag & in her passage drove two privateers on shore; the Capt. of the Sophia, landed under the flag, but was detained & his flag insulted: he was afterwards liberated, & last Thursday, returned the pilots to the Balize. Since Thursday (Sept. 8), no vessel has been in sight at the Balize, except our (Patterson and Ross) squadron [on their way to raid the Laffite stronghold at Grande Terre on Sept. 16.] The smugglers have been informed of the intended attack for some time past, & it is reported, are well prepared for it, & determined to stand out to the last; it is also said, that they are very strong, in men & vessels.”

Returning back to Lockyer and the Sophie’s voyage after dropping off the pilots, fortunes improved for the beleaguered captain when he spied  one of those fast Baratarian pirate schooners in tandem with a captured Spanish prize ship not far from the mouth of the Mississippi. He ordered the men to tack toward the pirate, called everyone to battle stations, and smiled. Perhaps he could get at least one of those schooners for Percy.

According to American Major Howell Tatum’s daybook journal of General Andrew Jackson’s troops and activities, the Sophie did do battle with a Baratarian privateer which had earlier captured a Spanish ship. The privateer schooner seems to have eluded Lockyer’s grasp, probably by darting into the light draft shoal areas of the coastline where the heavy British warship dare not go. Shots may have been fired, but apparently none landed on the warship, as the Sophie bore no scars when she showed back up at Pensacola. The Baratarian prize master and crew of the heavy Spanish brig could not take advantage of the shoals without stranding, and the Sophie managed to get the prize to heave to, boarded her, and replaced Laffite’s Baratarian prize master and prize crewmen with British officer and sailors from the Sophie.

Lockyer was nettled that he hadn’t managed to get that privateer schooner for Percy, but the Spanish brig prize was at least something. The governor at Pensacola would likely be grateful to see it back with cargo intact. The trip to meet with Laffite wouldn’t have been a total loss. However, Lockyer didn’t count on the tricky waters near Dauphin Island. Absent a knowledgeable pilot, the prize master of the British ship didn’t know the lay of the shoals there, and the Spanish brig foundered__not far from the American garrison at Fort Bowyer. Lockyer could just look back in dismay as the Sophie sailed away to meet its deadline, hopeful that when the British attacked the fort in a few more days that the Sophie men could be retrieved safely. He decided it was best not to tell Percy about this misadventure until after they had captured the fort.

However, according to Tatum’s account, the Spanish prize ship was re-captured by an expeditionary party under the command of Major William Lawrence at Fort Bowyer. The prisoners taken on board were the British prize master, six British sailors, and three Spanish sailors (who had been among the original crew of the unnamed Spanish vessel).

No information is given for what transpired with the hapless prizemaster and crewmen from the Sophie, but they were likely sent to General Andrew Jackson at Mobile along with the three Spaniards. Jackson took one look at the Spaniards, and decided to use them as hostages against the irritatingly uncooperative governor of Pensacola, Don Mateo Gonzales Manrique, who had allowed the British to send armed war parties  of British and Indians into the Mobile area.

On the night of September 3, 1814, a considerable firing of musketry was heard from the east side of Mobile Bay in the direction of the houses and mill of Jean D’Olive of the Town of Mobile. According to Tatum, early the next day, Jackson learned an attack had been made on d’Olive’s house, where an overseer and three black slaves had been taken and carried off for Pensacola by Indians and British of that place, part of Woodbine’s hostile corps. Another slave who had escaped related the information, and although a party was immediately sent in pursuit, due to the tedious delay in crossing the bay for want of a proper boat, the raiding party completed their mission in safety across the Perdido and escaped to Pensacola with their prisoners.

As the Indians previously had been allowed by the British to commit such acts of violence as scalp-taking and the like, Jackson determined to hold the luckless Spanish seamen from Penscola as hostages to insure the safe return of the men taken from d’Olive. In a scorching hot letter to Manrique, Jackson wrote that if anything happened to d’Olive’s men, the Spanish governor was assured that the hostages Jackson had would be made to answer, “Eye for Eye, Tooth for Tooth and Scalp for Scalp” for injuries suffered by the d’Olive group. Jackson was particularly incensed because a few days earlier, Manrique had sent him a letter in which he claimed he had armed those Indians who later had committed the attack, with his excuse being that he had armed them as a measure of precaution to meet any attempt of the American government to invade Pensacola as they had formerly done to Mobile. Jackson quite naturally considered this breakdown in trust as overwhelming evidence that the Spanish were placing themselves in a “belligerent” state against the US, and validated his response in holding the Spanish crewmen as hostages.

Thus the first strike that warned Jackson of the true intentions of the British and Spanish was the raiding party on the d’Olive plantation.

As Tatum, Jackson’s topical engineer, states: “Serious apprehensions were now entertained, by many, for the safety of Fort Bowyer. The (British) vessels lying at Pensacola were believed to be merely the van of a much larger naval force destined to act in these seas, and accompanied (perhaps) by land forces intended for the reduction of Mobile and occupation of West Florida.”

The Sophie joined with Percy as he led the Hermes along with two other British ships from Pensacola to Fort Bowyer on Sept. 11.  The first battle of Fort Bowyer a few days later was lost by the British when Percy’s Hermes grounded twice right in front of raking fire from the Americans, and he was forced to abandon ship and set fire to her.

