Monday, August 13, 2012

Jean Laffite: the Pirate Who Saved America

Jean Laffite: The Pirate Who Saved America
By Susan Goldman Rubin, Illustrated by Jeff Himmelman
Abrams, 2012. 47 pages. Biography

This year's bicentennial of the War of 1812 brings with it a much-needed upswing in the number of children's books on the subject, none more exciting than Susan Rubin and Jeff Himmelman's story of the pirate turned patriot who helped his adopted country trounce the British at the Battle of New Orleans. Born in Bordeaux, France, Lafitte and his family became pirates of the Caribbean with a particular hatred towards the Spanish who had expelled his Jewish family from Europe. Many Spanish ships fell to his pirate crews, but when he began a family he decided to move to France to begin a new life. Attacked by a Spanish man-of-war, Laffite and his family were captured and left to die on small island. When they were rescued by an American ship, Jean conceived a loyalty to the United States that served the country well--not only did Laffite and his men fight in the Battle of New Orleans, but gave General Andrew Jackson vital information and counsel about how to defend the city. Not much is actually known about the early life of Laffite, but some of what is known is left out of this otherwise exciting story:  we know that Laffite hated the Spanish, but not that he was born in France. Also omitted are the fact that Laffite and his men required the promise of a full pardon from the United States before they agreed to fight for them. Also, the title claim that Laffite saved America is a bit far-fetched, since the Battle of New Orleans was actually fought after a peace treaty had been signed between the British and the Americans--word just hadn't yet reached the United States. However, the Battle of New Orleans did establish the young country as a force to be reckoned with, and in that way may have saved the U.S. from future bullying by other countries.  In any case, Laffite's personal story is fascinating and his accomplishments--besides piracy!--impressive.  A good overview for getting history-resistant youngsters interested in an important part of America' story.

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