BY Grecianne Hammer
Today many oral traditions are being lost and the stories of the dead and the living dead might just finally becoming buried. Below is a story that almost every child growing up in Galveston, Texas knows by heart.
The story is supposed to be true. It might be an urban legend.
But who dares investigate the stories of Zombies and ghosts of Pirates and slaves.
If It is real?
When Voodoo came to Galveston, Texas it came with Zombies, and snakes and it's very own Voodoo Hoodoo Queen. This is of course was so, so long ago, many years before the great storm. In the light of the full moon in a shallow grave an army of zombies await. And some say they are still waiting for a secret command to make them rise.
The Texan Voodoo Queen Great Mamaita Tunga-neeze, or Ma Ma Neeze as she was called in days long ago. Her great white hair was tightly wound and braided. Scared from years of Voodoo Hex's, she now traveled with the pirate King Jean Laffite. The Move from New Orleans to this peaceful island was just where he planned to build an army of 2000 pirate zombies to man his island properties, treasure and ships.
An old story I use to hear as a kid is that The Pirate kings treasure is buried in a pit with 30 pirate zombies below it around it and on top all buried deep inland on the island. To find his treasure you have to dig deep. But the rest of the buried zombie army are buried near by in shallow graves. And they are ever eternally ready to ponce on you when they know you are close to the treasure.
The Zombie Treasure pit as many Galvestonians call it is made of dark red brick from New Orleans that Laffite brought over from his many plunders. The red brick treasure pit served two purposes. Zombies and evil spirits cannot cross over a red brick or red brick dust. when imprisoned in a red brick tomb like those in new Orleans they must remain still until set free. no matter how long it takes.
All the zombies that were buried on Galveston Island are said to be controlled by a large ring with a blood red ruby stone as large as a pheasants egg. This red ring of death is said to be cursed to control the zombies and make them do your bidding. The ring is said to be hidden somewhere from Galveston to New Orleans. Hidden away by the Voodoo Queen MaMa Neeze herself under Laffite's instruction. Some think it is hidden beneath the streets of the Strand itself. Or in the ruins of laffite's home.
Some believe the clues to finding Laffite's treasure means finding the ring and the red stone bricked pit where the zombies and treasure are hidden. A number of details about Jean Laffite's early life are obscure and often contradictory but many believe they hold the clues top finding his zombie slaves and buried treasure intact. In one document, Laffite claimed to have been born in Bordeaux, France, in 1780. He and his brother Pierre alternately claimed to have been born in Bayonne, while other documents of the time place his birthplace as St. Malo or Brest. However, as Laffite's biographer Jack C. Ramsay states, "this was a convenient time to be a native of France, a claim that provided protection from the enforcement of American law." Further contemporary accounts claim that Laffite was born in Orduna, Spain or even Westchester, New York.
Ramsay speculates that Laffite was actually born in the French territory Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). It was not uncommon in the late 18th century for the adult children of the French landowners in Saint-Dominique to resettle in the Mississippi River delta, also owned by France. Families with the surname Lafitte are mentioned in Louisiana documents dating as early as 1765. According to Ramsay, Lafitte, his elder brother Pierre, and his widowed mother journeyed from Saint-Dominique to New Orleans, Louisiana, in the 1780s. In approximately 1784, his mother married Pedro Aubry, a New Orleans merchant; Jean stayed with his mother, while Pierre was raised by extended family elsewhere in Louisiana.
And of course this would explain the connection of his to voodoo to a degree if were not for the fact that Ma Ma Neeze was said to be his nurse maid or nanny. This would in my opinion explain allot of how I have heard this tale told by many family, friends and acquaintances over the years.
According to Ramsay's theory, as a young man, Lafitte likely spent a great deal of time exploring the wetland and bayou country south of New Orleans. And at the time I believe he was knowledgeable of Voodoo - Hoodoo that could be conjured, hexed and controlled as well. He knew the existence of Zombies and the power they welded. The many slaves he encountered knew of juju and black gris- gris spells. I believe these stories of zombies and dead pirate crewmen might be based on fact.