No mention is made in any records of exactly what happened with the  Spanish prize ship that grounded near Dauphin Island. There are some indications in the New Orleans Notarial Archives that maybe boats under Comm. Daniel T. Patterson’s direction offloaded the ship, as mention is made of a Spanish ship in distress on Dauphin Island at that time. The ship seems to not have been there when the British ships made their attack a few days after it foundered, and there are no records of Lockyer ever telling Percy about capturing the ship from the Baratarian privateer.

Jackson never did get a satisfactory reply from Manrique, and by late November 1814, the Spanish prisoners still lingered in irons in his camp. They had first been captured by Laffite’s men, then rescued by the Sophie, then captured by the Americans, then held in strict privations in what must have been miserable conditions. Their fate, like the fate of the British prize master and Sophie crewmen from the Spanish ship, remains shrouded in mystery.

 

Additional Historia Obscura articles for more information:

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

Capt. Percy’s Folly at Fort Bowyer

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

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

 

The Aurora Editor Snipes at Britain, Post War of 1812

September 30, 2014 in American History, European History, general history, History, Louisiana History

The Weekly Aurora of Philadelphia

The Weekly Aurora of Philadelphia

With one of those quill pens he so often had wielded to acidulously attack targets in his Weekly Aurora newspaper at Philadelphia, Editor William Duane  reflected at length in March 1815 about the Causes and Character of the Late War with Great Britain, in an exposition that flowed like a river of tiny type and took up three weeks’  worth of issues of his Jeffersonian Democrat newspaper, a publication which was widely read by both his admirers and his Federalist and British detractors. Duane included the British visit and offer to Jean Laffite in a portion of  this work, published March 28, 1815:

“Great Britain has violated the laws of humanity and honor, by seeking alliances, in the prosecution of war, with savages, pirates, and slaves.

…when the war was declared, the alliance of the British government with the Indians, was avowed, upon principles, the most novel, producing consequences the most dreadful_The savages were brought into the war, upon the ordinary footing of allies, without regard to the inhuman character of their warfare, which neither spares age nor sex, and which is more desperate towards the captive, at the stake, than even towards the combatant, in the field. It seemed to be a stipulation of the compact between the allies, that the British might imitate, but should not control the ferocity of the savages__While the British troops behold, without compunction, the tomahawk and the scalping knife, brandished against prisoners, old men and children, and even against pregnant women, and while they exultingly accept the bloody scalps of the slaughtered Americans; the Indian exploits in battle, are recounted and applauded by the British general orders. Rank and station are assigned to them, in the military movements of the Brtitish army, and the unhallowed league was ratified with appropriate emblems, by intertwining an American scalp with the decorations of the mace.

…the savage, who had never known the restraints of civilized life. and the pirate, who had broken the bonds of society, were alike the subjects of British conciliation and alliance, for the purposes of an unparalleled warfare. A horde of pirates and outlaws had formed a confederacy and establishment on the island of Barrataria, near the mouth of the river Mississippi. Will Europe believe, that the commander of the British forces, addressed the leader of the confederacy [Jean Laffite], from the neutral territory of Pensacola, “calling upon him, with his brave followers, to enter into the service of Great Britain, in which he should have the rank of captain; promising that lands should be given to them all, in proportion to their respective ranks, on a peace taking place; assuring them, that their property should be guaranteed, and their persons protected; and asking, in return, that they would cease all hostilities against Spain, or the allies of Great Britain, and place their ships and vessels, under the British commanding officer on the station, until the commander in chief’s pleasure should be known, with a guarantee of their fair value at all events?” There wanted only to exemplify the debasement of such an act, the occurrence, that the pirate should spurn the proffered alliance; and accordingily, Lafitte’s answer was indignantly given, by a delivery of the letter, containing the British proposition, to the American governor of Louisiana.

There were other sources, however, of support, which Great Britain was prompted by her vengeance to employ, in opposition to the plainest dictates of her own colonial policy. The events, which have extirpated, or dispersed, the white population of St. Domingo, are in the recollection of all men.Although British humanity might not shrink, from the infliction of similar calamities upon the southern states of America, the danger of that course, either as an incitement to a revolt, of the slaves in the British islands, or as a cause of retaliation, on the part of the United States, ought to have admonished her upon its adoption. Yet, in a formal proclamation issued by the commander in chief of his Brittanic majesty’s squadrons, upon the American station, the slaves of the American planters were invited to join the British standard, in a covert phraseology, that afforded but a slight veil for the real design. Thus, admiral Cochrane, reciting “that it had been represented to him, that many persons now resident in the United States, had expressed a desire to withdraw therefrom, with a view of entering into his majesty’s service, or of being received as free settlers into some of his majesty’s colonies,” proclaimed, that “all those who might be disposed to emigrate from the United States, would, with their families, be received on board his majesty’s ships or vessels of war, or at the military posts that might be established upon, or near, the coast of the United States, when they would have their choice of entering into his majesty’s sea or land forces, or of being sent as free settlers to the British possessions in North America, or the West Indies, where they would meet all due encouragement.” But even the negroes seem, in contempt, or disgust, to have resisted the solicitation: no rebellion, or massacre, ensued; and the allegation, often repeated, that in relation to those who were seduced, or forced, from the service of their masters, instances have occurred of some being afterwards transported to the British West India Islands, and there sold into slavery, for the benefit of the captors, remains without contradiction. So complicated an act of injustice, would demand the reprobation of mankind. And let the British government, which professes a just abhorrence of the African slave trade; which endeavors to impose, in that respect, restraints upon the domestic policy of France, Spain and Portugal, answer, if it can, the solemn charge, against their faith and their humanity.”

