Pirate Havens > Galveston Island
Galveston Island was a famous pirate haven of the 19th century pirate Jean LaFitte.In late 1815 and early 1816, the Lafitte brothers agreed to act as spies for Spain, which was in the midst of the Mexican War of Independence. The brothers were collectively known as "Number thirteen". Pierre would keep the Spanish informed of happenings in New Orleans, and Jean was sent to Galveston Island, a part of Spanish Texas that served as the home base of privateer Louis-Michel Aury, who claimed to be a Mexican revolutionary. By early 1817, other revolutionaries had begun to congregate at Galveston, hoping to make it their base to wrest Mexico from Spanish control. Lafitte visited in March 1817. Two weeks into his stay, the two leaders of the revolutionaries left the island. The following day, Lafitte took command of the island and appointed his own officers. On April 18, he sailed for New Orleans to report his activities. With Spanish permission, Lafitte returned to Galveston, promising to make weekly reports of the activities there. Lafitte's motives were not selfless; he essentially turned Galveston Island into a new Barataria. Like Barataria, Galveston was a seward island that protected a large inland bay. It had the advantage of being outside the authority of the United States, and it was largely uninhabited, except by Karankawas. Lafitte quickly began improving his new colony. Existing houses were torn down, and 200 new, sturdier buildings were constructed. Ships operating from Galveston flew the flag of Mexico, but they engaged in no revolutionary activities, as Lafitte worried about a potential Spanish invasion. Aury returned to Galveston several months later, but left in July when he realized that the men were unwilling to revolt. In less than a year, Lafitte's colony grew to 100–200 men and several women. All newcomers were personally interviewed by Lafitte and required to take an oath of loyalty to him. The headquarters of the operation was a two-story building facing the inland harbor, where landings were made. The building was surrounded by a moat and painted red; it became known as Maison Rouge. Most regular business was conducted aboard Lafitte's ship, The Pride, where he also lived. Lafitte created letters of marque from a nonexistent nation for all of the ships sailing from Galveston. These letters gave the ships permission to attack ships from all nations. In April 1818, the United States passed a law prohibiting the import of slaves into any port in the United States. The law left several loopholes, however. It essentially gave permission to any ship to capture a slave ship, regardless of the country from which it originated. Furthermore, any newly imported slaves who were turned over to the customs office would be sold within the United States, with half the profits of the sale going to the people who turned them in. Lafitte worked with several smugglers, including Jim Bowie, to profit from the poorly written law. Lafitte's men would target ships that carried slaves. Smugglers would purchase the slaves for a discounted price, march them to Louisiana, and turn them into customs officials. A representative of the smuggler would purchase the slaves at the ensuing auction, and the smuggler would be given half of the purchase price. The smuggler was then the lawful owner of the slaves and could transport them to sell in other parts of the United States. The colony experienced hardships in 1818. After a Karankawa woman was kidnapped, the Indian tribe attacked and killed five members of Lafitte's colony. The corsairs aimed the artillery at the Indians, killing most of the men in the tribe. A hurricane in September covered almost all of the island in water, killing several people and destroying four ships and most buildings. Only six homes were habitable afterwards. "Notorious pirate. Settled here in 1817 with his buccaneers and ships; under Mexican flag, continued his forays against Spanish shipping in the Gulf. On this site, he built his home, Maison Rouge (Red House), which was part of his fort; and upper story was pierced for cannon. It was luxuriously furnished with booty from captured ships. Leaving Galveston in 1821, upon demand of the United States, he burned his home, fort and whole village; then sailed to Yucatan. In 1870, present structure was built over old cellars and foundations of Maison Rouge."