Mention the name “Jean Lafitte” to people of a certain age and they will immediately think of Cap’n Crunch cereal and its mascot and namesake, whose ship, the SS Guppy, was often attacked in commercials by Jean Lafoote, the Barefoot Pirate. Unlike in real life, Lafoote’s punishment was to get his own breakfast cereal — Jean LaFoote’s Cinnamon Crunch. The real Jean Lafitte was a pirate and privateer (kind of a naval mercenary) in the early 1800s in the Gulf of Mexico who was successful as a pirate, a smuggler, a spy, a town leader and other occupations both legitimate and nefarious while changing sides often enough that no one knew whether to love him or hate him. Lafitte was believed to have died in February 1823 and buried at sea in the Gulf of Honduras, but a mother-daughter investigative team think he faked his own death and lived out his life in secret in North Carolina – and they have an engraved sword they claim is proof.
“There was a price on his head.”
In their new book, titled “Jean Laffite Revealed: Unraveling One of America’s Longest-Running Mysteries,” Dr. Ashley Oliphant and her mother, Beth Yarbrough, build the case for Jean Laffite hiding first in Cuba, then sneaking into Lincolntown, North Carolina, in 1839 with the help of Freemasons and living there until around 1875 when he died at the age of 96.
“In 1839 a mysterious Frenchman arrived in town named Lorenzo Ferrer.”
Dr. Oliphant tells WJZY she and her mother conducted two years of research for the book, which claims Laffite first went to Mississippi, where he assumed the name Lorenzo Ferrer, and then to Lincolntown at the urging of friends there named Henderson. Oliphant says that was verified at the Princeton Library which had handwritten correspondence between Laffite’s lawyer and friend which led them to believe he was still alive. However, the smoking gun was a sword that was once displayed at the Lincolntown Freemason Lodge.
“The iron scabbard of that sword did have an inscription on it. The inscription said ‘Jn. Laffite.’”
That inscription was analyzed and found to be the same way Laffite had signed his name on documents. Ferrer’s body is buried in the historic cemetery behind St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in historic downtown Lincolnton, but the headstone is mysteriously misspelled ‘Lorendzo’ . Does this also prove the Freemasons knew who Lorenzo Ferrer really was and kept the secret for him – perhaps in return for some or all of Laffite’s alleged buried treasure? An exhumation might reveal if it was buried with Ferrer – that’s highly unlikely – and a DNA analysis would be futile unless someone knows where Pierre Lafitte, his brother and only know relative, is buried. Pierre died in 1821 near Dzilam de Bravo in the Yucatán Peninsula. Oliphant doesn’t need to see any more.
“This evidence is compelling enough to convince us that Lorenzo Ferrer was Jean Laffite the pirate.”
What about Jean LaFoote, the Barefoot Pirate? You can still find him on boxes of Cinnamon Crunch cereal.
(NOTE: Jean and Pierre spelled their last name Laffite, but English language documents of the time used Lafitte — hence the dual spellings in this article.)