Jean Laffite: The Pirate Who Saved America
By Susan Goldman Rubin
Jean Laffite: The Pirate Who Saved America came about because of children’s book writer, June Sobol. We were both signing books at a book fair once, but to put it more accurately, she was signing hundreds of copies of Shiver Me Letters: A Pirate ABC, and I signed only two copies of my holocaust themed book. June kindly stopped by to say hello and gave me a gift: did I know that there was a Jewish pirate named Jean Laffite? No, I said. June told me that she had not included him in her book but I was free to take the subject and run with it.
So I raced home and began research. I wrote to Professor Jonathan Sarna at Brandeis University, and he confirmed that Laffite was indeed a Sephardic Jew. It turned out that there were many Jewish pirates of the Caribbean. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries profiteering was an acceptable and legitimate form of business for Jews who were excluded from other professions. But even more interestingly, I found out that Laffite became an American hero when he helped General Andrew Jackson save the city of New Orleans in a battle that ended the War of 1812. With Laffite’s help, and that of his fellow privateers,Jackson beat back the British. Laffite was dubbed “The Hero of New Orleans,” a pirate turned patriot. My research revealed that he led a double life in New Orleans. Educated, handsome, and charming, he was a respected citizen. Yet he continued his career as a privateer and was chosen leader of more than 500 unruly buccaneers at the first pirate convention. I based much of the book on Laffite’s journal, written from 1845 to 1850 for his grandchildren, to give them a “true account” of his adventures as a pirate. I felt that his remarkable story would make history exciting for students.
Jeff Himmelman brought the story to life with action-packed digital illustrations that have been praised as “cinematic.”
Abrams has prepared a Teaching and Discussion Guide with activities, projects, and questions inspired by Laffite’s adventures, and the heroic part he played in American history.
Save the date! June 23, 2012 Nonfiction Book Blast 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.