Lafitte was a colorful character, said to have been born in France. He engaved in smuggling and priviteering, with his "Kingdom of Barataria" (in what is now Louisiana) recognizing the sovereignty of no other nation.
A controversial manuscript, known as the 'Journal' of Jean Laffite, relates how, after his announced death in the 1820s, he lived in several states in the United States, raised a family and wrote this journal. At his request the publication of the journal was delayed for 100 years. In the 1950's the journal was translated from the French language and published. The original manuscript was purchased by Texas Governor Price Daniel and is on display at the Sam Houston Regional Library and Archives in Liberty, Texas.
Lafitte claimed never to have plundered an American vessel, and though he engaged in the contraband slave trade, he is accounted a great romantic figure in Cajun Louisiana. His legend was perpetuated in Cecil B. DeMille’s classic, The Buccaneer and even by a poem of Byron:
His later years are obscure; a man many said was Lafitte died in Yucatan.
A U.S. National Park is named for him, in six physically separate sites in southeastern Louisiana, interpreting the local Acadian culture. The Barataria Preserve (in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana) interprets the natural and cultural history of the uplands, swamps, and marshlands of the region. Six miles southeast of New Orleans is the Chalmette Battlefield and National Cemetery, actual site of the 1815 battle and the final resting place for soldiers from the Civil War, Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, and Vietnam.
Jean Lafitte is the name of a Cajun fishing village and tourist spot sited on Bayou Barataria.