Tuesday, March 15, 2011

History: Jackson Meets Laffite

On this day in 1767, Andrew Jackson was born in South Carolina. It goes without saying that I love Old Hickory and one of the main reasons I’m a fan is the smarts he used to defeat the overwhelmingly invasion force mounted by the British at the Battle of New Orleans. The 38 year old U.S. Major General had the forethought to enlist the help of those “hellish banditti” he had once decried in the persons of Jean and Pierre Laffite. The mystery of this decision is not why Jackson decided to get in bed with the Devil, so to speak, but how. No credible history remains of when, where or how Jackson met the Laffite brothers. That’s why writing historical fiction is so much fun. If you will indulge me, Brethren, I’ll offer the meeting of Andrew Jackson and the Laffites as imagined in my novel The Heroes of New Orleans. Included in this scene are my fictional heroines doctor and spy Joelle Flynn and her privateering younger sister Juliette who, though not married to Monsieur Laffite, is referred to by him as his “wife” when the situation calls for it:

The carriage pulled up to a house on the dark street. There were no oil lamps along the way to light the mud beneath the horse’s hooves, and the sidewalk at which they stopped was nothing more than wooden planking. As General Jackson looked out the carriage window he could not contain a smile. The two story house, which looked gray and white in the drizzly dusk, had a welcoming feel about it. The windows glowed yellow, like ships’ lanterns in a mist, and even now in the dead of winter daffodils bloomed on the sill of one of those windows.

“We are here, General,” Edward Livingston said.

“I gathered as much, sir,” Jackson replied, the smile still gracing his face as he put his hat on his head. “I have heard much about this lady doctor who is also a spy, and I like what I hear. It does not surprise me in the least that her house has such charm.”

“Shall we? We are right on time.”


Jackson stepped from the carriage and began up the brick walkway to the house without waiting for Livingston or the aid that had accompanied them. He knocked on the door and stood tightening his gloves as he waited for a response. The sound of the lock sliding open could be heard. Livingston and Reid joined the General on the porch and the three of them stood still in the pool of golden light as the door opened.

“Bonsoir, Monsieur le General.” A tall, elegant woman with pale skin, red hair and blue eyes greeted them. She was dressed in a simple, sage green gown with cream lace at cuffs and collar and her bearing was regal. She dipped a curtsy and then stepped back with a wave of her hand. “Bienvenue chez Capitaine Lecavalier.”

“Madam,” the General swept his hat from his head and gave her a bow before stepping into the house. “Do I have the honor of addressing Doctor Lecavalier?”

“Yes General,” Joelle watched Jackson make a leg over her hand and a smiled. “I am Joelle Flynn Lecavalier.”

The other two men had followed the General into the house and Mrs. O’Liddy and Lazare set to work silently collecting everyone’s outer clothes. Once this was done and the guests began to appreciate the warmth of the house, General Jackson took Joelle’s hand once again, this time holding it between both of his.

“Doctor,” he began in a sincere tone. “Allow me to say how very thankful I am to you for the work you have done against our enemies, not only in this state but on the sea as well. While I have not come to the point of condoning the actions of your Baratarians, I find that they must have some redeeming quality if a woman like you speaks so highly of them.”

“My thanks, General, and my thanks for your willingness to meet with my brothers-in-law.”

Jackson’s smile fell away. “Forgive me madam. I’m not as young as I used to be. My hearing sometimes – ”

“You heard me right, General. My sister is the wife of Monsieur Jean Laffite. Now,” Joelle took General Jackson by the arm and, picking up her skirts in her free hand, began to walk toward her study. “Do you come with me if you please and I will introduce you straight away.”
* * * *
Nelson, Juliette’s Bordeaux mastiff, sat quietly next to Jean Laffite. He let go a muffled bark when he heard the knock at the front door. Jean rested his small hand on the dog’s head and said: “Silence, mon ami. C’est Monsieur le General.

“He is here at last,” Juliette said almost to herself.

Pierre shifted in his chair, pulling at his cutaway and smoothing his curly, black hair.

“This is our moment, frère,” Jean murmured without taking his eyes off the door. He stood and fussed a bit with his clothes before continuing. “This meeting will determine the fate of hundreds of men. You had better leave the talking to me.”

“What?” Pierre looked at his brother with frank disbelief. “Let you do the talking on so important an occasion? I hardly think so.”