In later years, he was described as having "a more accurate knowledge of every inlet from the Gulf than any other man" His elder brother became a privateer, probably operating from Saint-Domingue, which frequently issued letters of marque. Many say his Knowledge came from Black Voodoo Magic. a spell put on him by the Voodoo Queen. Ma Ma Neeze likely helped Lafftte and his brother to disperse the merchandise. By 1805, he was thought to be running a warehouse in New Orleans and possibly a voodoo hoodoo store on Royal Street near St. Ann. From which real zombies were houses made and sold.
Barataria, near Grande Isle, Louisiana had become a United States territory in 1804. In January 1808 the government began to enforce the Embargo Act of 1807, which barred American ships from docking at any foreign port. This was problematic for New Orleans merchants. In response, the Lafitte brothers began to look for another port from which they could smuggle goods to local merchants. They established themselves on the small and sparsely populated island of Barataria, in Barataria Bay. The bay was located beyond a narrow passage between the barrier islands of Grande Terre and Grande Isle. Barataria was far from the U.S. naval base and ships could easily smuggle in goods without being noticed by customs officials. After being unloaded, the merchandise would be reloaded onto pirogues or barges for transport through the bayous to New Orleans. The Bayous were thought to be protected by the hundreds of Zombies Ma Ma Neeze had made for them from the dead in New Orleans.
Pierre established himself in New Orleans and served as a silent partner, looking after their interests in the city. Jean Lafitte spent the majority of his time in Barataria managing the daily hands-on business of outfitting privateers and arranging the smuggling of stolen goods and dead bodies to make zombies of. By 1810, the island had become a booming port and populated by living and dead men alike. Seamen flocked to the island, working on the docks or at the warehouses until they were chosen as crew for one of the privateers. Or turned into a real zombie by the old voodoo queen.
Lafitte was unhappy with the length of time it took to get goods from the port to the merchants; navigating the swamps could take a full week. In 1812, Lafitte and his men began holding auctions at the Temple, a memorial mound halfway between Grande Terre and New Orleans. the location was guarded by large black zombie dogs and several groups of zombie guards.
Dissatisfied with their role as primarily a broker, in October 1812 the Lafitte brothers purchased a schooner and hired a captain to sail it as a privateer. The schooner did not have an official commission. In January 1813 they received their first prize, a Spanish hermaphrodite brig loaded with 77 zombie slaves. Sale of the zombie slaves and additional cargo generated $18,000 in profits and the brothers turned the captured ship into another privateer, named Dorada. Within weeks, Dorada captured a schooner loaded with over $9,000 in goods. The captured schooner was not considered a good fit for privateering, so after unloading its cargo the Lafitte's gave the ship back to its former captain and crew. The Lafitte's gained a reputation for treating captive crew members well, and often gave the ships back to their original crew.
The brothers soon acquired a third ship, La Diligent. The ship was outfitted with 12 fourteen-pounder cannon. Dorada captured their fourth ship, a schooner they renamed Petit Milan. The brothers stripped down their original schooner, using its guns to outfit the new ship. They now sailed three ships, which Davis described as likely "one of the largest privately owned corsair fleets operating on the coast, and the most versatile". For several months, the Lafitte's would send the ships directly to New Orleans with a legal cargo and would take on outgoing provisions in the city. The crew would then create a manifest that listed not the provisions that had actually been purchased, but instead smuggled items that awaited at Barataria. Customs agents were uninterested in which goods were leaving New Orleans and rarely checked the accuracy of the manifest. The ship would then sail to the mouth of Lafourche Bayou and load the contraband goods, which they could then legally sail back to New Orleans, as those goods were listed on their manifest.
