There’s mystery afoot! A treasured mystery, that is.
Stories of hidden treasures have been told time and time again in children’s books, video games, shows, and movies—but what if they weren’t made up just for the sake of storytelling? What if these stories are factual?
History suggests there is a possibility that hidden treasures—gold coins, doubloons, precious jewelry—are somewhere beneath the surface just waiting to be found! But why? And where?
Louisiana’s most well-known buried treasure mystery still to this day is the unfound treasure of Jean Lafitte.
Jean Lafitte, a one-time resident of Louisiana and privateer, is believed by some to have buried a large cache of treasure somewhere in the bayous of Louisiana. Other variations of the mystery say Lafitte buried the treasure in multiple locations along the Gulf Coast.
This information begs the question, though, “How did Jean Lafitte have treasure in the first place, and if he did, why would he leave it behind?”
Before we dive into these uncharted waters, we need to know more about who Lafitte was.
The Story of Jean Lafitte
Jean Lafitte was born in France around the year 1780 and traveled to the United States when he was in his early twenties. Exactly where he was from remains a bit clouded, but what is clear is that he settled in the New Orleans area with his mother and brother in the early 1800s.
Lafitte became very familiar with, and eventually mastered, an illegal smuggling profession, which translated into an extremely lucrative career for him. The business was so profitable because Lafitte was selling smuggled, foreign goods to the people of New Orleans. These goods were at a high demand and otherwise illegal due to the Embargo Act of 1807.
During this time in New Orleans, Lafitte became a very rich man, acquiring extraordinary amounts of money, ships, and weapons. Some tales even lay claim that Lafitte’s shop was located on Bourbon Street!
Having lived in south Louisiana’s bayous for so long, Lafitte had also become an expert with the naval operations and common routes of port ships in the Mississippi River and its inlets. This would later be used to his great advantage.
The smuggling operations of the well-known privateer eventually came to a screeching halt, though, when the United States began enforcing the embargo in New Orleans city limits some time after the act passed. Forced to leave the city, Lafitte decided to set up shop on a small island in Barataria Bay, about 40 miles south of New Orleans, to continue his smuggling ways. Lafitte knew that his new business outfit was hidden well enough that U.S. officials wouldn’t be able to find him. With his business carrying on and continuing to grow, so did his wealth.
Tensions were high during this time between the United States and Great Britain, thus creating the War of 1812. For good reason, the United States was on edge about who they could trust, and Jean Lafitte was at the top of that list. The infamous smuggler was still seen as a criminal in the eyes of the United States.
In 1814, the U.S. sent a naval force to invade Lafitte’s fleet and was mostly successful, seizing many of Lafitte’s comrades and ships.
With the knowledge (or educated guess) of Lafitte being the best privateer around, United States officials granted him legal authority to pirate and capture British ships as a last-ditch effort to gain an advantage in the pivotal Battle of New Orleans—he did not disappoint.
Lafitte was later pardoned by General Andrew Jackson in praise of his efforts and accomplishments during the Battle of New Orleans. Jean Lafitte became labeled by some as a national hero.
The Origins of Lafitte’s Treasure
Throughout Lafitte’s times as a smuggler and privateer, he became very wealthy. His treasure consisted of the currency he would receive in exchange for his foreign goods as well as the fortunes left on the merchant ships that he captured.
It is still unclear why Lafitte had to bury his treasure or even where he was last seen. Some historians recount that Lafitte went back to a life of crime, leaving the United States no choice but to pursue his arrest. With the threat of imprisonment and the fear of being captured, Lafitte allegedly buried his treasure with the goal to once again evade U.S. seizure and to come back to it later.
There are even tales that the treasure was not intentionally buried. Some accounts say that the treasure was on board one of Lafitte’s vessels and sank to the ocean floor after a shipwreck.
The Ongoing Mystery of Lafitte’s Treasure
So, where could the treasure be today? Could it be that there were multiple burial locations instead of just one? Was it buried underground or lost under water? Could it be that the treasure is in a different location now than where it was buried?
These questions are why the mystery is still such an interesting topic today—more than 200 years later!
The state of Louisiana is not exclusive to rumors of the treasure’s whereabouts too, as residents of Texas have claimed that the treasure was buried somewhere along the Texas Gulf Coast. There are many accounts that say Lafitte settled in Galveston after his adventures in Louisiana.
A family in Baytown, Texas tell their story as they believe they found one of Lafitte’s sunken ships. The family thinks this could be a clue as to where the actual treasure is.
There is even an event in La Porte, Texas centered around the treasure called the “Annual Search for Lafitte’s Gold.”
Switching gears back to Louisiana, this Jean Lafitte tale quotes a former student of Mount Carmel Academy in New Orleans stating that the treasure is buried near an oak tree on the school’s campus.
This article provides images of newspapers from 1921, and one column in particular that talks about Lafitte’s treasure. It reads that a cache of ancient gold coins was found near Jefferson island. It also mentions reports of larger sums of the treasure being buried in the appropriately-named small town of Lafitte, Louisiana.
One story even says that a swamp in the Natalbany River in Springfield, Louisiana, was drained because Lafitte’s treasure was thought to be underwater there. Much to the chagrin of the locals that helped drain the swamp, there was no trace of the treasure to speak of.
To this day, this mystery still has historians, researchers, and treasure hunters alike scrambling to find answers. Metal detector companies may be the only satisfied parties, as the Mystery of Jean Lafitte’s Unfound Treasure seems to be a voyage that will never end.
Do you have any leads as to where Lafitte’s treasure might be? Let us know in the comments below!
My name is Cole Kinchen, and I am a Content Marketing Representative at Pelican State Credit Union. Proud alumnus of Louisiana State University (Geaux Tigers) and an avid fanatic of all things sports and Star Wars. I also have a crazy pug named Manny.