Thursday, November 3, 2011

Women at Sea: Laffite's Last Love

Reading the off-handed remark about “Jean Pierre Lafitte” and the woman from the Savannah, Georgia “neighborhood” that he “married” while researching Monday’s post made me think. Where did the idea that either of the Laffite brothers married a woman from the southern part of the East Coast come from? With this question in my head, I went back to my copious notes and that bible of all things about the brothers The Pirates Laffite by William C. Davis to dig up the tantalizingly unfinished story of Pierre Laffite’s last love.

The now legendary stories of Jean Laffite’s success with the ladies are probably – like so many other things about the man – blown way out of proportion. Most legends, however, have a grain of truth at their beginning and this is probably the case when it comes to Laffite’s love life. Because the two brothers have virtually melded into one entity in the popular mind, most people don’t even know about Pierre Laffite. The entire timeline of the brother’s exploits is now simply ascribed to Jean, with Pierre fading to the point of becoming simply a “middle name”. Pierre’s love for the ladies seems to have been grafted onto Jean, whose personal life is something of a mystery, and then increased exponentially until we now have a picture of a dashing if insatiable satyr who also enjoyed long walks on the beach.

It is Pierre, however, that seems to fit that bill if it is toned down to a dull roar. He had at least three relationships that we know of. One he may have carried on in San Domingue/Haiti before the revolution, but that part is to this day speculation. Who the woman was is unclear as well, although Lyle Saxon states that her name was Adelaide Maseleri, but Pierre had a son most probably named Eugene in tow when he met the woman with whom he would have his longest relationship. Marie Louise Villard or Villars, a free quadroon from New Orleans, was Pierre’s partner for close to fifteen years. The two had seven children together the last of whom, Joseph, probably never even saw his father.

The third woman to cohabit with Pierre, for lack of a better turn of phrase, seems to have been named Lucia or Lucille Allen. All the sources agree that she was an American from the East Coast and she turns up in Pierre’s life around the time that he began making trips to Charleston, South Carolina in 1819. These forays, where he sometimes went by the almost comical alias of “Mr. Francisco”, were for the purchase of ships and the hiring of men. Galveston was falling apart and the brothers had their eyes on a new horizon.

When, at the end of 1820, Pierre had all he needed he prepared to see the last of Charleston. This is when Lucia may have joined him aboard the Nancy Eleanor which landed at Isla Mujeres in March of 1821. Here the Laffites planned to build a new Barataria/Galveston but the barren island provided little in the way of homey comforts. Aside, it seems, from Lucia.

She must have been a hearty sort as she would doubtless have been saddled with more than just keeping Pierre happy. One has to imagine that, in a camp full of men, the one woman would be looked to for laundry and cooking services as well as nursing and motherly comfort. Lucia seems to have been up to it; eye-witnesses from the time say that, even when ill herself, she took care of the sick and injured.

There was a fair amount of travel on the water as well. Davis tells us that Pierre and Lucia where staying at a farm on the island of Cancun. Pierre had recently sold a lot of prize goods in Camara and neither he nor Lucia was in the best of health. As it would later turn out, Lucia’s malaise was due not just to infection but to pregnancy. The Spanish authorities, having been tipped off to the pirate’s whereabouts, raided the farm on October 30, 1821. Pierre and Lucia were taken into custody but only briefly.

They managed to escape under cover of darkness, round up the scattered members of Pierre’s group and leave Cancun in a fishing boat. The little group of refugees debarked at Dzilam de Bravo on the 31st and staggered to a little village called Telyas. They were taken in by a local family but Pierre was very sick and possibly injured. Davis writes: “Then, on or about November 9, within sight and sound of thousands of pink flamingos feeding in the lagoon, Pierre Laffite breathed his last.” There can be no question that Lucia was at his side.

What became of Lucia and the child she was carrying is in fact unknown. The most likely outcome was opined by John Burton Thompson in a 1953 article for the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate: Lucia died giving birth to Pierre Laffite’s daughter at Dzilam de Bravo and was buried there. No one seems to even hazard a guess as to what became of the little female child.

What facts we can garner from this are probably of little use in the uphill battle to sort out reality from legend, particularly where les frères Laffite are concerned. That does not degrade the poignancy of the story, however. Lucia Allen, probably of Charleston, South Carolina, literally gave everything she had for the love of a famous – if now partially forgotten – pirate.

Header: Beach at Dzilam de Bravo on the Yucatan Peninsula via


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! That's a pretty sad ending for eveyone involved. It's hard to find a silver lining in this story.

At first, I thought it was going to be about someone else, though... jk.

Pauline said...

Oh, you mean the part where Jean dies dramatically aboard General Santander in ... Wait! No spoilers.

Eric Wright said...

Hi Pauline, I'm Eric Wright. My grandmother's name was Dorothy Deakle, and her 3rd great grandmother was Susannah Deakle from Savanah, Ga. When she was 15 she had two children out of wedlock in 1801 and 1805. These were Andrew and Willis Deakle. Many believe, but can't yet prove, that these two are the illegitimate children of Jean LaFitte.

I wanted to ask if you may have some information on this or where to find it. I would greatly appreciate whatever help you can give.

Thanks :)

Pauline said...

Eric: Thank you for stopping by. Hopefully you've enjoyed your reading.

I hope you have read "The Pirates Laffite" by William C. Davis as it is the finest authority on the Lafitte brothers. It would be hard to place either of the Laffites in Georgia as early as 1800 and I'm wondering what the family speculation is based on. While it's not impossible that the Laffites were on the eastern seaboard at some point - they did come from France - there does not appear to be any historical documentation of that based on the best research I've found, which is Mr. Davis' (and his able research team's).

Anything's possible, especially where the Laffite brothers are concerned, and I encourage you to keep digging... Who knows what facts will turn up over the years ahead.

dawn holland said...

Susannah Deakle is my 5th great grandmother and I too have heard the stories of Susannah & Jean Laffite having Willis & Andrew out of wedlock.