Friday, February 12, 2010

Booty: Le Magasin de Forgeron

Jean and Pierre Lafitte owned and operated a blacksmith shop in Saint Philip Street, New Orleans... Their dwelling was on the corner of Saint Philip and Bourbon streets, a few short squares from the court-house and the Church of Saint Louis. The cottage stood flush with the sidewalk and adjoined a garden which was screened from the street by a high wall.

The above, from the opening chapter of Lafitte the Pirate by bon vivant and consummate New Orleanian Lyle Saxon, sums up the legend of the property currently located at 941 Bourbon St. Saxon, whose phenomenally entertaining book was published in 1930, basically repeats all the old legends in one fanciful tale of the famed New Orleans pirates. To this day, despite overwhelming historical evidence to contradict the moniker, this classic Creole cottage is known as Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop (misspelling and all).

Six years after Saxon's book, Stanley Clisby Arthur published his Walking Tours of Old New Orleans (still in print today and well worth checking out). The Bourbon St. property is, of course, listed under it's usual name, but Arthur takes pains to debunk the usual mythos:

This so-called "Laffite Smithy", if you are interested in facts, was probably never put to such a use... It is, however, a very ancient structure - when it was built we do not know. Our earliest record of transfer of ownership of the site dates back to 1772.

Arthur, as an aside, went on to publish his own wonderful biography of Laffite - Jean Laffite, Gentleman Rover - in 1952.

In fact, there is no documentation available to show that the traditional square cottage was ever a smith's, or that it was at any time owned or rented by either Laffite brother. It should be noted that there is documentation of Pierre Laffite buying and renting property over the years in the name of his quadroon mistress, Marie Louise Villard (or Villars).

The connection to the Laffites may have come from the fact that the property was owned briefly in the 1770's by Rene Beluche. Beluche, a smuggler by trade and my great-grandfather nine times removed (but you knew that, didn't you Brethren?), was the father of the close Laffite associate, smuggler and privateer Renato Beluche. Some historians, Dr. Jane Lucas DeGrummond in particular, believe that the Laffite and Beluche families were related. This assertion rests on Jean and Pierre's mother and Big Rene's wife being sisters with the last name Laport or LaPorte. In my personal genealogical research I cannot verify this claim but it points up the possible connection between the Laffites and the property at 941 Rue Bourbon.

Whatever the controversy, though, it's probably safe to say that the Laffites were never forgerons and that the Creole cottage was never theirs in any way shape or form.
All that having been said, since Mardi Gras has begun in earnest it seems past time to get your itinerary in order. Don't miss the nightlife at Lafitte's. Who knows, maybe you'll be one of the lucky ones who sees the ghost of the bos himself. (A chubbier but similarly Gallic looking ghost is probably Pierre, just to be clear). Leave me a comment if you do. I'd love to know how the boys are these days.

10 comments:

Ozarklorian said...

I knew a guy who swore up and down he had been in the wine cellar at the blacksmith shop years ago during a particularly dry year. He said normally the cellar is flooded, but that year it was just a few inches deep with water.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Ozarklorian! My Dad took me to the bar when I was in preschool (NOLA; it's the best) and the only thing I remember about it was the smell, the 1930's painting of Laffite with his 'stache and hat and a funny feeling of disquiet. I swear, it's haunted. Probably not by the brothers, but still. Can't wait to be there again!

Laffite's Lady said...

While writing Laffite's Lady, my husband took me to the bar. I told the man behind the bar, he made a great bloody mary by the way, that I was writing a book about Laffite. He was the one that pointed out the scratched writing on the wall behind the bar. Now behind the hanging glass ware. It is not in English, and no one knows who or when it was put there. I translates to say, time passes with love, love passes with time. A note from the past that came to me when I was about to give up on my epic tale. I have a drink for the Laffite Brothers each tine I visit and I stay across the street at Lafittes Guest house. This is the plot of land that once a small house stood on and was rented by one of the Laffite's for his love. Don't want to give to much away here. Back to work on my editing job on Laffite's Lady and my blog. Ask to see the writing next time you are there.

Laffite's Lady said...

Behind the rack of bar glass's scratched on the wall, not written in Spanish, English or Creol, is a saying. No one knows how long it has been there, or who did it. It says, Time passes with love and love passes with time. Will needing a sign from Laffite, Jean himself, to get me out of my block, I was shown this. He could not have handed me a better sighn than that. Laffit's Lady was finished with many strange happenings like that. I will be telling more of them as I blog while I edit. Sort of like finding your blog through a friend. She found my blog by chance, Jean works is strange ways. On another note, I am a Navy brat, many generations of family were in the British navy. And my sons stared in a movie with Ali Mcgraw and Robert Urich called Survive the Savage Sea. a true story. Calm sea's set your sails and keep bloggingl

Laffite's Lady said...

Next tine you are in the blacksmith shop bar, ask to see the writing on the wall behind the hanging glass's. No one knows who or when it was put there, it is not in English but translated is reads Love passes time. Time passes with love. That writing helped me finish my book Laffite'e Lady, which I published and now blogging about the editing job I am doing on it.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Laffite's Lady and thankee indeed for stopping by! What remarkable stories. And what an honor for me to have you express them here. I have read and enjoyed your book - I'm sure you're not surprised - so I am particularly honored to have you share your knowledge and experience. Come back again soon. I share your love for the boys from Barataria.

Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! I tried to post a comment on Friday, but blogger wouldn't let me and I have not been back on the computer since then... Anyway, it's nice to see that you are getting some new visitors and good comments from people who have much more interesting things to add than me. It seems that they hit for the trifecta (or the hat trick if you will) on this place since the Laffite's a) were not blacksmiths, 2) never owned the place and c) they mis-spelled their name. So, it naturally follows that the place would be haunted by the ghost of Jean Laffite...

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! There you are and yes, that pretty much does summarize that, doesn't it? But who knows. All of the French Quarter is haunted so anything's possible.

Pauline said...

Plus, I neglected to add that I do get some pretty knowledgable and interesting folks stopping by, and I sure appreciate it. Keep the comments coming, Brethren!

Timmy! said...

"Oooooooooh... I am the ghoooooooost of Jean Laffite... except I don't know how to spell my own naaaaame..." (in my best "Scooby-Doo" voice)...