Monday, July 10, 2017

Pirate Consorts

From Shannon Selin:
According to William C. Davis, who has written the best-researched book about the Laffites (The Pirates Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf), Pierre Laffite and Marie Villard started their relationship sometime between 1803 and 1805. They may or may not have negotiated a formal plaçage. This was an arrangement in which white men entered into the equivalent of common-law marriages with women of African, Native American or mixed-race descent. The women were not legally recognized as wives, but were known as placées. The man would provide a house and support for his plaçée and their children, even if he also established a white family. The house became the property of the woman and could be passed on to her heirs.

Plaçage flourished in the French and Spanish colonies of North America, especially during the late 18th century.  It was commonly practiced in New Orleans, even after Louisiana became part of the United States in 1803. British writer Harriet Martineau, who spent ten days in the city in 1835, described it thus:
The Quadroon girls of New Orleans are brought up by their mothers to be what they have been; the mistresses of white gentlemen…. The girls are highly educated, externally, and are, probably, as beautiful and accomplished a set of women as can be found. Every young man early selects one, and establishes her in one of those pretty and peculiar houses, whole rows of which may be seen in the Remparts. The connexion now and then lasts for life: usually for several years. In the latter case, when the time comes for the gentleman to take a white wife, the dreadful news reaches his Quadroon partner, either by a letter entitling her to call the house and furniture her own, or by the newspaper which announces his marriage. The Quadroon ladies are rarely or never known to form a second connexion. Many commit suicide: more die broken-hearted. Some men continue the connexion after marriage. Every Quadroon woman believes that her partner will prove an exception to the rule of desertion. Every white lady believes that her husband has been an exception to the rule of seduction. (1)
When Pierre met Marie Villard, he already had one son, named Eugene or Pierre, born around 1802, probably in Saint-Domingue. Pierre and Marie had at least seven children together: Catherine Coralie (born 1806 or 1807), Martin Firmin (late 1807 or early 1808), Jean Baptiste (1810), Rosa (1812), Jean (1816 – the earlier Jean may have died), Adele (1819), and Joseph (May 2, 1821). Joseph is the baby Marie is nursing in Napoleon in America.

Pierre used Marie to shield his property from the law. In 1814, when New Orleans merchant Paul Lanusse (the uncle of Louis Lauret) and three other parties obtained a district court judgment against him for almost $10,000 for “money robbed from them,” Pierre claimed he owned “nothing but his industry.” (2) Meanwhile, Marie Villard purchased a house on Dumaine Street, probably with money provided by Pierre.

As William C. Davis notes on the Laffite Society website, while the New Orleans cathedral baptism records appear to confirm that Marie Villard was Pierre Laffite’s mistress, there is less evidence connecting Jean Laffite with Marie’s younger sister Catherine Villard. Davis surmises in his book that in 1815 – when the Laffites received a presidential pardon and could resume their public life in New Orleans – Jean started or resumed his involvement with Catherine (Catiche) who also lived in the Dumaine Street house. She became pregnant and gave birth to their son, Jean Pierre, on November 4, 1815. Catiche had given birth to a daughter named Marie on November 10, 1813. It’s not known who the father was. Some speculate it was Jean.

In August 1816, Pierre got Marie to buy a house at the northeast corner of Bourbon and St. Philip Streets for $5,500 (including a mortgage of $1,120). (3) Pierre also bought a female slave from Marie for $500, which he sold on the same day for $900, again using Marie to further his business transactions. (4) In April 1818, Marie sold the Bourbon and St. Philip house to one of Pierre’s associates. She repurchased it in 1819, paying in part with a promissory note guaranteed by Jean Laffite. (Read more.)

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