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Mystery and legend surround the life of Jean Lafitte. Was he a pirate, a patriot, or both? Is his last name spelled “Lafitte” or “Laffite”? Even the date and place of his birth and death are unknown. He was probably born in the early 1780s in either France or the French colony of St. Domingue (now Haiti) in the Caribbean. . . . His exact whereabouts after [being forced out of Texas by the U.S. Navy in 1820] are unknown. His life and death remain as mysterious as the swamps and bayous of Barataria.
It is not our desire to dispute the conclusions of those more learned that ourselves, but we believe that Lafitte's final years were, in fact, spent in Alviso, California. According to our records--which are available for inspection at our corporate offices in Taratupa, the Seiber Islands--a man we believe to be none other that Jean Lafitte arrived at the Embarcadero de Santa Clara in 1834. At that time, according to Eric Carlson's excellent on-line essay Old Port of Alviso
What Mr. Carlson's essay does not share however, is that the boat used by Dana had been repaired by the local blacksmith and boatwright, one "Jean Saint-Dominique", who had arrived the prior year with his wife and children and a small number of companions. In 1838, the Mexican Governor, Juan Bautista Alvarado, granted the Rincon de los Esteros Rancho to Ignacio Alviso. Alviso--who has been described by Carlson as one of the "adventurers, led by Captain Juan Bautista de Anza, who first trooped into the area in 1776"--was apparently a good friend of "Saint-Dominique" since he soon offered him the opportunity to move his business to a site closer to San Francisco bay. This site, which "Saint-Dominique" named "Nueva Barataria", eventually became part of the town named after his benefactor, Alviso.
"Saint-Dominique" manged to hold onto Neuva Barataria during the transition from Mexican to American rule in the 1840's, changing the name of his company to the now famous "Barataria Boat Works". In 1848, when news of John Marshall's discovery of gold reached him, "Saint-Dominique", now 68 years old, wisely resisted the temptation to join the "Gold Rush" himself, sending his two sons and three grandsons in his stead. Their success is reflected in the ability of the Barataria Boat Works to survive both the economic and ecological ups and downs of Alviso during the next 150 years.
On January 8,
1854--40 years to the day after the Battle of New
Orleans--"Jean Saint-Dominique"--now 74 years
old--went to Sunday mass with his family. He asked the
priest to return home with him, where he died
peacefully after confessing his sins. There are some
witnesses who report that this took over an hour, but
family members claimed it only took 10 minutes. The
priest, of course, had nothing to say.