Duane took Great Britain to task for allying themselves with the “savage” Indians and their known depradations, then in having the lowness in character to try to associate with people some regarded as pirates, and, worst of all, trying to start a violent slave insurrection by promising the slaves their freedom for their help. For once, his exposition found friendly readers among most of  the general public of  the United States. Much of the lengthy opus was reprinted widely. The British, including his old arch-enemy journalist with a similar poison pen, William Cobbett, stayed silent on the matter. (By the spring of 1815, Duane and  Cobbett had reconciled and become friends after a bitter battle in print that had lasted for over 15 years).

The Aurora, once a powerful publication that could help sway presidential elections (Jefferson claimed it helped him gain office), had declined in its political pull by the time the War of 1812 ended. By late 1815, Duane published a letter to the editor from the same “pirate” he had disparaged in his exposition earlier that year: the mercurial newspaperman’s favor was as capricious as the wind.

TO COME:

William Duane and “Peter Porcupine,” the Epic Battle of the Word-Dueling Journalists

 

 

 

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.

The First Battle of New Orleans Poem

September 16, 2014 in American History, general history, History, Louisiana History

jacksonportrait

Andrew Jackson After the Battle of New Orleans, 1815, from a miniature

The following is believed to be the first poem written about the Battle of New Orleans, published in the New Orleans Gazette in either late February or early March 1815, and reprinted widely in newspapers throughout the United States in April and May, 1815. The author, sadly, is unknown, but from the content of the poem, was likely an American soldier who served with Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans.

THE RETREAT OF THE ENGLISH

 

-A YANKEE SONG-

 

The English mustered mighty strong’,

And bro’t their choicest troops along,

And thoght it but a little song,

To take our town of Orleans.

 

From Plymouth and the Chesapeake,

From Portsmouth, too, and Cork, so sleek,

All came to take a Christmas freak

In our gay town of Orleans.

 

See Cochrane, who is stiled Sir Knight,

With Gordon too, that naval wight,

And Packenham, all full of fight,

To have a dash at Orleans.

 

With Gibbs and Keane and Lambert too,

And others, who kept out of view,

Making, in all, a pretty crew,

To take our town of Orleans.

 

To Ile au Chat their fleets first steer’d,

Where near a hundred sail appear’d;

And, from their numbers, many fear’d

Th’ impending fate of Orleans.

 

They entered Bayou Bienvenue,

Where there were traitors not a few,

To help them on and bring them thro’

To this our town of Orleans.

 

They to the Levee quickly come,

And made, a tho’ they were at home_

Indeed, they were but eight miles from

The very town of Orleans.

 

The news at last to Jackson came;

His mighty soul was in a flame;

He swore an oath, I dare not name,

He’d save the town of Orleans.

 

The town was in a mighty rout’;

He ordered all the forces out

His troops so steady and so stout,

To fight and bleed for Orleans.

 

Away went Jackson at their head,

And many a gallant man he led;

All swore they’d fight till they were dead,

To save the town of Orleans.

 

The English camp he’s soon among;

And found them near five thousand strong,

From swamp to river stretch’d along

Against the town of Orleans.

 

And now began a bloody fight;

The English heroes tried their might,

But many think, the coming night,

Did save these foes of Orleans.

 

Then Jackson, not to risk the town,

Reined for a while his spirit down,

And trenches dug, and raised a mound,

To save the town of Orleans.

 

The English grown twelve thousand strong,

The Twenty eighth again came on,

And tho’t our lines would soon belong

To them, as well as Orleans.

 

Repuls’d:-on New-Years next they came,

But on that day were serv’d the same,

And met a loss, they do not name

From those who fought for Orleans.

 

But ‘twas the Eighth they tried their might,

And brought their army all in sight,

And swore our men would at the sight,

All fly toward New-Orleans.

 

That morning’s sun did rise in blood:

For all our men right valiant stood,

As every honest Yankee should,

Against the foes of Orleans.

 

The muskets and the cannons roar,

Our men most dreadful volley pour;

A rolling fire, unknown before,

Upon the foes of Orleans.

 

Sir Edward led the eager crew,

And pointing to the town in view,

Gave them the sack and pillage too,

If they would get to Orleans.

 

But see! his threatening spirit’s fled;

And Gibbs too lies among the dead,

With many more who boasting said,

They’d dine that day at Orleans.

 

Such carnage ne’e was known before;;

More than three thousand stain our shore,

And some assert a thousand more

Of the proud foes of Orleans.

 

Soldiers! you’ve had no vulgar game!

Wellington’s troops here yield their fame;

Invincibles was once their name,

But this they’ve lost near Orleans.

 

A bloodless victory, on our side,

May well increase our general’s pride;

For see_the field is only dyed

With English blood near Orleans.

 

The proud, but disappointed foe

Is now well taught our worth to know,

And all they ask, is but to go

Far__far away from Orleans.

 

See how these heroes scour the plain!

Their boats can scarce their haste restrain,

So anxious now their fleet to gain,

And get away from Orleans.

 

Aboard, and sick of Yankee sport,

They’re dressing up a long report,

To suit their gracious sovereign’s court,

Of their great feats near Orleans.

 

Here’s to the EIGHTH! a brilliant day!

‘Tis pride to have been in that affray,

Which drove these Englishmen away,

From this our town of Orleans.

 

Here’s to the gallant GENERAL! who

Has saved our town and country too!

A braver man the world ne’er knew

Than he who fought for Orleans.

 

Brave Sons of Tennessee! a toast!

Of you your country well may boast,

She cannot find a braver host

‘Mong those who fought for Orleans.

