Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Yes, I am a pirate

I am still on a Bubba Jimmy Buffett trip. His works are just too good NOT to share. He wrote a book, titled A Pirate Looks At Fifty a few ye-Arrs back, and Mrs. Stomps With Foot gave me his newest one for Christmas - A Salty Piece Of Land.

Remembering and listening to Bubba's songs is a glimpse at my own life. He used to play the bar scene on Greenville Avenue, here in Dallas, back in 70s, with the likes of Jerry Jeff Walker.

There is a reason Bubba and I are kindred spirits. Read these lyrics or play the song, then scroll down for more on our pirate connection.

Jimmy Buffett

Mother, mother ocean, I have heard you call,
Wanted to sail upon your waters
since I was three feet tall.
You've seen it all, you've seen it all.

Watch the men who rode you,
Switch from sails to steam.
And in your belly you hold the treasure
that few have ever seen, most of them dreams,
Most of them dreams.

Yes, I am a pirate two hundred years too late.
The cannons don't thunder there's nothin' to plunder
I'm an over forty fifty victim of fate
Arriving too late, arriving too late.

I've done a bit of smugglin'
I've run my share of grass.
I made enough money to buy Miami,
But I pissed it away so fast,
Never meant to last, never meant to last.

I have been drunk now for over two weeks,
I passed out and I rallied and I sprung a few leaks,
But I've got to stop wishin',
Got to go fishin', I'm down to rock bottom again.
Just a few friends, just a few friends.

I go for younger women, lived with several awhile
And though I ran away, they'll come back one day.
And still could manage a smile
It just takes awhile, just takes awhile.

Mother, mother ocean, after all these years I've found
My occupational hazard being my occupations
just not around.
I feel like I've drowned,
Gonna head uptown.

Now my involvement with pirates is a real one. One traced back to my maternal ancestry through one Mr. Charles Sallier and his bride, Catherine LeBleu. Herewith is that tale.

Arsene LeBleu, Charles and Catherine Sallier and Jean Laffite

Arsene LeBleu was the first white man born in the Calcasieu area, now Calcasieu Parrish, Louisiana. He was among the largest land and slave holders in southwest Louisana. The old home was a spacious cypress house, covered with plaster, and plastered inside with attractive murals on the smooth walls.

Hospitality was the order of the day in those times, supplies and servants were plentiful, and visitors were royally entertained. Arsene, whom Laffite called “my captain,” always welcomed Laffite and his men into the LeBleu home on English Bayou because Laffite was considered a war hero rather than an outlaw because of his help in defending New Orleans during the Battle of New Orleans.

Laffite made his headquarters with LeBleu, spending many delightful days at his home and forming a lasting friendship with the family. LeBleu built a small log cabin for Jean Laffite where the privateer would often come to rest and recuperate from his pirate ways, feeling safe in his own home with his captains keeping watch nearby.

It was rumored that Jean hid some of his gold here. “Part of my merchandise was unloaded at the mouth of the Calcasieu, in the care of Mr. Arsene LeBleu,” Laffite wrote. In addition, Arsene LeBleu provided a “double-pen” log house, a 20 foot by 20 foot structure for storage of Laffite’s silks, spices, teas, liquor, jewels, and other contraband. This building stood the war and tear of many years, but was finally destroyed by the hurricane of August, 1918. Laffite was at all times generous to a fault to those he loved. Once, in return for a gift of fresh meat and tanned deer hides, Laffite presented Arsene LeBleu with two of his most faithful slaves, Creastauck (a Cuban) and Jean (a gigantic Zulu). These slaves were valued at eighteen-hundred dollars each on the market at that time. The descendants of old Creastauck may still be found in the community of Lake Charles today.

Here is a photo of Arsene LeBleu:

Once, when Arsene LeBleu admired a handsome diamond stud Laffite was wearing in his silk shirt, Laffite unscrewed the fabulous gem and tossed it to LeBleu, remarking that he’d better keep it as it was much too beautiful for a rough pirate privateer.

