History - A Pirate, a Marshal, and the
Battle of New Orleans
The trial commenced two weeks later, but neither brother showed up. The
governor was chagrined.
Enter the U.S. Marshal
Established by an act of Congress in March 1804, the office of the
U.S. marshal was created in the Territory of Orleans to solidify the
recent Louisiana Purchase. From the onset, the marshal played a pivotal
role in governmental affairs.
The early marshals were well-connected citizens of New Orleans. The
third man to hold the position, Martin Duralde Jr., was Claiborne’s
brother-in-law. And so it went. But eventually Marshal Duralde,
like his two predecessors, grew weary of the ever-changing political
climate of the city and its environs and he moved on.
The pressures on these men were intense. There were always competing
political factions within New Orleans — not to mention the unavoidable
presence of Jean Lafitte and his band of sailing men. Duralde
subsequently took the position of register of mortgages, leaving the
office of marshal vacant. The governor wanted a person of influence, but
surprised when the federal government appointed Peter Duplessis on April
“As was the case so many times back then, Governor Claiborne probably
had one of his own associates in mind for the marshal’s job,” Turk said.
“But despite his overtures for another candidate, Marshal Duplessis
remained in place.”
Duplessis had previously worked as a territorial auctioneer and the
keeper of mortgages, and he also served in the local militia. He was
from a family
steeped in the French-Creole establishment. “The volatility of New
Orleans politics probably stabilized the marshal in his position,” Turk
said. “Louisiana did not become a state until 1812, so prior to that,
the governor had the overall administrative command of the territory
while the marshal handled all
of the policing responsibilities.”
Firmly in place as the marshal, Duplessis attended to the business of
trying to locate the Lafitte brothers and bring them to trial. On April
19, 1813, he received the official writs from the court.
The writ for Jean read as follows:
You are hereby commanded ... that you take the body of Jean Lafitte
so that he be and appear before the District Court of the United
States for the Louisiana District — to be holden at the City of New
Orleans on the third
Monday of July next ... to answer to the complaint of the United
States and that he do file his defense or answer with the Clerk of
With the arrest warrants in hand, the marshal searched the entire
city. But he repeatedly came up empty.
An angry Governor Claiborne placed wanted posters all over town in
November of that same year. They read: $500 FOR THE CAPTURE OF JEAN
LAFITTE. But the gentleman pirate could not pass on the opportunity to
humiliate his rival. He replaced those posters with his own, which were
emblazoned with the following: $1,500 REWARD FOR THE CAPTURE OF GOVERNOR
CLAIBORNE TO BE DELIVERED
TO THE ISLAND OF BARATARIA.
He didn’t get Jean, but in March 1814, Marshal Duplessis did arrest
his brother in New Orleans for violating federal revenue laws. Pierre
was placed in the famous Cabildo, a prison dating back to when the
Spanish ruled New Orleans.
However, the prisoner escaped on Sept. 6, 1814. “Posters were
placed around town once again — this time for Pierre’s capture — but it
was clear he was out of reach,” Turk said.
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