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The Lost Gentleman

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Behind the Scenes

The Pirate Overlord

Captain Jean Lafitte – a real pirate of the Caribbean
In The Lost Gentleman Kate and her crew have an alliance with the pirate overlord Jean Lafitte. Lafitte is a real historical figure. Although much of the detail of his early life is unclear he is thought to have been born in France around 1782. He, and his older half brother, Pierre, left France and journeyed via the French Caribbean island of San Domingue (now Haiti), to eventually settle in New Orleans. The city has a multi-national history, having been founded by the French in 1718, ceded to the Spanish in 1762, reclaimed by Napoleon in 1801, and sold to the United States of America as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

Two brothers – the pirate and the businessman
Pierre was the brains and the schemer of the two brothers. He was the buyer and seller, the trader and businessman. He was no sailor and largely stayed on land. Jean was the action guy, the sea captain, sailing the oceans of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean as a pirate. Both brothers also dealt in smuggling.

What did the pirate Lafitte look like?
Jean is described as being over 6 ft in height and well proportioned. He had a pale complexion, dark eyes and hair, and unusually white teeth. He seems to have been a bit of a David Beckam when it came to fashion and coolness, and was fluent in French, English and Spanish.

A nest of pirates in Barataria Bay
The brothers were the leaders of a band of pirates based in Barataria Bay, just south of New Orleans. Jean and his men preyed mainly on Spanish shipping, using Pierre’s warehouses to offload and store their plunder before selling it to Louisiana merchants. But this changed with the 1812 war between Britain and America when Jean Lafitte used false means to acquire letters of marque to attack British shipping.

Pirates and privateers as patriots?
Kate might be forgiven for being fooled into thinking Jean Lafitte an honourable man. He and his men made a difference to the economy in New Orleans. Some viewed the pirates/privateers as patriots, working against the enemy for Louisiana’s good – overcoming international trade blocks to offer goods at reasonable prices to people who needed them. However there were other, darker, aspects to their characters that made them less than honourable, as Kate finds out in the story.

A view through Kate's spyglass

The Battle of New Orleans
Jean Lafitte is most famous for his role in defending New Orleans against British attack a few years after the close of The Lost Gentleman. In 1814 a British fleet had blockaded New Orleans at the mouth of the Mississippi Delta. But Lafitte’s knowledge of hidden local waterways meant his movements were not curtailed, a fact eventually noticed by the British who then approached the pirate with a bribe if he would help them attack the city. Lafitte feigned agreement but warned the Louisiana Governor of the British plan and went on to help successfully defend the city against the subsequent British attack at the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815.

Piracy in the blood and Galveston
In recognition of this action President Madison officially pardoned Lafitte and his pirates. But piracy must have been in his blood because he refused to give it up. He moved instead to Galveston, Texas, where he continued the same way of life, eventually attacking even American ships. The American navy responded by destroying Galveston and its pirate base in 1820. Lafitte escaped but his end is unclear. According to one theory he fled south, eventually becoming a privateer for the Colombian navy and dying in 1823 during an act of privateering.

The 'Jolly Roger'

Pirates versus Privateers
A pirate is a robber upon the sea. A privateer was a pirate ‘licensed’ by his or her own government or head of state during times of war. The licence was termed a ‘letter of marque’ and it granted the bearer the right to attack and plunder shipping of enemy states.

Letters of marque
Letters of marque were sometimes referred to as letters of reprisal. They usually meant that the privateer could keep the profits from the enemy cargo, weapons and ships (jointly termed the prize) that he captured. Sometimes the letters specified that the governments were entitled to a portion of the prize.

An effective strategy of war
Privateering was considered an effective strategy of war because it meant that a government could attack enemy shipping on the cheap, using private ships instead of their national navies. This had a huge negative impact on enemy trade and commerce and was especially useful for countries that did not have established and powerful navies, such as was the case for the USA at the time of Kit and Kate’s story.

And a lucrative business for the privateer
Enemy ships were usually towed back to specified ports where they were ‘bought’ to be used in the national navy. This coupled with the monies raised from captured cargo meant that privateering could be a very lucrative business, as both Jean Lafitte and his brother, Pierre, proved.

Is Kate a pirate or a privateer?
At the start of the The Lost Gentleman, America has not yet declared war on Britain and so Kate is a pirate rather than a privateer.

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