Thursday, September 19, 2013

Jewish Pirates: Ahoy Vey!

Repost with slight changes

Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. The Jewish New Year began two weeks ago.

What would be an appropriate topic, albeit perhaps a little afield from the subject of genealogy, for a blog post combining the two?

How about Jean Lafitte, the possibly Jewish Pirate?

[image - late 19th century artist's conception. [source]

The facts of his origins, and those of his demise as well, depend upon whether you believe the "Journal of Jean Lafitte" is a forgery or not. Discovered in the possession of a claimed descendant.
"My grandmother was a Spanish-Israelite. ... Grandmother told me repeatedly of the trials and tribulations her ancestors had endured at the time of the Spanish Inquisition. ... Grandmother's teachings ... inspired in me a hatred of the Spanish Crown and all the persecutions for which it was responsible -- not only against Jews." [source]
According to one account, Jean Lafitte was killed upon the General Santander, an armed private vessel in the service of Columbia, on Feb. 5, 1823, at the age of 41. In the Gulf of Honduras, the General Santander encountered two Spanish privateers or warships, and was mortally wounded in a brief battle with the vessels and buried at sea ...  
According to Lafitte's Journal ( which many believe to be a hoax, claimed to have been found by a great grand son of Lafitte) written by Lafitte himself in 1851, he took the name John Lafflin and died in St. Louis in his 70s. [source]
As a St. Louisan, this last definitely interests me. Though I have been unable to determine where John Lafflin (whether or not in reality Jean Lafitte) is supposed to be buried. Mysteries tend to surround pirates, don't they?

However, while the origins of Jean Lafitte are controversial, in Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean, author Edward Kritzler makes the claim for several others. Some of the earlier ones are said to have gone into the piracy business as revenge against the inquisition.
One such pirate was Moses Cohen Henriques, who helped plan one of history's largest heists against Spain. In 1628, Henriques set sail with Dutch West India Co. Admiral Piet Hein, whose own hatred of Spain was fueled by four years spent as a galley slave aboard a Spanish ship. Henriques and Hein boarded Spanish ships off Cuba and seized shipments of New World gold and silver worth in today's dollars about the same as Disney's total box office for "Dead Man's Chest." [source]
Of course, pirates tend to break a few commandments in their daily routine. Ends rarely justify the means, and revenge isn't generally considered a morally appropriate explanation for deeds. One wonders if the above Jewish pirates recited the Al Chet (confession of sins) yearly on Yom Kippur.

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