With the 196th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans soon to be upon us, Triple P is celebrating Baratarian Week. We’ll spend the next few days poking around at some obscure and fascinating facts about my own personal Brethren. These were the pirates and privateers who availed themselves of the niceties provided by the Laffite brothers at Barataria Bay just south of New Orleans back in the early 19th century.
To kick off, a little primer on good manners among the river bargeman and bayou pirogue handlers who hauled the city’s groceries and the Laffites’ prize goods. The waterways around New Orleans, which was a bustling, metropolitan city when New York was a village, were heavily trafficked from early in the city’s history. Barges came down the Mississippi from as far away as modern Ohio bringing every type of crop and livestock imaginable. Meanwhile, from Barataria through avenues like Bayous St. Denis, Rigolets and Perot and others, as Pierre Laffite put it to Andrew Jackson, “known only to ducks and the Laffite brothers”, goods taken by privateers funneled in to the city. There they were sold, tax and tariff free, to the utter dismay of the new American merchant class. This well established and even ancient habit of smuggling shocked and angered the U.S. government. But people like my ancestors just chuckled behind their hats or fans, and went right on buying from the Laffites. Where else was a lady to get silk stockings, after all?
On the water, no such qualms were had regardless of nationality. But a loose set of rules applied to how barges, which essentially only floated with the current, rowboats and pirogues interacted with one another. Here is a little list, by no means complete, from around 1810:
A rowboat going against the stream or tide should take the shore or bank closest to it when meeting a barge floating downstream.
A barge should, likewise and in the same situation but going with the stream, should take a course mid-river.
A pirogue in almost all situations, if under sail, has right of way. If using oars, the pirogue should behave like a rowboat.
A rowboat or barge overtaking another craft on the same course should keep clear. Likewise, the other craft should keep its own course.
In meeting another vessel bow to bow, a rowboat should keep to starboard (the right), as one would when walking, and pass any oncoming craft with said craft to larboard (the left).
A craft with a coxswain should give way to one without (in large part, this rule speaks to the limited maneuverability of a barge, which would generally have no coxswain, in comparison to a pirogue or rowboat).
So mind your craft on the river, mes amis, and stay sharp in the bayou. One more point might be made in this specific case: a gator always has right of way, and should be given a very wide berth indeed.
Header: The Jolly Floatmen by George Caleb Bingham c 1830