Jean turned to Pierre with a frown. “There will be no debate, frère. Your letters are always better than mine without question, but when it comes to making a sale, no one can best Jean Laffite.”

Juliette chuckled and folded her hands in front of her unusually demur navy blue gown and watched the study door open.

Joelle stepped in first followed by tall, thin Andrew Jackson. Livingston and Reid slipped in behind them and Mrs. O’Liddy, who had followed them down the hall, closed the door discreetly.

The two groups stood looking at one another for a moment.

Jackson eyed the brothers Laffite, so similar in coloring and height but so markedly different in body type. His first thought was how very French they appeared, as if they had not lived in his country for more than a short time. His second was that the taller one had the unquestionable air of someone who thought himself above the demands placed on the average man, and that the shorter one looked forever in the world like a pirate with his closed left eye and wide-legged stance. He found this off-putting, and he immediately imagined both brothers as shifty, grasping and out for no one but themselves.

Jean and Pierre stared back at the General, thinking very little of him one way or another. Both knew from long experience that their opinions were of no consequence in this instance. They were here to seal the amnesty promised for themselves and their men. The rest would take care of itself.

Monsieur le General,” Jean said at last as he made a deep but dignified leg to Jackson. “I am Jean Laffite and it does me great honor to meet you face to face at last.”

“Mr. Lafeet,” Jackson said as he took Jean’s hand and shook it. “A pleasure sir.”

“Allow me to introduce my brother, Pierre.”

“Sir,” the General said, shaking Pierre’s hand as well and staring into his unusual eyes.

“And my wife, Juliette Flynn.”

Juliette stepped forward and offered her hand to the General. She smiled charmingly as he made his leg and then she said: “We are most privileged to welcome you into my sister’s little home.”

“Thank you indeed, Mrs. Lafeet. I feel it is my privilege to be her guest. I understand ladies,” he turned to Joelle. “That you are the fair product of my own home state.”

“That is true indeed, General,” Joelle said. “Our father’s plantation is located at Glennville, on the Atlantic coast south of Charleston. As I understand it, you hail from the north and the Waxhaw District.”

“Well, you’ve done your research Dr. Lecavalier. I must say I am flattered.”

“Nonsense of course. But enough. My sister and I will leave you gentlemen to your business.”

“Actually, Doctor,” General Jackson said. “I was hoping you would stay. Your advice would be very much appreciated.”

“As you wish.” Joelle did not act in the least surprised by this request, but moved to stand next to Edward Livingston as if she had entirely expected to stay. “What ever I can do.”

“Then I will go.”

Non, Juliette,” Jean said, his eyes narrowing at the General. “Do you stay. Perhaps I will need your advice, oui?” Jean was playing tit for tat and making sure that the number of bodies on his side of the room more evenly matched the ones on the General’s. Juliette moved back to her position behind Jean’s chair. “Now, Monsieur le General,” Jean continued. “Please to have a seat and we can speak of this invasion of the English.”

Jackson took a chair and then he waited a moment or two for Jean or Pierre to begin speaking. His blue eyes stared impassively at Jean as if he could wait much longer if they so desired.

“Monsieur,” Jean began at last. “Allow me, first of all, to congratulate you on your foresight and courage.”

“And how is that, sir?”

“Well, who before General Andrew Jackson has had the good sense to realize the benefit that my brother and I, along with our men, bring to this Herculean endeavor? Prior to this we are treated as outcasts who have no value to either their state or their country. But you, General, you see potential where all others see nothing at all.”

“Except perhaps an opportunity for their own gain,” Pierre added.

“Ah,” Jackson let go a rueful chuckle. “Thusly do we come directly to the issue of Patterson and Barataria.”

“That is water under the bridge, Monsieur,” Jean said with a wave of his hand. “What was taken from us will be returned. I have every faith in the legal system of this fine country. I would prefer to focus on what my brother and I can do for you, General Jackson, and where our men will be of the most advantage.”

Jackson had expected an argument at this point or perhaps a laundry list of ships and goods that should be immediately returned before any thought of service could be considered. “I see,” he said after a moment. “Then let me get straight to the point. Commodore Patterson came to me only yesterday and laid out the desperate state he is in. The Commodore has ships, both frigates and gunboats mounted with cannon, but not enough men to work them.”

“And here we are,” Jean sat back in his chair, crossing his long legs with a smile on his handsome face. “With sailors aplenty and no ships to speak of.”

