Friday, January 6, 2012

Booty: Laffite's House

New Orleans is alive with legends of past glory. Embelishing the truth is an old Creole talent, so why not spice things up with a few extra – if patently untrue – details? These stories are just one of the many charms of La Nouvelle Orleans. In that vein, and speaking of the Laffite brothers as we were yesterday, here is another interesting point of legend vs. reality.

Of all the places that claim a Laffite connection, from those of ancient origin (Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop) to those that have jumped on the bandwagon more recently (“Jean Lafitte’s” Old Absinthe House) only one, it seems, has a legitimate, historical claim. That is the three story Creole town house located at 1003 Bourbon Street and now known as Lafitte Guest House.

The building is mentioned briefly in the 1936 publication Walking Tours of Old New Orleans by Stanley Clisby Arthur. He states that the current building (pictured above) was built by P. J. Gleisses in 1849; a “comparatively recent construction”, Arthur notes. It is now split up into 14 elegantly furnished guest rooms and, according to Lonely Planet, will run you from $190 per night including breakfast. Find more information at the Guest House website.

Given that the house itself was built in the mid-19th century, it seems a Laffite association would be tenuous at best, but in fact looks can be deceiving. According to endnote number 37 to Chapter 14 of William C. Davis’ The Pirates Laffite, the lot has an impeccable bond to both of the brothers. From the book:

where today stands the Lafitte Guest House at 1003 Bourbon Street, Laffite residence is confirmed by Marie [Louise} Villard’s August 16, 1816 purchase. The association of the Laffites with her and the property, even if one does not assume that Pierre bought it for her in their placage arrangement, is confirmed three years later after she sold and then repurchased it in 1819, paying in part with a promissory note guaranteed by Jean Laffite

As Davis notes Marie Louise “Louison”, a quadroon in a placage living arrangement with Pierre Laffite and mother of seven of his children, had a sibling, Catherine “Catiche” Villard. Catherine lived with her sister – possibly at this location – when she gave birth to Jean Laffite’s son Jean Pierre in 1816. None of the other so-called “Lafitte” locations have anywhere near that kind of authentic pedigree.

As a curious aside the Guest House is said to be haunted by a little girl who died of yellow fever there some time in the late 19th century. The girl is known to locals as “Marie”.

The hotel was put up for sale in 2009 and I could not find any information about whether or not it has a new owner as yet. If anyone knows anything more, please leave a comment s’il vous plait.

On a final tenuously related note, today marks the anniversary of the birth of Saint Jeanne d’Arc, the Maid of Orleans. May she smile on the New as well as the original.

Header: Modern photo of Lafitte Guest House via their website


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Well, at least we know that they spent some time at that location, anyway... Just not in that building... Looks like a really nice place, though.

And happy birthday to Saint Jeanne!

Pauline said...

A very cool little snippet of history here and once again revealed thanks to the indepth research of Mr. Davis.

It looks like an awesome little place; would love to check it out one day.