The infamous pirate Jean Lafitte may have left treasure behind when he shuffled off his mortal coil. But where?
The fact is, pirates rarely buried treasure. They split it up and spent it as fast as they got it. The classic pirate of yore only got two shares of loot compared to everyone else, the extra share for his duties as captain. Similarly, navigators and any other indispensable personnel might get an extra share. And absolutely no one was likely to just give up his claim on a share of the loot so the captain could bury it.
Lafitte was in an exceptional situation. For years he operated out of New Orleans, later out of Texas. No one knows for certain where or how he died. It may have been aboard ship of illness in the Carribean, of fever in Mexico or in 1854 as a reinvented businessman using the name of Jean Lafitte in the Illinois city of Alton on the Mississippi River. Or somewhere else.
During his career, however, Lafitte did amass a personal fortune.
Lafitte Builds a Nest Egg
Lafitte's background is unclear until his arrival in New Orleans, as a captain of the French privateer La Soeur Cherie. Here he established himself as what today we would call a fence, profitably dealing in goods procured by pirates through the blacksmith shop he and his brother Pierra operated.
Gradually, he acquired control of the pirates who operated out of Barataria, an island haven located on the Gulf coast south of New Orleans, and became identified as a privateer. That's a legal pirate who operates for one country against another under documents called "letters of marque" and shares the loot with the sponsor, who also benefits by seeing the enemy financially weakened. Lafitte sailed against Spain under the flag of recently independent Cartagena, now part of Colombia.
He resold the goods looted from the ships at secret, but well-attended, open-air markets in the bayous around New Orleans. The Buccaneer, a movie with Yul Brynner as Lafitte, depicts one of those bayou black markets in it's introductory scenes.
Lafitte's pirates sided with General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans, despite a generous offer from the British of cash and a captaincy in the Royal Navy and an initial rebuff in the form of an armed attack to destroy Barataria. He and his men won pardons, but soon returned to their ways and eventually left Baratara, now called Grand Terre Island. with him went his fortune.
At Padre Island in Texas, Lafitte resumed his piracy. Among other things, Lafitte's pirates became wreckers, putting up lights to lure in unsuspecting ships and overwhelming them when they ran aground in the sand. Lafitte went on to Galveston Island Lafitte called Campeachy. No longer confined by the rules set out in his letters of marque, Lafitte ruled from his fortress at Maison Rouge, sending out a force of 1,000 followers to plunder ships throughout the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea.
In 1820, the U.S. Navy finally dispatched a military force against Lafitte. Lafitte packed his fortune into the Pride and sailed off into oblivion.
The Lafitte Treasure
The mysteries about Lafitte extend to his fortune. It's felt he buried it, because it made his ship, the Pride, a target as long as it was aboard. But did he ever get a chance to retrieve it and spend it?
Where could he have buried it? Padre Island is one possibility, a popular site for treasure hunters, if only because of the well-known habit of storms washing English and Spanish coins ashore. Of course, as a former home, it's a pretty obvious target.
Mexican silver ingots worth $2,000,000 were looted from the Spanish brig Santa which was sunk. In 1816, the silver was sent by wagon train from Maison Rouge to a hiding place along Trammel's Trace, but getting no farther than Hendricks Lake near Galveston where Spanish soldiers bent on recovering the loot attacked. Horses were freed from the seven wagons and the wagons went sailing down a hill and into the lake where they disappeared. Flash forward to 1920 where fishermen brought up three silver bars, amazingly not recovered. Efforts have since been made to find more but without success.
When Lafitte abandoned Campeachy aborad the Pride, the ship was pursued by a U.S. Navy gunboat which picked them up off Corpus Christi. Lafitte evaded by sailing up the Lavaca River where it grounded on a sandbar. The ship was scuttled and the pirate band hauled the treasure off. At one point in the salt marshes, a put was dug and the treasurer buried, with a brass rod jammed into the ground to mark the spot, only it's tip protruding.
Reportedly, a ranchhand many years later found the rod, pulled it out and took it back to the main house to show his find. The spot where it was pulled could never be relocated.
Rumors place Lafitte treasure at the plantation of the the d'Estrehan family, friends of Lafitte who lived upriver from New Orleans. They also suggest a Louisiana land formation confusingly referred to as Pecan Island, a ridge once covered by pecan trees, and, at one time, human bones believe left by Lafitte. Some say it could even be somewhere in Galvez Town between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
With little to go on but the irresistable scent of gold, the search still continues for the treasure of the pirate Lafitte.