Book Review: Jean Lafitte’s Pirate Code

Book: Jean Lafitte’s Pirate Code: 17 Strategies For Acquiring Untold Fortune From America’s First Laissez Faire Capitalist

Author: Morgan McCall Molthrop.

Louisiana’s history is just as romantic as it is factual. Legend and myth are essential to telling the story of Louisiana- and Jean Lafitte is no exception. This is not a biography of Lafitte, but it does reveal a great deal of information about his public and private life. Author Morgan McCall Molthrop reflects on the great pirate’s life as a way of improving on his own life. Molthrop is a former Wall Street man who lost it all during the 2008 recession. He came back home to New Orleans and discovered a scripture that was lost upon him: the life of Jean Lafitte.

Jean Lafitte was raised in the old Creole Caste Society that continued sometime through antebellum Louisiana. Creole Caste Society was a three tier society where whites stayed on top followed by mixed race and free people of color; slaves lived at the bottom. Molthrop chronicles the society in which Lafitte grew up in and how he used what was around him to his advantage.

Lafitte was a refugee from St. Domingue, but quickly became accustomed to life in South Louisiana. St. Domingue was mainly French in culture like Louisiana so it didn’t take long for Lafitte to get familiar with the new territory. He saw great opportunities in Louisiana to build his piratical empire. Then President Thomas Jefferson enacted a trade embargo with both France and England that crippled port cities such as New Orleans. Lafitte used a crisis to his advantage and created one of the greatest black market supply of goods in American history. Even though the embargo was lifted at the end of the Jefferson presidency, it took time for port cities to come back from such policies. This only made Lafitte even more powerful using his pirating skills, charisma, and charm to get what he wanted.

Lafitte was no ordinary pirate- he was also a great marketer and salesman. He was well schooled in the principles of business to gather a large clientele. He was trusted by so many because he was a man of his word and always followed through. He made a fortune pirating Spanish ships and selling luxury goods to New Orleans customers for a nice profit. He knew how to present himself to customers to make them secure in their dealings by dressing nicely and relating to them. He had just as much emotional intelligence as he did book knowledge. His own success was his best insurance policy. Judges and attorneys regularly dropped court cases involving his piracy because they knew how valuable he was to the local economy.

His empire was so massive that 50 million in wealth is just a conservative estimate of his actual wealth. He had eyes everywhere, trusted advisors reporting back to him. He was always one step ahead of everyone- even the United States government. The life of Jean Lafitte can tell us something more important though.

Jean Lafitte was a complex man full of vices and virtues. He was purely driven by economics and that sometimes came at the expense of human life. This is not to excuse his actions, but a deeper message resonates. As some examine people from the past today, there is a moral duty of sorts to give the final word on their legacy. Surely, people have decided to judge his legacy. However, Lafitte did something that most people of history have failed to do: secure his own legacy for all time. His evils are well chronicled, but they are erased from the average mind. Lafitte understood that patriotism is the best way to secure honor. He understood the American ideal more than most Americans. He secured his patriotism by aiding General Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans. His goodness is also well chronicled, but there for everyone to see of all time. Lafitte understood that most people are afraid to look in the dark.

Lafitte’s pirate code is one for all time. Molthrop stresses throughout his account that Lafitte’s honor, integrity, and confidence are just as crucial to financial success as it is to life itself. His empire of wealth in the marshy bayous is an unlikely place to be an empire, but Lafitte understood the value of taking risk. Lafitte is the reason why we romanticize the bayous. After he left Galveston, he burned his mansion down and set sail away. For a man that has erased himself physically from time, he lives on as a legend from the mysterious bayous to everyday residents. He forever exists in between the physical and metaphysical worlds of South Louisiana and Texas. He exists in the natural and supernatural environment of South Louisiana and Texas. What Molthrop captured in his book is that Lafitte made his mark on the world and that everyone else can as well- even after our time.


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