Monday, July 27, 2015

Zora Nadrimal's Half Brothers

The acorn does not fall far from the oak, they say. But Jean Laffite's father was a tanner. It is true that his brother Alexandre preceded him in the privateering profession. But was Alexandre a self-taught sailor -- a pioneer in this new trade? Hardly. Though their father was not a sailor, Alexandre, Pierre and Jean had family members who were ready to teach them the ropes. They were none other than their grandmother's three half-brothers, Reyne, Felix and Clemente,

Excerpt from t he Journal of Jean Laffite
"...under the orders of Uncle Reyne, Felix and Clemente who were the half-brothers of Grandmother"
Was Jean Laffite a self-made man? Yes and No. He was undoubtedly an individual who made much of the opportunities presented to him and who achieved a great deal on his own. But he was also part of a family, and he benefited from the supportive upbringing of his grandmother and the broad horizons offered by her kinsmen.

                                           Excerpt from Theodosia and the Pirates: The Battle Against Britain

It takes many generations in a family before a spark of talent can flicker into a flame. Aaron Burr wanted to be a sailor, too. He ran away from home at age ten and signed on as a cabin boy. But his Uncle Timothy, unfortunately, was not a sailor himself, and he would not allow the orphaned boy under his charge to pursue a path that was not part of the family tradition. So Aaron was sent off to Princeton to study the classics, like his father and grandfather before him, And Aaron Burr, despite his adventurous streak, excelled in his studies, because he did indeed have the ability to parse classical languages programmed into his genes. At first Burr applied himself to his studies until he looked around and noticed that nobody else was doing half as well as he was, and then he relaxed and proceeded to enjoy the rest of his college years.

"You didn't build that." is a phrase that is bandied about by people who think it is unfair that we each have an inheritance and a family legacy and talents that are nurtured in us by relatives who appreciate what we can do, because they can do that themselves, too. But just because you have a foundation built by your parents, grandparents and countless generations before you, that does not mean you have built nothing yourself. Nor does it mean that you should be deprived of whatever advantages you were given at birth in an attempt to level the playing field for everybody else.

Everybody else also has parents, grandparents and nameless ancestors, too. We each come with something built in, and something to pass on to the generations to come.


  1. Being a self made man is great, but it can also be a lonely road. My great grandfather had to run away from home because apparently his dad hated him, and would verbally criticize him, and not the other kids. He was able to buy land and have his own farm, but apparently he had to start all over with no family support. He always bothered him why his father hated him so much, and he never understood why. So being part of a family can have its perks.

    1. Hi, Julia. Your great grandfather sounds like a very determined and able person to have supported himself from an early age and to have bought land and started his own farm. That cannot have been easy.

      Sometimes parents and children do not get along and sometimes a parent will choose favorites, rather than treating all the children the same. Even being rejected by a parent is a kind of legacy that builds character strength, whereas it sorely tests the child.

      Both Aaron Burr and Jean Laffite lost their mothers at an early age. In the case of Burr, he also lost both his grandparents and ended up in the custody of an uncle who had just come of age and was not really equipped to deal with a rebellious, high spirited, intelligent young boy. So Aaron Burr suffered a lot at the hands of his Uncle Timothy, even though the uncle was really trying to do the best he could to deal with a problem that was not of his own making.

      Jean Laffite never spoke ill of his own father, but it was clearly the upbringing that he got from his grandmother that influenced him the most, Two of the Laffite brothers followed in their father's footsteps and became leather tanners. The other three took after their maternal great uncles and became privateers. Even though they grow up in the same family, no two siblings ever experience that environment in the same way, because their individual differences bring out different qualities in the adults who care for them.

      I find the family influence aspect of both the Burr and the Laffite stories fascinating. Rather than denying that families play a role in a great man's life, I like to explore exactly how that works.

  2. I agree. It is a tough, lonely road full of pitfalls. It is more difficult if the family does not show support or understand his difficulties.

    1. Everyone can use a support system from their family of origin. Those who don't have that and still achieve are doubly to be congratulated.