Avast Matey!

We at Unique Nola are proud of our crew of expert guides, we search the Seven Seas for the best stories from our history and could easily make lesser crews walk the plank. What’s going on? This week we want to speak about Pirates, of course.

Pirates Alley runs along the upriver side of St. Louis Cathedral. It got its name from the times when the pirates would sell their booty outside of church on Sunday mornings. 

Technically, what they were doing wasn’t illegal. The law said any ship attacking an enemy ship (the English) could keep what they got off the boat. It made sense because we didn’t have much of a navy, and it encouraged private citizens to protect our coast. Which is why they didn’t call themselves pirates, but privateers.



Mikko Macchione

Tour Guide with Unique NOLA Tours and Author of books about New Orleans.

New Orleans Rum: A Decadent History

The most infamous of these guys were the legendary Jean and Pierre Lafitte. They came here around 1802, and as they were Frenchmen they were instant stars. At first it was great because they brought in silk, spices, rum, Amazon gift cards and more. 


He headquartered on a now-washed away island called Barataria — which is sort of Spanish for “Cheap stuff place.” He built his enclave of about 100 men and women and seven ships. The next door island, Grand Isle, most certainly has descendants of the pirates.


In 1808 the United States outlawed the importation of slaves, so the pirates started attacking slave ships. This was bad news for hundreds of enslaved people, as the buccaneers cared little for the victims’ safety. Eventually, Lafitte would be selling human beings from outdoor cages.


In 1815, during the pivotal Battle of New Orleans, Lafitte loaned tons of cannons and a bunch of men to the effort. He, himself, did not participate. It is hard to deny that Lafitte proved to be a hero for the battle. It is also easy to see that he opportunistically chose the side he figured would win, and would have the most to gain from. The scant verified quotes and stories about him all point to a greedy, rabbit-eared, sociopathic prima donna. It is reasonable to wonder if history will turn less and less kind to him.


Nevertheless, Johnny Depp looks cute in eyeliner, so the swashbuckling buccaneer anti-hero image remains. We have a Lafitte Street, a Lafitte bike path, tons of bars and hotels featuring some version of the name, Lafitte National Park, and the town of Lafitte.


After a hurricane devastated their island, the corsairs shoved off for Galveston, a Texas island where they continued operations until the early 1820s. As the US Navy got stronger, the privateers, including Jean Lafitte, disappeared into the bounding main of history.