Governor William C.C. Claiborne took a leave of absence in September 1810, leaving Thomas B. Robertson as acting governor. Robertson was incensed by Lafitte's operation, labeling the men on the island "brigands who infest our coast and overrun our country with zombies ". The citizens of New Orleans did not share Robertson's hostility, but were grateful to the Lafittes for providing them with luxuries the embargo would have otherwise prevented. When Claiborne returned to office he remained relatively quiet on the subject.
On June 18, 1812, the United States declared war on Britain. Britain maintained a powerful navy, but the United States had little naval power. To supplement their navy, the United States offered letters of marque to private armed vessels. New Orleans issued six of these letters, primarily to smugglers who worked with Lafitte at Barataria. The smugglers often held letters of marque from multiple countries, authorizing them to capture booty from differing nations. Booty from captured British ships would be properly submitted to the American authorities at New Orleans, while booty from all other ships was often channeled through Lafitte's operation. The smuggling operations reduced the amount of revenue that the customs offices could collect, and American authorities were determined to halt the Barataria operations. Because the United States Navy did not have enough ships to act against the Baratarian smugglers, the government turned to legal action. On November 10, 1812, United States District Attorney John R. Grymes charged Lafitte with "violation of the revenue law". Three days later, 40 soldiers were sent to ambush the Baratarians; they captured Lafitte, his brother Pierre, and 25 unarmed smugglers and killed 40 zombies by removing their heads, on November 16 and confiscated several thousand dollars of contraband. The smugglers were released after posting bond and disappeared, refusing to return for a trial. any zombie prisoners that were held were fed a handful of salt. to which the zombie fell to the ground no more undead or alive.
Despite being under indictment, in March 1813 Lafitte registered himself as captain of Le Brig Goelette la Diligente for a supposed journey to New York. Biographer Jack Ramsay speculates that the voyage was intended to "establish...[Lafitte] as a privateering captain". Lafitte soon gained a letter of marque from Cartagena, but never sent any booty there; instead, all prizes in which he was involved were landed at Barataria.
Lafitte's continued flouting of the laws angered Governor Claiborne, who on March 15 issued a proclamation against the Baratarian "banditti ... who act in contravention of the laws of the United States ... to the evident prejudice of the revenue of the federal government". The proclamation was printed in the nationally read Niles' Weekly Register.
In October, a revenue officer prepared an ambush of a band of Lafitte's smugglers. The smugglers wounded one of the authorities and fled in safety, with their contraband. The following month, the governor offered a $500 reward for Lafitte's capture. Within two days of his offer, handbills were posted all over New Orleans offering a similar award for the arrest of the governor. Although the handbills were made in Lafitte's name, Ramsay believes "it is unlikely [the handbills] originated with him". Following the reward offer, Lafitte wrote Claiborne a personal note refuting the charges of piracy.
The success of the auctions at the Temple encouraged Lafitte to launch a similar auction just outside New Orleans in January 1814. Officials attempted to break up this auction, and in the ensuing gunfight one of the revenue officers was killed and two others were wounded. Many of the city's merchants were also unhappy with this auction, which allowed their customers to buy goods and real zombies directly from Lafitte at a lower price than the merchants could charge.
Angry at this blatant violation of the revenue laws, Claiborne appealed to the new state legislature. He requested approval to raise a militia company to "disperse those desperate men on Lake Barataria whose piracies have rendered our shores a terror to neutral flags." The legislature appointed a committee to study the matter, but as most of their constituents benefited by the smuggling, no militia was ever raised. Authorities did convince a grand jury to indict Pierre after one of the leading merchants in the city testified against him. Pierre was arrested and jailed on charges of "having knowingly and wittingly aided and assisted, procured, commanded, counseled, and advised" persons to commit acts of piracy".