Capt. Percy’s Folly at Fort Bowyer

September 14, 2014 in American History, general history, History, Louisiana History, Native American History

 

 

This shows the first battle of Fort Bowyer, with positions of the ships. The Anaconda shown is not correct: this ship was the Childers.

This shows the first battle of Fort Bowyer, with positions of the ships. The Anaconda shown is not correct: this ship was the Childers.

Young British Capt. William H. Percy found himself in dire straits on the afternoon of  Sept. 15, 1814. His ship, the sixth rate class HMS Hermes, was mired for the second time that day on a sand bar in shoal water within 150 yards of  Fort Bowyer near Mobile Bay, and the Americans at the fort were taking full advantage of the ship’s predicament, mercilessly strafing it with grape shot, langrege and musket fire.

To Percy’s horror, plans for an easy British attack on the fort had gone terribly awry, thanks to almost no wind, a shot to the anchor line, shallower water than expected,  and the fact that the American fort’s 130 defenders led by Major William Lawrence were much better entrenched and armed than earlier British spying missions had forecast.

More than a third of Percy’s men were casualties of the devastating raking ammo, which ripped sails into rags, and strafed all the rigging of the Hermes. There was only one way out to avoid more loss of British lives: Capt. Percy had to disembark everyone, then personally set fire to his own ship, which blew up a few hours later as the flames hit the powder magazine. Perhaps due to the thick barrage, no attempt seems to have been made to spike any of the Hermes’ 22 guns; a few of the cannons were salvaged later by Lawrence and his men.

The rest of the four-ship British squadron couldn’t save the Hermes as, with the exception of the HMS Sophie under Capt. Nicholas Lockyer, a contrary wind and strong tide prevented them from getting close enough to effectively fire back at the fort. The Sophie, like the flagship Hermes, suffered damage while firing some broadsides at the fort, but the Sophie managed to tack away out of range of the worst of it. The captains and crews of HMS Carron and HMS Childers, and the land forces of the Royal Colonial Marines and some 600 Indians on Mobile Point could only watch in dismay as the Hermes was battered.  An earlier foray from the land side by the Marines and Indians, armed with a Howitzer, had seen but little success on the fort’s flank due to the Americans’ secured entrenchment even on the weak side.

British plans for a great victory which would lead them to an easy route to Baton Rouge and control of the Mississippi River had literally blown up in their faces.

As a result of his actions, Percy faced a tense court-martial Jan. 18, 1815, onboard the HMS Cydnus off Cat Island. Presiding was Edward Codrington, rear admiral of the White, captain of the Fleet, and third officer in command of His Majesty’s ships and vessels in the Gulf of Mexico. Percy was exonerated for destroying his own ship at a critical time in the Gulf Coast campaign, but he would never again be entrusted as captain of any ship. He had torched his own naval career at the same time that he torched his ship.

The HMS Hermes (large ship) is shown in battle with a French ship in 1811.

The HMS Hermes (large ship) is shown in battle with a French ship in 1811.

The primary evidence at the court-martial was Percy’s Sept. 16, 1814 letter to Vice Admiral A. Cochrane, a lengthy and detailed account of what happened during the whole action to try to seize control of Fort Bowyer.

“Having embarked Brevet Lieut. Col. Nicolls and his detachment of Marines and Indians…, on the 11th instant I left this Port (Pensacola) in company with His Majesty’s Ships Carron and Childers and off the entrance of it fell in with and took with me His Majesty’s Sloop Sophie, Capt. Lockyer, returning from Barataria…acquainting me with the ill success of his mission (to enlist Laffite and the use of his light draft schooners in the attack on Mobile).

On the evening of the  12th I landed Lieut. Col. Nicolls with his party about 9 miles to the Eastward of Fort Bowyer and proceeded .. off the Bar of Mobile, which we were prevented from passing by contrary winds until the afternoon of the 15th, during which time the Enemy had an opportunity of strengthening themselves, which we perceived them doing; having reconnoitred in the  Boats within half a mile of the Battery. I had previously communicated to the Captains of the Squadron the plan of attack, and at 2:30 p.m. on the abovementioned day having a light breeze from the Westward I made the Signal for the Squadron to weigh, and at 3:10 passed the Bar in the following line of Battle: Hermes, Sophie, Carron & Childers.

At 4:16 the Fort commenced firing, which was not returned until 4:30 when being within Pistol shot of it, I opened my broadside, and anchored by the Head and Stern, at 4:40 the  Sophie having gained her station did the same; at this time the wind, having died away and a strong ebb tide having made, notwithstanding their exertions, Captains Spencer (Carron) and Umfreville (Childers)  finding their ships losing ground, and that they could not possibly be brought into their appointed stations, anchored, but too far off to be of any great assistance to the Hermes or Sophie, against whom the great body of the fire was directed. At 5:30 the bow spring (cable) being shot away, the Hermes swung with Head to the Fort and grounded, whence she laid exposed to a severe raking fire, unable to return except with one carronade and the small arms in the Tops; at 5:40 finding the Ship floated forward, I ordered the small bower cable to be cut, and the Spanker to be set, there being a light wind to assist, with the intention of bringing the Larboard Broadside to bear, and having succeeded in that, I let go the Best bower anchor to steady the ship forward and recommenced the Action.

At 6:10 finding that we made no visible impression on the Fort, and having lost a considerable number of our Men and being able only occasionally to fire a few guns on the larboard side in consequence of the little effect the light wind had on the ship, I cut the cables and springs and attempted to drop clear of the fort with the strong tide then running, every sail having been rendered perfectly unserviceable and all the rigging being shot away, in doing which, unfortunately His Majesty’s ship again grounded with her Stern to the Fort.

