A Galveston Island Pirate Festival?



I’m not sure if your history lessons have included the infamous Jean Laffite, the privateer who, with his brother Pierre, raided British and Spanish ships in the Gulf of Mexico, but if you are a Texan, you should know about this pair of brothers! Together they originally made berth in New Orleans, believing their piratical atrocities against non-US ships would earn them pardon. As history shows, the pair was run out by our own US government, despite them never having attacked a single US ship. But the US feared that harboring a “pirate” wanted by the British and Spanish Crowns was a risk they couldn’t afford, especially considering the volatile state Britain and Spain have existed in during those same years. The US wanted no part in the wars they’ve fought against each other.

So, the Lafitte brothers fled the United States before they could be turned over to England or Spain, and Jean Laffite hid on the eastern side of Galveston Island, in a home then called “Campeche,” as it was still part of what was then known as Spanish Texas. He lived on the Island, first acting as a spy for Spain shortly after the time Mexico declared its freedom from Spain, in the hopes of perhaps a Spanish pardon: one that never came. This double denial of pardons brought some historians to believe that Lafitte turned his back on Spain, too, and fought for Texas’s freedom from Mexico. Galveston remains to this day the final home of the infamous pirate Jean Lafitte. Who inevitably met his end attacking a warship disguised as a merchant ship off the coast of South America. Though Lafitte’s body remains in the care of Davy Jones, his final home still remains in the care of Galveston Island, Texas to this day.

The bouncing loyalty of Jean Laffite and his brother Pierre make Galveston the perfect place for a Pirate Festival: to remember the island’s pirate history and what Texas overcame—leading up to 1836, from ending its Mexican ties as “Spanish Texas” and leading to the Republic of Texas becoming the 28th state in the US in 1845. Jean Laffite was a major part of that turn in history. It’s why I feel it necessary to honor his service—even if it was piracy—to the Republic of Texas and to Texas as a US state.

Jean Laffite’s likeness, among other attributes, inspired the character Captain Keelhaul in my Gup the Sailor novels. Paintings of this man were what I drew from in order to describe what my fictitious, yet sympathetic villain would look like. Despite my admiration for Jean Laffite as a historical figure, I wanted his perpetually in flux loyalty, and inner turmoil, along with his likeness, to embody the character of Captain Keelhaul. my hope is that through Keelhaul’s character, my novel proves to hold a bit of adulation for the memory of this particular pirate, and how much he helped shaped the great state of Texas.