In late 1815 and early 1816, the Lafitte brothers agreed to act as spies for Spain, which was in the midst of the Mexican War of Independence. The brothers were collectively known as "Number thirteen". Pierre would keep the Spanish informed of happenings in New Orleans, and Jean was sent to Galveston Island, a part of Spanish Texas that served as the home base of privateer Louis-Michel Aury, who claimed to be a Mexican revolutionary. By early 1817, other revolutionaries had begun to congregate at Galveston, hoping to make it their base to wrest Mexico from Spanish control. Lafitte visited in March 1817 with Mama Neeze and a crew of 100 Zombies.
Two weeks into his stay, the two leaders of the revolutionaries left the island. The following day, Lafitte took command of the island and appointed his own officers. On April 18, he sailed for New Orleans to report his activities. With Spanish permission, Lafitte returned to Galveston, promising to make weekly reports of the activities there. And in secret build a large zombie army with his voodoo red ring of death to control them.
Lafitte's motives were not selfless; he essentially turned Galveston Island into a new Barataria, real zombies and all. Like Barataria, Galveston was a seward island that protected a large inland bay. It had the advantage of being outside the authority of the United States, and it was largely uninhabited, except by Karankawas. the indians were afraid of the walking dead men and as their tribe members were captured killed and turned in to the walking dead many fled the island.
Lafitte quickly began improving his new colony. Existing houses were torn down, and 200 new, sturdier buildings were constructed. As was a make shift cemetery for the zombification of certain men who chose to be made undead and the dead bodies of those that had no choice. Ships operating from Galveston flew the flag of Mexico, but they engaged in no revolutionary activities, as Lafitte worried about a potential Spanish invasion. Aury returned to Galveston several months later, but left in July when he realized that the men were unwilling to revolt because the majority were more dead then alive. He was told about the voodoo queens evil deeds and the blood red ruby ring that the pirate king used to control them. Many think he left with the fear that he might be turned into a zombie slave.
In less than a year, Lafitte's colony grew to 100–200 men and several women. The zombie population also thrived with close to 800 undead men guarding the island day and night. Some were the dead retrieved from ships and cemeteries in New Orleans. All live newcomers were personally interviewed by Lafitte and required to take an oath of loyalty to him. Or be turned into a zombie worker by the mad old voodoo queen. The headquarters of the operation was a two-story building facing the inland harbor, where landings were made. The building was surrounded by a moat and painted red; it became known as Maison Rouge. It was guarded by no less then100 zombies. And a pack of 20 huge devil zombiefied dogs. Most regular business was conducted aboard Lafitte's ship, The Pride, where he also lived with 15 zombie body guards. Lafitte created letters of marque from a nonexistent nation for all of the ships sailing from Galveston. These letters gave the ships permission to attack ships from all nations.
Location where historical information suggests that Maison Rouge,
Laffite's home on Galveston Island, was sited.
In April 1818, the United States passed a law prohibiting the import of living slaves into any port in the United States But this did not effect the un- dead slaves which could be bought and sold regardless. The law left several loopholes, however. It essentially gave permission to any ship to capture a slave ship, regardless of the country from which it originated. Furthermore, any newly imported slaves who were turned into zombies needed not be handed over to the customs office even though they could and would be sold within the United States, with half the profits of the sale going to the people who turned them in. Lafitte worked with several smugglers, including Jim Bowie, to profit from the poorly written law. Lafitte's men would target ships that carried slaves. The voodoo queen would turn them into zombies. Smugglers would purchase the zombie slaves since they were declared legally dead for a discounted price, march them to Louisiana, and turn them into customs officials. A representative of the smuggler would purchase the zombie slaves at the ensuing auction, and the smuggler would be given half of the purchase price. The smuggler was then the lawful owner of the zombie slaves and could transport them to sell in other parts of the United States.
The colony experienced hardships in 1818. After a Karankawa woman was killed by a zombie, the Indian tribe attacked and killed five members of Lafitte's colony and dispatched 10 zombies to hell. The corsairs aimed the artillery at the Indians, killing most of the men in the tribe who were then zombiefied by Ma Ma Neeze. A hurricane in September covered almost all of the island in water, killing several people who were later zombiefied and destroying four ships and most of the buildings. Only six homes were habitable afterwards.
