I was talking to a friend about what can be done to enshrine Jean Laffite as the American hero that he truly was. Some ideas that we bounced around is to get a scholarship or stipend endowed for graduate students in history, stipulating that their research topic be the accomplishments of Jean Laffite. Another much more modest idea was that an annual prize be awarded to high school students for the best essay about Jean Laffite.
My friend said that sadly it would be very hard to bring any of this about, because the very fact that Jean Laffite was involved in selling slaves precludes anyone from looking at him in a favorable light today.
George Washington had slaves. Thomas Jefferson had slaves. Even Jonathan Edwards, who did not own slaves, rented them by the hour when he needed his garden plowed. It was just the way things were.
Jean Laffite was not a slaver. He was a privateer. He looted enemy ships and sold the goods at auction. The fact that some of those goods happened to be human beings shipped as cargo is unfortunate, but not damning. He was a patriot, but not a saint.
The Laffites may not have been politically correct by today's standards, but I'll tell you what they were not: they were not racist. And the idea that racism was the only thing behind slavery in early America is one of those misconceptions that needs to be put to rest.
There were not just black slaves. There were also white slaves. There were not only white slaveholders. There were also black slaveholders.
Pierre Laffite came as close to marrying Marie Villard as the law at the time allowed. She was a free black woman, and he bought her a house in her own name, a house where she was the mistress of all she surveyed. He also bought her a black cook to serve her.
These are the complicated realities of the time. I dealt with this issue directly in Theodosia and the Pirates: The Battle Against Britain.
Slavery is a complicated issue in early American history. It deserves to be studied in a detailed and nuanced manner, without prejudice for or against any particular outlook. But right now it is being misrepresented to the public as only black and white, with no shades of grey.
In the process, everything good that Jean Laffite stood for is being ignored, just because he catered to all the market needs of the people of New Orleans and sold slaves at auction to both black and white buyers.