There being now no possibility of returning an effective fire from the ship I made the Signal No. 203, it having been already arranged that the storming parties destined to have acted in conjunction with the forces landed under Lieut. Col. Nicolls were to assemble on board the Sophie to put themselves under the orders of Captain Lockyer. While they were assembling Captains Lockyer and Spencer came on board the Hermes, and on my desiring their opinion as to the probable result of an attempt to escalade the fort, they both agreed that it was impracticable under existing circumstances (at the same time offering their services to lead the party if it should be sent) In this opinion I (concurred) with them.

The Ship being entirely disabled and there being no possibility to move her from the position in which she lay exposed I thought it unjustifiable to expose the remaining men to the showers of grape and langrege incessantly poured in, and Captains Lockyer and Spencer who saw the state of the ship at the same time giving it as their decided opinions that she could not by any means be got off, I determined to destroy her and ordered Captain Lockyer to return to the Sophie and send the boats remaining in the squadron to remove the wounded and the rest of the crew and to weigh; at the same time I made the signal for the squadron to prepare to do so. The crew being removed and seeing the rest of the squadron under weigh, at 7:20 assisted by M.A. Matthews 2nd Lieutenant (Mr. Maingy, 1st Lieut having been ordered away to take charge of the people) I performed the painful duty of setting fire to His Majestys Ship.

I then went on board the Sophie and finding it impossible to cross the bar in the night, I anchored the ships about 1 ½ mile from the Fort, and at 10 I had the melancholy satisfaction of seeing His Majestys ship blow up in the same place in which I left her.

The squadron having during the night partly repaired the damages in their rigging, at daylight I took them out of the bar having previously communicated with the Commanding Officer of the detachment on shore, and desired that he would fall back upon bon secour.

Altho this attack has unfortunately failed, I should be guilty of the greatest injustice did I not acquaint you sir of the high sense I entertain of the intrepidity and coolness displayed throughout this action by the officers, petty officers and crew of His Majestys late ship Hermes, from Mr. Peter Maingy the 1st Lieut. I received the greatest assistance, and I beg to mention the activity and good conduct of M. Alfred Mathews 2nd Lieut.; in Mr. Pyne the late Master (who fell early in the action) the service has sustained a severe loss.

Lieut. Col. Nicolls having been seriously ill on shore had been removed to the Hermes and was on board during the Action; it is almost unnecessary for me to mention of him that he was actively assisting on deck, to which post he returned, after a severe wound which he had received in the Head had been dressed.

W.H. Percy, Captain”

Nicolls had been especially unlucky that day. He had been charged with leading his Royal Colonial Marines and the Indians on a land attack toward the rear of the fort, but a severe attack of dysentery sent him early to the Hermes for treatment from the ship’s surgeon, and while he was watching the action from its deck, a stray splinter from a fire of grapeshot hit him in the head and cost him the sight in one eye.

The “butcher’s bill” of the British side was 232, with 162 of that number killed: the Americans, by contrast, had only eight casualties, with four killed. The Hermes’ surgeon’s report reflects the gruesome nature of the wounds: Edward Hall, 34, landsman, left hand torn off by a cannon ball; William James, 16, struck on left knee with a cannon ball, leg amputated on HMS Carron; Walter Price, wounded in the head by grapeshot while serving on the HMS Sophie, died 15 days later. Many of the wounded survived amputations only to die a few days later from tetanus, according to the surgeon’s notes.

Born in 1788, Percy was the sixth son of Algernon Percy, the first Earl of Beverley, and started his naval career in 1801. He was promoted to commander in 1810, with his first ship being the HMS Mermaid in 1811. At that time, he transported troops beween Britain and Iberia during the Peninsular War. He was made post captain on March 21, 1812. His last (and only second) command was the HMS Hermes, which he assumed in April, 1814. After that ship’s destruction, Percy carried back to Britain the dispatches announcing the British defeat at the Battle of New Orleans. From 1818-1826, Percy was active in politics as the Tory MP for Stamford, Lincolnshire. Later, he was made a rear admiral on the retired list in 1846.

Historian Arsene Lacarriere Latour, writing in 1815, summed up Percy’s misadventure best with this eloquent assessment:

“Instead of the laurels he was so confident of gathering, he carried off the shame of having been repulsed by a handful of men, inferior by nine-tenths to the forces he commanded. Instead of possessing himself of an important point, very advantageous for the military operations contemplated by his government, he left under the guns of fort Bowyer the wrecks of his own vessel, and the dead bodies of one hundred and sixty-two of his men. Instead of returning to Pensacola in triumph, offering the Spaniards, as a reward for their good wishes and assistance, a portion of the laurels obtained, and the pleasure of seeing the American prisoners he was confident of taking, he brought back to that port, which had witnessed his extravagant boasting, nothing but three shattered vessels full of wounded men.”

 

For further reading:

Latour, Arsene Lacarriere. Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-15, with an Atlas, Expanded Edition, edited by Gene A. Smith, The Historic New Orleans Collection and University of Florida, 1999.

 

 

 

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

August 25, 2014 in American History, general history, History, Louisiana History, Nautical History

Jean Laffite, the privateer "bos" of Barataria

Jean Laffite, the privateer “bos” of Barataria

When Commander Nicholas Lockyer sailed in HMS Sophie from Pensacola towards Jean Laffite’s Grande Terre encampment on Sept. 1, 1814, he already knew that the Baratarian privateer base might soon be blown to bits, and that the Sophie would not be the instrument of that destruction, despite his written orders to that effect from his superiors. There was only a modest chance that Laffite would agree to their terms and assist the British by letting them use his light draft schooners that could navigate shallower water in the shoals. Success depended largely on how susceptible the man would be to betray his friends and clientele.