Around 1820, Lafitte reportedly married Madeline Regaud, possibly the widow or daughter of a French colonist who had died during an ill-fated expedition to Galveston. In 1821, the schooner USS Enterprise was sent to Galveston to remove Lafitte and his zombie army from the Gulf after one of the pirate's captains attacked an American merchant ship. Lafitte agreed to leave the island without a fight, and in 1821 or 1822 departed on his flagship, the Pride, burning his fortress and settlements and reportedly taking immense amounts of treasure with him. But many tell the tale of the red brick zombie pit filled with treasure. All that remains today of Maison Rouge is the foundation, located at 1417 Avenue A near the Galveston wharf.
On May 7, 1821, Lafitte and the remainder of his men sailed from Galveston aboard three ships. He was also accompanied by his mulatto mistress and an infant son and 50 zombie pirates. Before leaving, the group burned most of the structures they had erected on Galveston. Most of the men believed that Lafitte had a valid privateering commission, although there was confusion on which country had issued it. Two weeks after setting sail, they captured a Spanish ship, which they sent to Galveston, hoping the Longs would smuggle the many zombies to New Orleans. Lafitte's men buried some of the cargo with zombie guards on the island and ran the Enterprise aground, but an American patrol spotted the ship and after investigating discovered the buried zombies and the cargo. Several of Lafitte's men were arrested and convicted of piracy. The remainder of the zombie crew rejoined Lafitte, who finally announced that he did not have a valid commission, and his ships would be sailing as pirates. Almost half of the combined crew refused to sail as pirates; though the dead ones had no choice. Lafitte allowed the live men to leave aboard his largest ship, the brig General Victoria. That night, however, the remaining zombie crewmen re boarded the General Victoria and destroyed its masts and spars, crippling the ship, before leaving the living crewmen unharmed.
Lafitte and his zombie men continued to take Spanish ships in the Gulf of Mexico, often returning to Galveston or the barrier islands near New Orleans to unload cargo or take on supplies that had been left by Pierre. The congressional delegation in Louisiana began to demand that the federal government do something to halt the smuggling, and more U.S. Navy ships were sent to the Gulf. The number of active pirates began to decline.
In October or November 1821, Lafitte's ship was ambushed as he attempted to ransom back a recent prize. He and a few zombie crewman initially escaped but he was soon taken prisoner and jailed. On February 13, he escaped, likely with outside help from the old Voodoo Hoodoo queen and the undead. Over the next few months, Lafitte established a base along the coast of Cuba, bribing local officials with a share of the profits and supplying them with zombies. In late April, Lafitte was captured after taking his first American ship. The American warship which captured him turned Lafitte over to the local authorities, who promptly released him.
Lafitte and other pirates operating in the area began targeting ships carrying legal goods to Cuba, angering Cuban officials. By the end of 1822, Cuba had banned all forms of sea raiding. In June 1822, Lafitte approached the officials in Colombia, whose government had begun commissioning former privateers into their new navy. Lafitte was granted a commission and given a new ship, a 40-ton schooner named General Santander. For the first time, Lafitte was legally authorized to take Spanish ships.
Lafitte continued to patrol the shipping lanes around Cuba. In November 1822, he made news in the American press after escorting an American schooner through the pirate-strewn area and providing them with extra cannon balls and food.
In February 1823, Lafitte attempted to take what appeared to be two Spanish merchant vessels. The ships were actually Spanish privateers or warships and returned fire. Lafitte was wounded in the battle and died just after dawn on February 5. He was buried at sea in the Gulf of Honduras. Two obituaries have been found for Lafitte; the Gaceta de Cartajena wrote that "the loss of this brave naval official is moving". No American newspaper ever carried an obituary for him. Some say He is now a great Zombie King and the red ruby ring is still on his dead hand.
