Wednesday, September 2, 2009

People: "The Intrepid Hero of a Hundred Battles"

The Pirate Guys, John "Ol' Chumbucket" Bauer and Mark "Cap'n Slappy" Summers always impressed me for inventing and then promoting the hell out of International Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept. 19th; be ready!). But they didn't really win a place in Pauline's cool heart until their book "Pirattitude" came out in 2005. Among the sidebars of famous pirates scattered throughout was not only Jean Laffite (name spelled correctly!) but a privateer that your humble hostess holds as dear as her own Uncle Renato Beluche. There on page 85 was Dominique Frederic You (or Youx, as it is written on his grave so we're gonna go with that).

Youx was born at some point but no one knows when or where. A lot of speculation has gone into the origins of this little guy who, though stocky and muscular stood only five feet tall. There is an entire school of thought - particularly among those who see the bogus "Diary of Jean Lafitte" as gospel - that Youx was in fact Pierre and Jean Laffite's much older brother. OK, I could go on and on but instead let me just say that a man named Laffite wouldn't have Youx put on his grave and a man named Laffite wouldn't write a diary and then misspell his own name. Honestly!

Youx's origins seem to stem from Haiti, where he is rumored to have fought as an artillerist with the French Army during the slave rebellion. Whether the story is true or not is another thing that's up for debate, but Youx never quelled the idea once he made it to Louisiana. William C. Davis, in his exhaustively researched and engaging book "The Pirates Laffite" has Youx sailing as a French privateer out of the island of Guadaloupe in 1806. Here, according to Davis, Youx took part in the defense of the port of Baracoa against the British.

Again, documentation is scarce but by 1810 the Caribbean islands of Guadaloupe and Martinique had fallen to the British and Youx, like so many others, turned to Cartagena for a letter of marque that would allow him to ply his trade in the Gulf with some semblance of legality. By this time, too, he had begun taking his prizes to the Laffite port of Barataria and his relationship with the brothers was well known in New Orleans and elsewhere. He was the Laffite brothers' "most trusted Lieutenant" and the close friend and sometimes partner of their possible cousin, Beluche.

By 1813, when the Laffites were at the top of their game, Youx's name was synonymous with their operation. Vincent Nolte, a leading merchant in New Orleans and no friend of the Laffites for all the business they were taking from him, wrote rather petulantly at this time of the brothers and their buddies walking arm in arm down the city's streets with no fear of reprisal from the law. He complains of seeing Jean Laffite in particular with "Beluche, Dominique and Gambi... walking about publicly. They had... their depots of goods &c., in the city and sold, almost openly, the wares they had obtained by piracy". Grumpy son of a gun, that Nolte.

Of course, nothing lasts forever and in September of 1814 Commodore Patterson of the New Orleans Naval Station raided Barataria, took ships as prizes and arrested anyone he could catch. The Laffites, tipped off by someone in the know, left their base and put Youx in charge. Instructed not to engage the Americans he instead set flame to everything he could and was brutally treated in prison for his trouble. He was chained heavily and - when Andrew Jackson finally agreed to release the Bartarians in exchange for their assistance at the Battle of New Orleans - Youx needed some time to recover before he was ready to fight against the British once again.

On January 8, 1815, Dominique Youx and Renato Beluche stood side by side overlooking the British on Chalmette plain south of New Orleans. The final battle of the War of 1812 was at hand and each man commanded a Baratarian crew working two twenty-four pound cannon. They were the infamous Battery Number 3 that decimated the British and were lauded by General Jackson in a public address some weeks later.

The erroneous story goes that the Treaty of Ghent had already been signed the previous December and so the war was over and the battle meant nothing. In fact, the US Congress had not yet ratified the treaty which contained a "clause ante bellum". The clause would have ceded any North American territory occupied by the British to them, meaning they would have been granted control of the Mississippi. American shipping through New Orleans would have been closed down, the new country would have been starved out and there you are with that whole "Colonists vs King George" nightmare all over again. Youx, Beluche and their boys are some of the most under-appreciated heroes in American history. Period.

After the war, Youx returned to the sea. There is documentation of him working with Beluche in and around Jamaica in 1816 and he surely brought prizes into Galveston when it was a Laffite port between 1816 and 1821. By 1823, though, the old sailor had lost his taste for the trade and he bought a small place in New Orlean's Faubourg Marigny where he tried to make a go of running a coffee shop. The place didn't make much in the way of money but Youx is still remembered in the city as a delightful character who always had a smile and a story to tell. His many wounds caught up with him and he died after a painful illness in 1830, so poor that the city and the local Freemasons paid for his funeral.

Davis notes that people remembered "'Captain Dominique' as a man 'to whom fortune had never been very favorable.'" Interestingly, though, he is thought of now as kind of a local spirit in New Orleans and people leave offerings and candles at his grave in St. Louis Cemetery No.2, which is shown above. The inscription on the sepulchre translates from French in part "...the intrepid hero of a hundred battles on land and sea who, without fear and without reproach, will one day view, unmoved, the destruction of the world." How cool is that?

If you are ever in New Orleans, stop by and leave a flower or a candle for the intrepid Dominique Youx. It seems like the least any lover of freebooters can do.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Dominique Youx, American hero... As I like to tell people, if it weren't for him and the Laffites (and your uncle Renato) we'd all be speaking Canadian right now, eh?

Pauline said...

Ahoy Timmy! It does ruffle my Baratarian feathers a little that so few people who claim knowledge of American history know nothing of the Battle of New Orleans (like the issue with the Treaty of Ghent) or Laffite, Youx and Beluche. The US doesn't preserve its history very well, unfortunately. But never fear, Dominique. Pauline remembers. Always.

Tony Day said...

Just spent a few days at the National Archives in Fort Worth, Texas and received a copy of the database concerning Pirate cases coming through the New Orleans Custom House. Case #0779 is the U.S. v. Dominique Youx and was filed in 1814. I have not seen the records but they can be requested if they are not already online.
Tony Day

Pauline said...

Thanks for the heads up, Tony; very much appreciated. Obviously, this is one of Triple P's first posts, and I've done a lot more research since. Your comment points up the need to a revisit some time soon!