“Sailors are one thing of course, and would be most welcome, but ships are a limited resource. We need soldiers more than anything sir, men to work our cannon in the forts and men who can shoot.”

“We’ve that in spades as well. Why, two of my finest artillerists have already pledged their service to this cause, Monsieur le General.”

“This brings me to another question, Mr. Lafeet, and one I am hoping you and your brother can answer.”

“I will say with some certainty that we can answer any of your questions.”

“Well good, then. I like a man who does not hesitate.”

Pierre shifted nervously in his chair making it creek under his girth.

Jean ignored his brother.

“Just how many of your men do you believe will take the oath and serve their country against the threat of English invasion?” Jackson asked.

“While it would be impossible to give you an exact figure, Monsieur, I can say without hesitation that the vast majority of the men of Grande Terre will happily fight the English for no more than a simple pardon of their supposed sins.” Jean allowed himself a grin and leaned toward the General conspiratorially. “French blood runs in many of our veins, you see, and there is nothing a Frenchman enjoys so much as killing Englishmen.”

“How many men would you estimate took orders from you on Grande Terre, sir?” Jackson asked, trying to pin down some kind of number that he could apply to the current state of his troops and Patterson’s lack of sailors.

“Oh,” Jean sat back again. “What would you say, Pierre? Four, five hundred perhaps?”

“More like six,” Pierre said.

“Do your men know the terrain?” Jackson asked without revealing his skepticism. “I freely admit my ignorance of all these swamps and bayous other than what I have seen on maps.”

This comment elicited a chuckle from both Jean and Pierre. They exchanged glances and then Pierre said: “Monsieur le General, no one knows the bayous on any side of this city better than my brother and I.”

“Is that true indeed?”

“It is Monsieur,” Jean nodded. “We have navigated these waterways since our youth. There is a saying among the Cajuns and Choctaws that only alligators and ducks are acquainted with the waterways known to les frères Laffite.”

“And you were forthright, of course, when you told Governor Claiborne that you did not pass any of that knowledge on to our enemy?”

The brothers both sat up straight, at the edges of their chairs, and their cool gazes focused indignantly on the General.

Joelle saw the potential trouble brewing and she jumped into the conversation without thinking. “The General is only reassuring himself that nothing slipped into enemy hands unintentionally, I am sure.”

“I was there, General, throughout my husband’s afternoon with Captain Lockyer and his men,” Juliette said. “I can assure you without hesitation that nothing that would in any way compromise our country was offered to the British.”

Jackson looked from Joelle to Juliette and he nodded. Their lovely faces, steady gazes, and familiar accents reminded him of home. “Well, I thank you Mrs. Lafeet. I do not doubt you for a minute. And Dr. Lecavalier is right. Someone like yourself, Mr. Lafeet, must understand my need for reassurance. Particularly given the size and capabilities of the enemy in question.”

Bien entendu,” Jean replied after glancing at his brother. “Do you forgive us any offense.”

“No offense what ever, sirs.” Jackson thought how very cleverly the entire issue had been deflected by the Flynn sisters, and he had no trouble imagining why the Laffites’ had attached themselves to these women. “I have heard,” he continued then, in another tone all together. “That you gentlemen have a number of caches of munitions, gunpowder and flints. I wonder if there might be any truth to such rumors?”

“Have you a lack of arms?” Pierre asked, knowing full well that the General was hungry for every item he mentioned.

“Due to unfortunate delays we are short here and there. I find that good flints are in particularly short supply but we could surely use rifles as well and I am sure I needn’t mention that, with cannon, one can never have too much powder.”

“That is certain,” Jean nodded. “And we are in a position to provide you with all of the items you mention. I remember an inventory of 7,500 flints alone in a warehouse only a day outside the city.”

The General did not try to conceal his amazement or gratitude at this point. Though he was a laconic sort and had never been known to gush, he did smile as he said: “The very mention of so many flints is a great relief to my mind, sir.”

“Then consider it done. I will send a pirogue to fetch the supplies immediately, and you will have them at your headquarters by tomorrow.”

“I thank you.” Jackson rose to his feet and so did everyone else in the room. “I will not keep you then, sir, or your charming family. I will pledge without hesitation that any man from Barataria who enlists within the thirty day window will be given at least temporary amnesty. I will also evince that once this bloody business is done, President Madison himself will have a petition from my hand requesting a pardon for all those who served. I plan on beating back these invaders who threaten my country, or die in the effort. I shall count on your help to assure that they will come no more to fight on our soil.”