The authenticity of the Lafitte Journal is hotly debated among Lafitte scholars, with some accepting the manuscript and others denouncing it as a forgery. The problem of authenticating the diary is confounded by the scarcity of genuine documents in Lafitte's handwriting for comparison. The most reliable genuine Lafitte documents are two short manuscripts from the library collection of Republic of Texas president Mirabeau B. Lamar, which are currently held by the Texas State Archives. Paper tests confirm that the Journal is written on paper from the 19th century, though no consensus exists about authenticity among the small number of handwriting experts who have studied the document. The original manuscript was purchased by Texas Governor Price Daniel in the 1970s and is on display at the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center in Liberty, Texas. Translated versions of the journal have been in print since the 1950s.
Among other things, this diary would demonstrate that Jean Lafitte was Jewish, through descent from his maternal grandmother Zora Nadrimal. Harold I. Sharfman in Jews on the Frontier: An account of Jewish Pioneers and Settlers in Early America, accepted that Lafitte was of Jewish descent. The family were Marranos who converted under pressure to Roman Catholicism in the 14th century, but continued to practice Judaism secretly. In 1765, Jean's grandmother, Maria Zola, fled with her mother from Spain to France to escape the Spanish Inquisition. Maria Zola's husband, Abhorad (Jean's grandfather), was put to death by the Inquisition for "judaizing." (Sharfman, Harold I., Jews on the Frontier, Henry Regnery Company, Chicago. 1977. pp. 132-145). Recent scholars recognize Lafitte as a corsair or buccaneer who operated with Letters of Marque to legitimize his commerce raiding. As such, technically, Jean Lafitte was not a pirate in the true sense of the word.
GALVESTON PIRATE GHOST SIGHTINGS
Many are the tales of close encounters with what some believe to be the phantom fleet of Jean Lafitte; some claim to have seen the pirate himself standing at the helm of the lead vessel.
Workers on the oil platforms that dot the Gulf of Mexico claim to regularly spot a billow of sails on the horizon just before sunset, always heading east into the gloom. Crews of offshore supply vessels claim that in the middle watch they have heard the flapping of sail riggings and the cry of phantom voices, calling out in the Creole patois once spoken in Barataria commands to a ghostly crew. Small boats, it is said, have been almost swamped by the passage of the ghostly fleet that is said to produce visible white foam where the bows break the waves and a tremendous wake in the dark waters.
The strangest story comes from the three man crew of a charter fishing boat who, anchored off Grand Isle in the dead of night, all claim to have seen the apparition of a tall, pale man, clad in black and wearing a wide-brim hat such as Lafitte was known to wear, standing on the aft deck of their sport fisherman. It is said the apparition looked at them forlornly then turned his head in the direction of Louisiana and disappeared before their very eyes.
Significantly, the ghostly fleet and the apparition believed to be the Pirate Jean Lafitte were spotted just before the disastrous Hurricane Katrina. Many have come to believe that seeing Lafitte or his ships is a warning that something evil is about to befall his beloved Louisiana coast.
But the ghost of Jean Lafitte is not confined to the open Gulf alone. Many legends exist concerning Lafitte’s golden treasure and there are as many hiding places as there are versions of the tale. Most center around the old Barataria area, Grand Terre and Grand Isle and Galveston Island particularly, and it is said that often the ghosts of pirate watchmen can still be seen, sitting on the spot where Lafitte’s gold is hidden, guarding it forever into the afterlife. Archaeological digs in the area have turned up little of significance and no gold, but the legends persist throughout south Louisiana and Texas. Many believe that Lafitte is coming back for his treasure one day.
GHOST TOURS OF GALVESTON
Learn more about the real ghosts of Galveston Island. For the next public tour time call our Ghost Line (requiring no reservations) for information and public tour times 409-949-2027. For Private Ghost Tours and other information call the office line at 832-892-7419.
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The Tour Group Meets In Front Of The Railroad Museum At Strand And 25th Streets