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home : community : community February 27, 2021

2/12/2021 2:24:00 PM
Jean Laffite Book Sheds Light On Mysterious Pirate
(Left) An artist’s rendering of how Laffite is thought to have looked in life. (Right) The book’s cover is singularly indicative of Laffite’s story: moonlight, masted ships, mendacity and mystery.
(Photos Courtesy Dr. Ashley Oliphant)

(Left) An artist’s rendering of how
Laffite is thought to have looked in life.
(Right) The book’s cover is singularly
indicative of Laffite’s story: moonlight,
masted ships, mendacity and mystery.

(Photos Courtesy Dr. Ashley Oliphant)

Dr. Ashley Oliphant is joined here on the left by her mother, Beth Yarbrough. The two have co-written the soon-to-be-released Jean Laffite Revealed, a biography of America’s most mysterious pirate. 
Dr. Ashley Oliphant is joined here
on the left by her mother, Beth Yarbrough.
The two have co-written the soon-to-be-
released Jean Laffite Revealed, a biography
of America’s most mysterious pirate. 


Thomas Lark
Staff Writer


DENVER––Here’s a book that will shiver your timbers.

Piracy has been with us, a fact of life in maritime nations, for long millennia. It remains alive and well to this day, all over the world. But most folks, when they think of piracy, surely conjure up the images of its golden age, which lasted some 80 years and ended not quite three centuries ago.

Yet just 200 years ago, there were privateers and buccaneers plying their piratical trade along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Texas and down into the Caribbean and beyond. And among the most notorious were the Frenchmen, Jean and Pierre Laffite. Most English-language documents of the time referred to these dangerous brothers as “Lafitte,” a spelling more consistent with their Gallic background. Yet curiously, they themselves spelled it “Laffite.” And that’s just one of the many mysteries surrounding les frères Laffite.

A wealthy smuggler who rose up from an impoverished and mysterious background, Jean Laffite was possessed of aristocratic manners and sartorial tastes, thus setting himself apart from the garden-variety cutthroats and riffraff who populated the Louisiana coast and crewed the area’s sailing vessels (many of them pirate ships) in the early 1800’s. With his long hair, moustache and enormous rings in both ears, Laffite cut an unforgettable figure, and he truly was a kind of rock star for his day. He loved wine, women and winning, and he was very good at looking after number-one. His sense of allegiance was fluid, as was the case with countless pirates, and he variously fought against American, British and Spanish forces as he saw personal circumstances dictate and when he found it expedient to do so. But he is generally remembered for fighting alongside Andrew Jackson and helping the Americans defeat the British at the Battle of New Orléans in 1815.



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Laffite had his own little kingdom on an island in Barataria Bay, just off the coast of the Crescent City. It was a den of thieves: a place of pirates, smugglers, ill-gotten booty and men of ill repute. When the governor offered $500 (a huge amount in those days) for Laffite’s capture, the wily pirate cheekily offered thrice that sum for the capture of the governor.

Then, at some point in the early 1820’s, Laffite pulled a disappearing act. To this day, his fate remains unknown. Did he die of a fever in Mexico? Did he die in one his many pirate raids along the Central American coast? Or did he, to escape his many enemies, make his way to an obscure backwater near Charlotte––a village called Lincolnton, far away from the sea and seafaring men––there to live out his days under the nom-de-guerre of Lorenzo Ferrer and be buried in the cemetery of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church?

Well, now you can read all about that and other such mysteries in Jean Laffite Revealed: Unravelling One of America’s Longest-Running Mysteries. The new book, set to come out next month, is co-written by Dr. Ashley Oliphant of Denver, an English professor at Pfeiffer University, and her mother, noted author and artist Beth Yarbrough.

The two ladies told The Lincoln Herald more about their efforts this week. They explained that Jean Laffite Revealed takes a fresh look at the various myths and legends surrounding one of the last great pirates. Beginning in 1805, the book traces Laffite through his rise to power as a privateer and smuggler in the Gulf, his involvement in the Battle of New Orléans, his flight to Texas and his eventual disappearance in the waters of the Caribbean. With stunning revelations, this book picks up the trail from there: a trail that no one knew existed until now. This carefully researched work is a bona fide wild ride that will silence long-held speculation about Laffite’s ultimate fate.

Lincoln Herald: “What inspired you to write about Laffite?”
Yarbrough: “We both had a longstanding interest in pirates in general. Ashley had read numerous books on the subject and had actually completed a good bit of research on the life of Jean Laffite in particular, thinking that it might some day turn into a book. We were in New Orléans on a trip that was part pleasure and part Laffite research for her, when we began discussing the old legend of Lorenzo Ferrer. When we returned home, we began doing some local research, thinking it couldn’t hurt. It didn’t take long for us to make our first few discoveries, and we realized there was much more to the story than had ever been revealed before.” 