Jean’s chin went up and a small smile came to his lips as he offered the General his hand. “You have my word, Monsieur le General, as a gentleman. My brother and I will bring all our forces to bear to insure that yours is a victory that history will never forget.”

“Well, as long as the English never forget it, I’ll be quite happy,” Jackson said with a chuckle. He shook Pierre’s hand and then turned to the ladies. “Mrs. Lafeet, Dr. Lecavalier, may I say what a great pleasure it has been.”

“For us as well, sir,” Joelle said as she and Juliette curtsied.

“Now, before I go I must ask.” Jackson turned toward Nelson who sat on his haunches throughout the meeting panting quietly and eyeing the General. “Is this handsome animal yours, Dr. Lecavalier?”

“Not at all, General, although he is quite certain that my house is his,” Joelle replied. “He is my sister’s dog. A gift from her husband after her recovery from the fever some years ago.”

Jackson looked to Juliette. “The world is a better place for your recovery, madam.”

Juliette gave the General a coy smile and tilted her head.

“What ever type of dog is he?”

“He is a Bordeaux Mastiff, sir,” Juliette replied. “His name is Admiral Nelson.”

“Admiral Nelson?” Jackson frowned as he looked at the enormous, drooling dog once again. “That is unfortunate.”

Juliette, completely unabashed by the comment, giggled. “While I understand your objection given the circumstances, General, allow me to be clear on my intentions in naming so noble a dog. This creature is my best friend, aside from my sister and my husband, and I shouldn’t like to have you in particular go away with a bad impression of him.”

“Well then continue madam. Tell me what prompted you to name your handsome dog after a British Admiral.”

“Even though it must be said that he would be our enemy were he still alive, Horatio Lord Nelson was nothing if not a great naval strategist. His genius can teach us all something, regardless of his country of origin. Then too there is the fact that my dog very simply looks rather like the Admiral for all he has two eyes.”

General Jackson could not hold back a laugh. “Very well put indeed, madam. You have given me something to think about.”

“Oh General. I am certain that you have far more important things to occupy your very capable mind than the naming of my beloved dog, and if you were not so handsome I might let you go without another word. I do hope, though, that you will allow me to escort you out, sir, since my sister had the great honor of escorting you in.”

“By all means, madam.” Jackson offered his arm. “The pleasure is mine.”

“It appears Miss Flynn has the General wrapped around her finger already,” Livingston said quietly and in French once Jackson was out of the study.

“Are you at all surprised?” Jean asked with a grin. “Why do you think I asked her to join us, Edward?”

“Diversionary tactics aside,” Livingston continued. “You have promised the General a great deal, mon ami. What will you do now?”

Jean looked at Pierre, who simply raised his black eyebrows.

“I think it is time for a meeting, mes frères,” Jean said. “And since we have promised flints and munitions, it seems the Temple is the logical place for same.”

Header: Major General Andrew Jackson, a portrait completed after the victory at the Battle of New Orleans


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! It's always fun to re-read your historical fiction. Thanks for sharing and happy birthday to Old Hickory...

("Is that his boat?")

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy and thankee! I think Admiral Nelson is my favorite character in the whole scene. And Huzzah! for Old Hickory; happy 244th, buddy.

Undine said...

I had no idea you've written a novel! That's great news--good historical fiction certainly is a rarity.

And I always like reading about Jackson--he's one of my favorite American history rogues, as well.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Undine! Thankee indeed; hopefully they're good. Certainly enough research has gone into the work. Trying to get them published is the next big challenge, of course.

I love Andrew Jackson for his I don't give a shit attitude, frankly. I'm not condoning his mistakes but man, we need a few more politicians like him about now.

And, on the note of historical fiction, great post at your site today.

Timmy! said...

Here is a link to Undine's post that Pauline refers to above:


Go, Undine!

Undine said...

Argh. The publishing world is enough to give the Lafitte brothers the shivers.

Have you looked into the self-publishing e-book industry? I'm planning to investigate that myself, but I'm so internet-ignorant that the thought seems a bit daunting.

Oh, I'm glad you liked the post. "The Raven's Bride" has certainly made my life interesting lately. I've even gotten my first dose of illiterate hate mail over what I've written about the book, which was kind of exciting. I've definitely gotten tosomebody out there.