Lockyer was willing to do everything necessary to entice someone he regarded as a pirate, even though he must have felt a modicum of hesitation about approaching the buccaneers’ smuggling stronghold due to the way five Laffite-connected ships had soundly defeated British sailors of boats from HMS Herald near Cat Island and the mouth of Bayou Lafourche in June of 1813.

The Sophie by herself would be no match for the Baratarian ships. Although she carried 18 guns, her gun carriage timbers were rotten, and so shaky the carronades could not fire accurately no matter how skilled the gunners. Thus it was with more than a little trepidation on Lockyer’s part that the Sophie entered Barataria Pass that Saturday morning, Sept. 3, 1814, firing a warning shot at a privateer ship a little too close for comfort.

Jean Laffite saw a British brig in Barataria Pass, and couldn’t immediately discern the captain’s intentions as first the ship fired at one of his privateers, then the British vessel acted friendlier and non-attacking, anchoring at the opposite shore, then setting down a pinnance bearing both British colors and a white flag of truce, with some men onboard.

Laffite set off in his boat at once to find out who this was, and what was the meaning of this visit. As he neared the pinnance, the men’s uniforms made it clear at least two high-ranking British officers were on the boat heading to him, and so curious was he at this development that he accidentally let himself get too close to the ship, away from the safety of the shore. The British hailed him and asked to be taken to see Laffite to give him some official communications on paper. Since he was too close to the Sophie to risk being identified, Laffite told them they could find the person they wanted on shore. As soon as they were within the confines of his power, Laffite identified himself and led them to his home while close to 200 very agitated privateer crewmen milled around, voicing intentions to imprison the British and send them to New Orleans as spies. Captain Dominique You was all for seizing the British ship as retaliation for the skirmish between the Baratarians and British at Cat Island the year before, a mini-battle which the Baratarians had won, but not before the British nearly sank two of their fast schooners. Handling a visit from obvious British officers around such a group of mostly Napoleonic sympathizers was going to require finesse, but first Laffite needed to learn the precise purpose of the visit, and what the papers said.

Accompanying Capt. Lockyer was Capt. John M’Williams of the Royal Colonial Marines, most recently stationed at Pensacola. M’Williams was a special envoy from Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Nicolls, commanding officer of the Royal  Colonial Marines at Pensacola,. His duty was to present official British letters to Laffite requesting that he join the British, stop harassing Spanish shipping, release any Spanish property he currently had back to its owners, and allow the British the use of his light draft ships. In return at the conclusion of the war, Laffite would receive a captaincy, land in America controlled by the British, have his rights and property protected as a British citizen, and be recompensed for the use of his ships. According to Laffite’s later recollection of the visit, the bribe also included $30,000, payable at New Orleans or Pensacola, but this was not stated in any of the British letters

An interpreter was also with the officers, but his services were not needed as Jean was fluent in English. Lockyer seized the advantage of a common language to earnestly entice Laffite to join the British against the Americans. Apparently Lockyer added the bribe money only as a spoken extra inducement to get Laffite starry-eyed about impending wealth. If Lockyer did verbally commit to a monetary bribe, there could have been little truth to it, since no one else who had helped the British in the Gulf had been paid even a tiny fraction of that amount, plus Nicolls was on a strict budget for his part of the Gulf war campaign, and could not exceed even $1,000 at the time. The only way such a bribe could have been possible is if it was to be paid after the successful conclusion of the campaign, when goods, plantations, etc., had been seized by the British, especially at New Orleans. In that event, $30,000 would have been small reward for assisting accomplishment of  such a lucrative and important military goal. Regardless, the monetary bribe was worthless as it had never been commited to paper, and it was somewhat insulting for Lockyer to think Laffite was so naïve as to trust the word of even a British officer.

Lockyer pressed Laffite to join the British,  especially to lay at the disposal of his Britannic Majesty the armed vessels he had at Barataria, to aid in the immediate intended attack of the fort (Fort Bowyer) at Mobile. According to Laffite’s later account of Lockyer’s manipulative spiel, he insisted much on the great advantage that would result to Laffite and his crews, and urged him “not let slip this opportunity of acquiring fortune and consideration.” Laffite cautiously demurred, saying he would require a few days to reflect upon these proposals, to which Lockyer bluntly stated “no reflection could be necessary, respecting proposals that obviously precluded hesitation, as he (Laffite) was a Frenchman, and of course now a friend to Great Britain, proscribed by the American government, exposed to infamy, and had a brother (Pierre) at that very time loaded with irons in the jail of New Orleans.” (Obviously, British spies had informed Nicolls and/or Percy about Pierre’s incarceration to use as a leverage tool with Jean.)

Lockyer also added that everything was already prepared for carrying on the war against the American government in that quarter with unusual vigor; that they (the British) were nearly sure of success, expecting to find little or no opposition from the French and Spanish population of Louisiana.

At the end of his recruitment speech to Laffite, Lockyer made a colossal error by telling what the British intended to do to absolutely guarantee success: their chief plan and crushing blow would be to foment an insurrection of the slaves, to whom they would offer freedom. In other words, the British would stir up a slave revolt resulting in brutal murders of innocent civilians at the plantations and New Orleans, given that three-fourths of the population of the New Orleans area at the time was composed of slaves.

