How a Serial Killer’s Family Helped Saved the Nation
By T. R. Heinan
This year marks the bicentennial of one of the most decisive battles in American military history, the Battle of New Orleans. The War of 1812 is sometimes called “the forgotten war” and it is not uncommon to hear that the Battle of New Orleans was fought after the war was actually over. In fact, while the Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814 and the final British assault did not occur until January 8, 1815, the treaty specifically provided that fighting would continue until the treaty had been ratified and exchanged, something that did not occur until February.
The British hope was for the war to end with the British in possession of the City of New Orleans. This would allow them to control traffic on the Mississippi. The fledgling American nation had been humiliated by one military defeat after another throughout the war. Except for some ports in New England, the entire coastline was now successfully blockaded, and the Americans were defeated on the Great Lakes. The British plan to turn the States into a helpless island surrounded by His Majesty’s naval might only lacked control of the Mississippi River.
The White House had been burned, American ports of entry were targeted for destruction, and there was confidence in London that the commercial sector in the former colonies would soon demand an end to their experiment with independence. To accomplish this end, the Crown sent Sir Edmund Pakenham with an armada of fifty ships and a force of 11,000 soldiers, sailors, and marines to capture New Orleans.
President James Madison ordered General Andrew Jackson to the Crescent City. Jackson did not arrived until December 1, 1814. He required an interpreter to help him communicate with the largely French speaking population as he hastily assembled a small opposition force consisting of French and Spanish Creoles, free men of color, slaves, German famers, frontiersmen, militia, regular soldiers and a significant company of pirates.
Witness to these events was thirty-nine year old Delphine Macarty Blanque, pregnant with her fourth child and married to her second husband, Jean Pierre Blanque. The Blanques lived near Conti on Royal Street, two doors down from where Brennan’s Restaurant now stands. Their townhouse was next to the Bank of Louisiana, of which Jean Blanque was a director. Their summers where spent at the Blanque Plantation located on the Mississippi near the Macarty Plantation owned by Delphine’s family. Jean did quite well as a merchant, banker and member of the Louisiana Legislature, but his best source of income was as a silent partner of the most notorious pirates of the Caribbean, Jean and Pierre Lafitte.
Since January 1, 1808 it had been illegal to import new slaves into the United States. The new law played right into the hands of Jean Blanque and the Lafitte brothers. There was big money to be made in the smuggling of ‘black ivory.” By 1814, the United States government was after Jean Lafitte; his brother Pierre was already in jail, and Jean Blanque had been found guilty and fined for smuggling coffee. Louisiana Governor William Claiborne offered a $500 award for the capture of Jean Lafitte. The pirate responded by offering $1,500 for the capture of the governor.
The British, knowing that Lafitte had ships, canons and hundreds of trained men, approached the pirate, offering funds and the rank of captain if he would join them in their attack on the Americans. Lafitte asked for some time to think it over. After weighing his options, Lafitte dispatched letters to Jean Blanque, including one addressed to Governor Claiborne, revealing the British plans and offering to join the American forces. The letters were rushed to Delphine Macarty Blanque’s husband, arriving in less than 24 hours after a trip through the swamps that would normally take three days. Blanque, while insisting that he barely knew Lafitte, beseeched the Louisiana authorities to take advantage of the offer.
Claiborne assumed it was a trick, an attempt to free Jean’s brother Pierre from prison. He ordered an attack on the pirate’s headquarters. Jackson didn’t think he could accept the aid off an outlaw, but was furious that Claiborne had attacked the pirates, fearing that this would push them to accept the British offer. Blanque continued to plead with the legislature and New Orleans safety officials. In a matter of days Jackson realized how unprepared New Orleans still remained. He had only two actual fighting ships on the river, both seriously undermanned. The pirates could help there. More importantly they had cannons, big powerful cannons, and men experienced at using them. After a meeting with Lafitte on Royal Street, Andrew Jackson decided to accept Lafitte’s offer.
During his reconnaissance, Jackson found the place he would make his stand. His headquarters, and the final battleground was to be the childhood home of Jean Blanque’s wife, Delphine Macarty Blanque. The Macarty Plantation, just a short distance downriver from New Orleans, still remained in the family and was still being operated by her cousin. Jackson dug in there and had Lafitte’s heavy ship guns brought onshore. When the British attack came it was fast and furious. Jackson’s headquarters at the Macarty plantation house was struck by cannon fire nearly 100 times in just ten minutes. Most of the British fire was aimed too high however, and the superiority of the American gunners, assisted by Lafitte’s pirates, surprised both sides.
The British suffered 2,459 casualties. American losses were remarkably few. Sir Edmund Pakenham was dead and his forces were forced to retreat.
The sudden and complete defeat of the invaders not only prevented British control of the Mississippi, it became a defining and unifying moment in American history, proving that the new nation had both the will and the ability to bring its people together in defense of their constitutional government and independence. The history, legends, and fame of Andrew Jackson and Jean Lafitte have become part of the American story.
The wife of Jean Blanque whose family plantation became Jackson’s battleground and whose husband brought Lafitte’s offer of assistance to the Americans is also remembered today, but not because of the events that took place while she was married to Blanque. She is remembered for what she did with her third husband, Dr. Louis Lalaurie.
Each year thousands of tourists go to visit her final home in New Orleans at 1140 Royal Street. A new generation has learned her name from Kathy Bates’ excellent, though historically inaccurate, portrayal of her on American Horror Story. She is remembered today for the torture and brutal murder of her slaves in the attic of New Orleans most “haunted house”. She is Madame Delphine Macarty Blanque Lalaurie.
T.R. Heinan is the author of L’immortalité: Madam Lalaurie and the Voodoo Queen, a reflection on justice and compassion set in the historical context of a popular 19th century New Orleans legend. http://www.amazon.com/LImmortalite-Madame-Lalaurie-Voodoo-Queen/dp/0615634710