Jean Lafitte a man who dressed in high style and polished boots, described himself as handsome, generous, honest, ambitious and unresponsible for the deeds committed by others. He wrote that he never pretended to be anything but a liberator of the suffering masses. His reward was that of undergoing periods of exile, imprisonment, false judgments and sufferings caused by autocratic people.
Whether one judged him to be a private or privateer, he was a colorful character who was known for his adages such as a “noisy parrot repeats what he hears” or “poverty is the forerunner of crime and ignorance the forerunner of all evil.” At social gatherings, the ladies were eager to engage in conversation with him.
Based on the privateer’s own story, this writer is of the opinion that we can fantasize that Jean Lafitte and possibly his men have traversed what is now Beauregard Parish.
Going back in time, let’s take a look at Aaron Cherry, an ancestor of a number of Beauregard Parish residents such as the Hickman’s, Loftin’s, Shirley’s, Welborn, and Iles.
For serving in the Army during the American Revolution, Aaron was given land in Ohio. But Aaron dreamed of seeking his fortune and organized a party to embark on a flat boat to float down the Ohio River into the Mississippi River and eventually landed in Galveston in 1819.
Jean Lafitte was in possession of Galveston Island and at that time Aaron and Jean became friends. The so-called pirate gave them no trouble, because they were from the United States.
Jean contended he operated under letters of Marque issued by a country at war with rival nations such as England, France, Spain, and Mexico. Louisiana issued these privateer licenses and considered it a legitimate enterprise.
The privateers were granted permission to capture the ships and cargo of the countries with which the issuing country was at war. The privateers usually gave 20-25% of the spoils to the country issuing the letter. If captured, the privateers were to be treated as military personnel and not as outlaws.
President Madison made a proclamation in 1815 granting pardon to Jean on the grounds that he and his men had rendered good and loyal service to the country.
It is recorded in the book of American State Papers Public Lands that Aaron Cherry owned land in No Man’s Land before moving to Drews Landing on the Trinity River in what is now Liberty County Texas. Certainly we could assume that Jean and Aaron met more than the one time in Galveston or there would be no mention in history about a friendship?
It was later written that anyone could get a fight out of old Aaron Cherry, after he was 75 years old and with hair as white as cotton, by arguing that Jean LaFitte was a pirate.
According to Claims to Land between the Rio Hondo and Sabine Rivers, the public lands were situated in St. Landry Parish until 1840. At that time old Imperial Calcasieu was created which included the area of Beauregard later to become our Parish. According to sworn statement, Aaron Cherry cultivated about 10 acres in corn, pumpkins, etc since the year 1818.
Also recorded as land claims, 52,390 acres were issued to Cezere and Louis Lafitte and 11,393 issued to Pierre Lafitte.
Then we have the account recorded by Jean LaFitte about making the trip to Alexandria Louisiana. Did he go by water, did he travel by land and cross to Alexandria by one of the main points of entry or did he follow Indian trails such as the Atakapa traveled to get to Alexandria. Then we have record of Jean using two small rivers, Calcasieu and Mermenteau for transporting goods to Alexandria. Also written by Jean is the fact that he had business agents in Alexandria.
The main Sabine River crossings were the famous El Camino Real (King’s Highway) from Natchitoches, “Upper Route” from Shreveport and “Lower” Route, from Opelousas called “The Old Beef Trail” because it was used to drive thousands of cattle from Texas to Alexandria for shipment to cities such as New Orleans. Hickman Ferry was a shipping point for areas as far west as Burkeville.
There could have been other access points but recorded Sabine River Ports from Sabine Pass in river mileage were Belgrade, 171 miles; Stark’s Landing 191 miles; Loftin Ferry and Bayou Lanacoco 220 miles; Hickman’s Ferry 252 miles; Burnham’s Landing 261 miles; and Burr’s Ferry 281 miles.
The Sabine River with the protection of the No Man’s Land that existed 15 years, became Jean LaFitte’s back door to the United States. It is known that Jean LaFitte made many trips up and down the Sabine River to trade food and goods from captured Spanish and British ships.
When they disbanded Campeachy at Galveston, the LaFitte’s were not restricted to traveling by water. Most of the families went north and settled along the Sabine River in the former Neutral Zone territory that included the settlement of some along the Calcasieu River. Pierre went up the Sabine River as far as Alexandria and stayed there until July 1825.
According to the Privateer’s Journal, each week, Pierre and Jean washed their heads with potash and gunpowder which made their hair, eyebrows, and mustaches a beautiful red color and made them look like British subjects. They kept changing their names and the disguise was effective. By this time they were no longer licensed privateers and they no longer seized British ships.
As written by Jean Lafitte, stories had been circulated in Louisiana and brought to him by friends that he had hidden silver and gold along the Gulf Coast. He wrote: “It is true, there are things hidden here and there, but I haven’t the slightest idea of the exact spots, nor would I wish to waste time trying to recover lost valuables or buried treasure.”
According to legend as told by Gussie Townsley, her great-grandfather and other men found silver which they melted down and made into silver coins.
Gussie Townsley, Merryville folk artist has done a painting in her style entitled “New Silver Dollars.” As written by Gussie: “A small group of men took a death oath not to tell anyone where the silver was coming from. That was right after the civil war in 1870 and 80.
My great-grandpa, Theophilus Hickman, and great-grandma’s brother, Brown Welborn, were two of the small group of men under this death oath never to reveal where the silver came from.
My mother, being the first grandchild, has often told me about her grandpa coming home with his shot sack full of fresh minted dollars, still warm, and pouring them in her lap for her to play with.
Many have searched for this silver, but no one ever found any of it.
Some say it was wagon loads of silver bars from Mexico taken over during the war. Others say there is a real silver mine hidden away.”
By what routes and conveyance did Jean Lafitte make the trip to Alexandria?
How often did Lafitte slip up and down the Sabine in his schooner and stop in villages along the river? How often and where did he bury silver plate and bars? Certainly, those with a spirit of adventure can envision secrets never revealed.
Quote by Jean Lafitte: “Never tell the same story several times, for only the less intelligent people blow their own trumpets.