This Sunday marks the 197th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans. One of the heroes of that historic battle is the pirate Jean Lafitte.
It was a brutal battle to save New Orleans. Although outnumbered three to one, American troops led by Andrew Jackson crushed an army of up to 14,000 British soldiers at Chalmette. firing some of the American cannons was a group of privateers turned patriots led by the pirate Jean Lafitte.
"A few months before the battle, the British went to Grand Terre and tried to get Lafitte to help them in these upcoming battles. Now at this time Lafitte decided to send some feelers if you want to call it that so some people in New Orleans saying that the British are trying to get me to help them, but I'd rather help you guys," says Jack Henckels with The National Park Service.
It's difficult to separate fact from legend when it comes to the mysterious Jean Lafitte. The 1938 movie "The Buccaneer" tells a tale of adventure and romance. Lafitte and his band of Baratarians used the bayous between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico to smuggle slaves and stolen goods into the city.
"President Madison offered a pardon to these pirates that was helping us in the battle. At the same time they were offered a pardon. The courts dropped any criminal charges against these pirates and that's what actually freed most of these men," Henckels said.
Jean Lafitte and his Baratarians had their base of operations on the Louisiana coast. And on Grand Isle, there are families who are direct descendants of those pirates.
"This is the sword that I first discovered in my grandfather's shed out in the back," says Pat Landry, a descendant of the Baratarian Pirates.
It was that sword and his grandfather's stories that got Pat Landry interested in pirates.
"This was from our relatives that fought and was part of Jean Lafitte's crew, " Landry said.
Linda Corley, Landry's cousin, has spent years digging through 200 year old records tracing the family history.
"Supposedly the Baratarians were numbered over a thousand and all lived right here," Corley said. "We have four or five pirates in the family, great great great grandparent pirates and Baratarians."
Lafitte operated on Grand Terre Island located just off the eastern tip of Grand Isle. Corley points to a map she found in an old book that shows what Grand Terre may have looked like.
"I bet it's pretty accurate….there was even a hospital plus Lafitte's fort and his house" she says.
There is little evidence of what existed on the island.
Landry and friends have dug up pieces of old dinner ware from the shoreline of Grand Terre.
"This is pottery from Lafitte's stronghold on Grand Terre," Corley said.
The cousins have found buried treasure of sorts, their research has brought to life stories of pirates that come from a pivotal moment in our history when pirates became heroes.
There is still a lot of mystery surrounding Jean Lafitte. He left Louisiana and moved to Galveston, Texas. No one is sure where he died, if he left any buried treasure, and if Lafitte is even is real name.
For more information on Lafitte and his legacy, go online to http://www.nps.gov/jela/index.htm or http://www.nps.gov/jela/historyculture/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&PageID=303972
Meantime, battle re-enactments are taking place this Friday through Sunday at the Chalmette battlefield to mark the 197th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans. You can find info on this week'