One can only imagine the disgust and horror that Laffite must have felt when he  heard Lockyer say the British were going to incite (and probably arm) a slave rebellion. They were wanting him to sell out his friends and other smuggling customers and allow them to be hacked to death like the French planters on Haiti years earlier, or those families that suffered on the German Coast near New Orleans in 1811. No wonder Laffite got up and said he had to leave for a bit, leaving the British group alone snd perplexed. Laffite said in his account he left the officers because he was afraid of his privateers rising up against him, but most likely as soon as he left the house, he told his Baratarian crewmen to imprison the officers and threaten them overnight, but not to physically harm them. Laffite thought more information may have been gained by their intimidated response to the threats,  that perhaps they would reveal who their spies were in the New Orleans area. He left the British alone all that night in their uncomfortable and guarded cell, even though they continually demanded to be released from custody.

Early the next morning, Laffite let the officers out of their cell, apologizing profusely for their treatment of the past night, about which he claimed he could do nothing due to the temperament of some of his men. He gave Lockyer a letter of apology in which he asked for a fortnight (15 days) to arrive at a decision about their offer, claiming the delay was necessary to send away “three persons who have alone occasioned all the disturbance” and to “put my affairs in order.”

When the British returned to the Sophie, Lockyer weighed anchor and left Barataria Pass as soon as possible around noon Sept. 4, according to the master’s logbook of the ship. They wanted nothing more to do with Laffite or the Baratarians.

Lockyer was at a loss as to how to save face re his failure to immediately enlist the Baratarians and their ships into British service. He knew Percy had ordered him “in case of refusal, to destroy to the utmost every vessel there as well as to carry destruction over the whole place,” but the Sophie by herself couldn’t do that, plus Laffite had said he couldn’t give a firm decision until a fortnight later. A fortnight later would be too late, Lockyer knew plans were already firm for an attack on Fort Bowyer before then.

The Sophie didn’t arrive back at Pensacola until Sept. 11, taking seven days, five more than necessary, to sail between Barataria Pass and Pensacola. This is odd, as Percy had requested Lockyer to return to him at Pensacola at utmost speed following the visit to Barataria. Something  hidden happened in those five extra days of travel. Lockyer may have stopped somewhere along the Louisiana coast and M’Williams may have disembarked on a spy mission, as M’Williams appears not to have been with Lockyer once he returned to Pensacola. M’Williams could have gone to New Orleans, or the rest of the bayou country to reconnoiter.There is no documentation for what happened to him. The Sophie ship logs only record what transpired onboard or with the ship and its crew.

The only British account of the visit to Grande Terre was a letter written by Lockyer to Percy upon his arrival back at Pensacola on Sept. 11. Unwilling to fully admit his failure to gain the schooners quickly, Lockyer said nothing about even meeting Laffite, perfunctorily glossing over that bit entirely. Instead,  in a unusually brief, terse note about the visit, he said he and the other British were immediately jailed, the British letters and order he brought to show Laffite were torn before his face plus he was insulted and had his life threatened. He wrote that the following day the Baratarians had a sudden change of mind and released them to return to the Sophie. He reported there were nine schooner privateers with six to sixteen guns each in Barataria Bay.

Lockyer’s letter was enclosed with a later report written Sept. 17 by Percy to his superior, Sir Alexander Cochrane, British commander in chief of the North America station, in which Percy says only of the letter that it acquainted him with the “ill success of his (Lockyer’s) mission (to Laffite).” Oddly, the whole Laffite issue and the matter of acquiring the light draft schooners of Barataria was dropped by Percy and became a non-issue, even though he could not have known that the Americans would destroy Barataria within a few days. Or did he know? Was there a double agent in New Orleans? What was Laffite’s reaction to the British offer?

Before Lockyer and the others had been freed from their Baratarian jail, Laffite wrote a letter Sept. 4 to his friend and Louisiana legislator Jean Blanque of New Orleans, requesting advice about what to do with the British, and enclosed all of the British papers in the packet. (All of the British papers and orders were intact, they had not been torn up like Lockyer claimed to Percy.)   A courier delivered the packet by late Sept. 6 to Blanque at his home on Royal Street.

Coincidentally, that same day, Sept. 6, Dominique You, who had threatened the British officers, arrived in New Orleans. Jean’s brother, Pierre Laffite, mysteriously broke out of the Cabildo jail along with three blacks that night. Pierre had been incarcerated since July 1814 on a grand jury indictment. Dominique had been away on a cruise when this occurred, and had only returned to Barataria on Sept. 1. No one knows how Pierre broke out of jail, but both Dominique and jailer J.H. Holland were Masons, so perhaps there was some fortuitous collusion, with Holland just happening to leave the keys temporarily unguarded. At any rate, both Pierre and Dominique were back at Grande Terre within a couple of days. It seems likely Dominique saw to it that neither the British nor Claiborne could use Pierre as a bargaining chip to gain Jean’s help.

Blanque presented the letters packet  the next day (Sept. 7) to Gov. Claiborne, who quickly called for an emergency meeting of his informal board of officers, consisting of Commodore Daniel T. Patterson, Col. George Ross, Customs Collector Pierre Dubourg and Jacques Villere, commander of the Louisiana militia. There was some discussion about whether or not the letters were genuine. Apparently no one thought to just hold the paper to the light to see the royal watermarks  found on all British naval writing paper of the time. Claiborne worried that the letters perhaps were authentic, plus he decided from Jean’s letter to Blanque that the privateer would take no part with the British. However, he abstained from voting on what to do about the letters. Only Villere, a friend of the Laffites, and a voting member of the group, thought the British documents were genuine. Still, Claiborne vacillated about what if Villere was right.