Charles Sallier, was a political exile until Laffite brought him to settle in Lake Charles. Sallier was thought to be a minor monarch who’d been exiled from France or a French province. Jean Laffite helped him to escape and to settle in Louisiana. Sallier was in Opelousas, Louisiana in 1797, and then came westward until he reached the Arsene LeBleu home, east of the lake that now bears his name -Lake Charles.

Here is a photo of Charles Sallier.

There, Sallier met Arsene LeBleu’s sister, Catherine. Charles Sallier fell in love with the tall, blonde, beautiful Catherine and married her in 1805. He built her a cabin on the southeast shore of the lake, which was then called Charles’ Lake. Later, the little village that sprang up around this lake was called Charlestown, and finally it became Lake Charles.

Only two pioneer families, the LeBleus and Salliers were in southwest Calcasieu Parish when Catherine LeBleu and Charles Sallier married. During the years of 1815 to 1821, when Jean Laffite was headquartered in Galveston, he spent many hours slipping up through the Calcasieu River and Contraband Bayou into Lake Charles. Here he visited his friends, Charles and Catherine Sallier often, docking directly in front of the shell mounds before the house. Their children were loved by Laffite.

One day, Jean Laffite told their little girl, Sydalise, “See this bag of gold? If you can pick it up, you can have it.” Needless to way, the weight of the bag was too much for the child, but she remembered it and told the tale often to her own grandchildren. Sydalise used to listen from their lakefront home to songs sung by the pirates on their ship. “They accompanied themselves on little accordions,” she told her grandchildren, “and I got in trouble when I sang the songs and my mother heard the words!”

On one occasion, Laffite told Catherine that she worked too hard and he emphasized his remarks with another pirate phrase. She chided him for swearing in her presence and he gallantly replied, “Pardon, madame, le Bon Dieu knows I can never atone for so grave an infraction of your hospitality. I can however, ease my conscience and lighten your burdens.” With these amends he presented her with two fine young negro boys who served her until their respective deaths and whose descendants still live.

One day Jean Laffite built a fort next to Sallier’s cabin. He had captured a ship in the Gulf which was well stocked with treasure, and he was being chased by a federal gunboat. Hastily Laffite sailed up the Calcasieu River and then slipped around into a little cut-off in Contraband Bayou, trying to hide from his pursuer. He didn’t see the gunboat for a while, so he went on through Contraband and into the lake, where he dropped anchor in front of Sallier’s cabin. Quickly his men unloaded the treasure off Laffite’s corsair and, as was their custom, buried it on shore.

Woodcut of Charles with map of Lake Charles:

Then they brought their cannons ashore and bombarded their boat until it sank. Hastily they constructed a fort from a huge shell mound left by Indians. Either the federal boat could not find Laffite, or the crew was afraid to enter into the lake knowing the smugglers were onshore, but the gunboat was not seen again. After waiting all night and for several more days, with no news of the gunboat, Laffite finally brought in another corsair, dug up his treasure and silently slipped back down the river to the Gulf of Mexico.

Circumstances are not clear, but somewhere along the line, Charles became jealous of Laffite and accused Catherine of screwing around with being too friendly with the privateer. One day, shortly after the birth of their sixth child, Charles, raging at Catherine, drew a pistol and shot her. She fell to the floor. Charles assumed she was dead and hastily exited the home. He jumped on his horse and raced to the other side of the lake and disappeared.

Charles Sallier was never heard from again. But Catherine Sallier did not die. She stood up and found the the bullet that had hit her hand and then a brooch that she was wearing. The brooch kept the bullet from penetrating her body and saved her life. Catherine Sallier lived on at Shell Beach until she died at the age of 75. She never remarried, and most people believe that she was completely innocent of Charles’ accusation. To this day, handed down from generation to generation, my cousin Dorothy Barbe, has this amethyst brooch worn by Catherine and there are creases where it was struck by the bullet fired by Charles.

Yes, I am a pirate two hundred years too late. The cannons don't thunder there's nothin' to plunder I'm an over forty fifty victim of fate Arriving too late, arriving too late.