Who doesn't love pirates?
Ah, actually those who truly ran into them on the open seas that's who!
But as our fascination with Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow proves,
most of us are fascinated by the folklore of pirates.
Which is why our city's pirate festival, Contraband Days, has reached its 60th birthday.
And contrary to the Pirate Code, the parking and gate entry are FREE!
Contraband Days starts today and goes on until May 14th.
The festival springs from the legend of Jean Lafitte, who saved New Orleans with Andrew Jackson.
Yes, the war with the British was over by that battle
but the internet and Twitter were down that month so no one knew.
And with the capture of New Orleans,
the British would have had a toe-hold in America that they would not have relinguished ...
Thus halting our Western expansion, altering the history of our country dramatically.
Jean Lafitte was the catalyst for the criminal term Fencing Stolen Goods ...
as smugglers, of which he was the chief, would sell their plundered items through the fence circling St. Louis Cathedral.
Sometimes the Contraband Jean Lafitte sold in Contraband Bayou were things like jewels, spices, silks, and gold.
Other times, the treasure was slaves.
Which is why many in Lake Charles are uneasy about our festival.
But hey, he wasn't just a slave trader, right?
Ah, not so much towards the end.
Blame Congress, my friends.
Congress passed the Act of 1818, which forbade importing new slaves into the country,
which is what ultimately led to Jean Lafitte becoming a full time slave trader.
The new law had a handy loophole for Lafitte
that gave him permission to capture any slave ship on the open sea.
The slaves were then to be turned over to the customs office and sold,
with half the profits going to the people who turned them in.
So that’s what Lafitte did.
He captured slave ships, then turned them in for a profit. But he didn’t stop there.
After turning them in, he’d work with different smugglers – including Jim Bowie –
who’d buy the slaves at a discounted price, which suddenly made the illegally imported slaves legal to be sold across the South,
which is what Lafitte and his smugglers did.
They captured slave ships, turned them in, then bought them cheap (giving themselves half the profit, because of the law),
then they’d turn around and sell them again. Legally. It was a double-dipping scheme that was as lucrative as it was terrible.
I go into this a bit more in my time-traveling fantasy, THE RIVAL, whose events take place mostly in 1834 New Orleans.
Contraband Days is great fun ...
unless you know that your great, great-grandmother was sold like an animal
in Contraband Bayou by the legendary Jean Lafitte.
The fireworks fall a little flat with that knowledge.
Perhaps if it were called Pirate Days ...
Calling it Contraband Days
seems to imply it is still thought all right that human beings were once treated as contraband, things to be bought.
But the children love the parades, floats, and fireworks. And I try to focus on their happiness.
Happiness is a scarce commodity for so many ... it seems Scrooge-like to deny weary souls a little pleasure, right?
To know the truth beneath the surface is sometimes to weep.