Patterson was absolutely livid when Claiborne said it might be a good idea to postpone his planned expedition against Barataria in light of the new situation. In August, in response to myriad complaints about Baratarian smuggling against Spanish ships, Patterson had received a direct order to break up the Grande Terre base from Secretary of the Navy William Jones, who had provided him with a schooner, the USS Carolina, to accomplish the mission.  A British blockade at the Balize had postponed the raid, but word had been received that British ships had moved off eastward, towards Mobile, and  Patterson’s little Navy was ready to pounce. Besides, Patterson told the group his orders to attack Barataria left him no alternative but to do so, and Ross agreed.  Claiborne couldn’t argue with an order from the Secretary of the Navy, even though circumstances had dramatically changed.

Ross cinched the vote by saying Laffite’s letter to Lockyer of Sept. 4 showed “Laffite’s acceptation” so for all they knew, the Baratarians were co-operating with the British.  (If this were the case, it made no sense to let Blanque or the state officials see the letters,  but then Patterson and Ross clearly had their minds made up before they even saw the contents of the packet or entered the governor’s chambers.) The meeting ended with Patterson and Ross announcing they would set off for Grande Terre as soon as possible. On Sept. 8, Claiborne sent copies of the packet of letters to Major General Andrew Jackson.

Meanwhile, Pierre Laffite was apprised  at Grande Terre of what had transpired with the British, whereupon he wrote a letter of entreaty to Claiborne, praising the way his brother Jean had handled the situation by sending the letters to the US authorities, and saying in somewhat dramatic fashion for emphasis that he was the “stray sheep wanting to return to the fold,” offering to be of service. Claiborne didn’t get the letter until Sept. 12, and by then it was too late to stop the raid expedition.

Due to the logistics of getting the men of the 44th US infantry together, along with enough sailors, the expedition wasn’t ready to weigh anchor and go until around 1 a.m.on Sept. 11.  They left in the middle of the night to ostensibly avoid spies for the Laffites, but by Sept. 13 or 14, the Laffites knew from spies that they were coming. They managed to get a portion of their goods moved to other warehouses away from the island, but a large lot remained, such as a great deal of German linen, glassware, cocoa and spices, silver plate, and some bullion specie.

The Patterson-Ross expedition took the long way to Grande Terre, down the Mississippi River to the Balize, spending nearly five days on the trip. Once at the mouth of the Mississippi, considering they had all of the American forces with them, including all of the gunboats, they could have gone to the aid of the 130 men at Fort Bowyer, but instead, they headed west, toward Grande Terre and the riches to be found there.

It is true that Patterson and Ross didn’t know Fort Bowyer was being attacked at the very moment their US expedition approaching the delta mouth of the Mississippi, but they did know from the British letters that such an attack was imminent. Luckily the men at Fort Bowyer managed to beat back a land and sea attack by the British, and were saved when the lead ship, Percy’s HMS Hermes, managed to get stuck on a sandbar. Percy was forced to set fire to his own ship and retreat. Nicolls had even worse fortune in the fray, getting ill and having to watch his Royal Colonial Marines from the supposed safety of one of the ships, only to lose the sight in one eye permanently after a stray splinter hit him.

Both Jean and Pierre Laffite managed to escape the Patterson-Ross raid that arrived the morning of Sept. 16, taking refuge at  a plantation along the German Coast above New Orleans. They would remain there until sometime in mid December, when a deal would be struck with Jackson and Claiborne to provide men and supplies to assist the American forces. Captured in the raid were Dominique You and about 80 other Baratarians, who would spend nearly three months in the Cabildo jail before getting amnesty to serve under Jackson. Per Laffite’s order, Dominique made sure that none of the Baratarians at Grande Terre fired a single shot at the Americans. The raid netted five of the fast privateer schooners the British had so desired, with Patterson ordering another one, the Cometa, burned as it wasn’t ready to sail yet. Those five ships would spend several months at dock in New Orleans, and were not used to fight against the British, so effectively they had been negated. It seems odd how this played into the British scheme for Barataria. It took the men of the 44th a week to thoroughly comb through the wreckage for all the prize goods.

If Jean Laffite had decided, like Lockyer and Percy wished, to hand over the privateer schooners to the British, the first Battle of Fort Bowyer might have been won by the British, who would have proceeded from there to Baton Rouge, and down to New Orleans by the river and land, according to their campaign strategy. If Patterson and Ross had not destroyed Barataria and confiscated those privateer ships, the Baratarians could have assisted the American gunboats to rout the British warships from even approaching Lake Borgne; they also could have woven around  and worried the heavy British ships from disembarking troops to attack Fort Bowyer.

The British visit to Laffite set in motion a chain of events, a domino effect, that resulted in the American victory at the Battle of New Orleans. The “what ifs’ of history are myriad: the results are what the true patriots create.

Today, almost exactly 200 years later, the area of Grande Terre where the British sat down with Laffite at his home is under the oily sludge-stained waters of an encroaching Barataria Bay. Soon, the island will be swept over into oblivion as hurricanes and time take their toll, but the memory of what happened there will live on.

FOR FURTHER READING:

Davis, William C.  The Pirates Laffite, the Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf. Harcourt, 2005.

Latour, Arsene Lacarriere. Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-15. Expanded edition, The Historic New Orleans Collection and University Press of Florida, 1999.

 

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