Until recently, anyone traveling to the Town of Jean Lafitte to learn about the famous pirate would have had a tough time finding any connection in this small fishing village. But the Jean Lafitte Barataria Museum and Wetland Trail is putting the some of that pirate lore on display.
Some of the people who have lived here for generations claim to have great ancestors who were part of Jean Lafitte’s crew of Baratarians who would raid ships and seize their cargo, and then sell those goods in New Orleans. Lafitte also provided crew with cannons to help Gen. Andrew Jackson defeat the British in the Battle of New Orleans. The town of Lafitte is located on Bayou Barataria, one of the main thoroughfares in a maze of bayous and bays that connected Lafitte’s headquarters and storage buildings on Isle of Grand Terre to the city. In the museum you can see weapons and cannon balls that would have been used by the privateers, and the remains of a schooner, perhaps part of Lafitte’s fleet, that was pulled from the waters of Barataria.
History buff Ed Perrin has found a family connection to the pirate crew. His great, great grandfather Jean Emmanuel Perrin was part of the gang of Baratarians who served with the infamous coastal pirate. “There is a journal” Perrin says, “that’s supposed to have been Jean Lafitte’s journal, and he had three lieutenants …. called guardians, and one of those was Jean Emmanuel Perrin”.
But there is more than pirates in this museum. Attractive exhibits, some of them animated, tell the story of this town’s reliance on fishing, hunting and trapping.
You see displays of native animals like muskrats, nutria and alligators, a collection of model fishing boats, and the popular Cajun pirogues. The earliest pirogues were dugout from a tree trunk, while more modern boats are made of wooden planks. The town has also been hosting the world championships of pirogue racing since the 1930’s.
Malcolm Leblanc, Sr., has won the annual event eleven times. To be successful, Leblanc says he would train by paddling his pirogue up to ten miles a day, “If you want to win you’ve got to practice. Everytime I was in shape I never did get beat.” An old log dugout and a sleek modern racing pirogue are on display in the museum.
Behind the museum, you will find a raised boardwalk that lets you step inside the swamp. The mile long trail weaves its way through moss-draped cypress trees (Link to “take a break – big cypress”).
You see the seasonal blooming of native flowers as you quietly search for the wildlife that live in the shallow water, among the trees and palmettos. The natural side of this town is also part of the story, where families lived off the land and water, and where pirates were seeking their own fortunes two centuries ago.
You can access more trails at the nearby Barataria Wetlands Preserve, part of the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park.