Brave Lafitte, The
DESCRIPTION: "Each young land bird I'm sure has heard Of the ocean lamb and wolf," for Lafitte/Laffite is known by both titles. His piracy makes him rich, and he brings a girl to his island home. He is attacked near home, and his girl killed; he vows revenge
EARLIEST DATE: 1850 (The Forecastle Songster, according to Frank-NewBookOfPirateSongs)
KEYWORDS: pirate death revenge disguise cross-dressing
c. 1809-1821 - Career of Jean Laffite
FOUND IN: US
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Thompson-BodyBootsAndBritches-NewYorkStateFolktales, pp. 41-43, "The Brave Lafitte" (1 text)
Frank-NewBookOfPirateSongs 68, "The Brave Lafitte" (1 text; #41 in the first edition)
NOTES [251 words]: Much of this song is "sort of true." The Dictionary of American Biography gives a brief account of the life of Jean Laffite (the DAB spelling). He and his brother Pierre were real pirates, probably of French origin; by 1809 he was operating in the Gulf of Mexico and marketing his wares in New Orleans. In 1814, as the British prepared to attack New Orleans, they tried to bring Laffite to their side. Instead, he sided with the Americans, and helped fight off the British in the New Orleans campaign of 1814-1815; the Lafittes were given pardons as a result.
That didn't make them good citizens, though. If this song refers to anything, it is either to an attack by the Americans on Laffite in 1814, or more likely an attack in 1821, which ended with Laffite burning his island settlement and sailing away. His eventual fate is unknown.
In neither case is there any evidence of a girlfriend who is killed while in disguise. This appears to derive not from actual history but from popular journalism; Jan Rogozinsky, Pirates, Facts on File, 1995; republished as The Wordsworth Dictionary of Pirates, Wordsworth, 1997, p. 189, tells us that "Novels and fictional biographies have heightened the romantic elements" in his life, As examples he cites Byron's "The Corsair" and Joseph Ingraham's 1836 story "Lafitte, the Pirate of the Gulf." According to Rogozinsky, p. 190, Ingraham's book tells of Lafitte being "Redeemed by the love of a good woman." So I would guess that it is the source of this song. - RBW
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