LH: “How long did the writing process last?”
Yarbrough: “We researched and wrote for two years. The first year was research-heavy, and the second year was focused mostly on writing. Some of the chapters in the book were written entirely by Ashley. Some were entirely by me, and many of them were joint efforts, often from one sentence to the next. We also reviewed each other’s drafts and made suggestions for changes as we saw the need.

“Writing a book jointly is a much different experience from writing independently. We managed to strike a good balance early in the process. Our approach was not strictly academic but rather a mix of academically referenced and sourced material, presented in narrative form so that the reader would not only receive the facts but would also be allowed to come along with us as we recount the journey of discovering them. The book is an adventure in itself.” 

LH: “Where did you do your research?”
Oliphant: “Our research took us to seven states. We corresponded with scholars and experts all over the country and in one foreign country. We spent concentrated time in state and city archival repositories, historical collections, private collections, courthouses, numerous county offices and libraries of all sorts, ranging from large university research libraries to small-town public libraries. Much of the critical information that we uncovered was located in archives that had never been digitized in any way and would never have been found on the Internet. We often ended up looking through volumes of records more than 200 years old, written in faded ink on fragile paper. Had we not physically traveled to each location and manually searched through the volumes that were too old to catalogue, one page at a time, we would have missed large pieces of this story.

“One very distant courthouse basement in particular will always stand out in our minds, because we came out of there covered in at least a hundred year’s worth of dust! And yet we came out with a very important piece of our puzzle.”

LH:
“What time period does the book encompass?”
Oliphant: “The book covers the period of history from the late 18th to the late 19th century. The last section of the book focuses on the documents and artifacts related to Lincolnton specifically.

“There are several chapters in the book devoted entirely to the known historical facts of Jean Laffite’s life, including his time in the Gulf and the Caribbean as a privateer, the Battle of New Orléans, his subsequent time in Galveston, Texas, and much more. The book offers a thorough and comprehensive summary of the known Laffite timeline and all that it involved.” 

LH: “And what’s the truth behind the rumors of Jean Laffite ending up in Lincoln County?”
Oliphant: “There are also several chapters in the book that deal directly with the subject of Lincoln County, including new information that we were able to uncover here during the course of our research. The book offers our theory about whether Lorenzo Ferrer was Jean Laffite living under an assumed name.” 

Upcoming presentations
Oliphant added that two book-related presentations would be held March 6, at 1 p.m. and again at 3 p.m., at the Lincoln Cultural Center.

Tickets are available now through Eventbrite: www.eventbrite.com/e/laffite-revealed-presentation-and-book-signing-tickets-141292063365. Each presentation is limited to 25 people. Book-signings will follow both. Tickets are $5 each, and they will benefit the Lincoln County Historical Association.

“Participants will get the chance to see some of the original documents and artifacts we discovered,” said Oliphant.

And tickets for a twilight walking tour in historic downtown Lincolnton will be available soon for $5. Both authors will narrate the tour. Various documents and artifacts relating to Lincoln County’s part in the mystery will be displayed at the various stops, and a book-signing will follow.

Books are $20 at and available through the Website at www.alcottfarm.net. They will be shipped the week of March 6. Books will be released by national retailers on March 15.

“We negotiated with our publisher (University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press) to give Lincoln County residents a sneak peek!” Oliphant revealed. 

More about the writers
Oliphant has written elsewhere about Ernest Hemingway and how he essentially invented professional sport-fishing. Her novel, A Key West Revival: In Search of Jimmy Buffett, is also a big hit. She is known for her abiding love of Key West and all things beach-related. And she is known for her deep love of animals. In recent years, Oliphant was among the local animal activists instrumental in making the Lincoln County Animal Shelter a no-kill shelter.

And herself a seasoned and successful author, Yarbrough is also an artist and photographer. Her depictions of historic homes and structures across the South are featured on her Website, Southern Voice, and in her extensive collection of published calendars and fine art prints. Additionally, her licensed artwork in the home décor industry is entering its fourth decade of success, having reached millions of consumers worldwide, via manufacturers and such retailers as Target, Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, Lowe’s, Home Dépôt, Hobby Lobby, Cracker Barrel and more. From her home base in North Carolina, Yarbrough travels the backroads of the South in search of great architecture, interesting stories and slices of Southern culture that are a daily delight to her thousands of followers on Facebook and Instagram.


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Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, February 13, 2021
Article comment by: beth yarbrough

Thank you, Thomas. We're looking forward to sharing what we have found:-)



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