Most of us are intrigued with pirates and their exploits. From the swashbuckling characters played by Errol Flynn to the Johnny Depp portrayal in the Pirates of the Caribbean, our imaginations have been shaped by Hollywood inspired heroes. Heroes whose exploits have resonated with so many of us because we are at heart really incurable romantics. We want our pirate heroes to be suave, debonair, devil-may-care, macho males who can banter on equal terms with high officials, who will fight for a just cause, and who can win the favor of society’s most beautiful femme fa-tales. But alas, the truth is that these characters that Hollywood has invented and that most of us cling to in our fantasies are, in reality, all too human, with flaws enough to fill and sink one of the sailing vessels that might have roamed the Spanish Main or the Gulf of Mexico in times long past and forgotten.
One of the most famous of the many pirates who left his mark in and around Galveston in the heyday of pirates was Jean Lafitte. He sailed into Galveston Bay in 1817 with his ships and crews looking for a new home where they could plant their feet and stay awhile. Their previous home on Barataria Island in the marshlands of Louisiana was no longer a welcomed place for his entourage of buccaneers: law had come to that part of the world, more law than Lafitte could comfortably tolerate. And stay they did, until 1821 when they were forced to leave Galveston by the US Navy that had set its sights on Lafitte’s main line of work—smuggling and privateering. Just like Lafitte, there were others who sailed the waters of the Gulf and whose tales when told tell a rich and varied history of Galveston’s past. It is this past that is now being told by the Pirate Museum now open on the Island. (See details at end of article.)
However, I will conclude with this bit of island gossip. Rumor has it that even though Lafitte’s body left the island his spirit remains in Galveston. If, on some fog filled night, you are out walking on the west end of the Island near Pirate’s Cove, and you see a tall man with boots up to his knees, pants tucked into his boots, and a pipe in his mouth, looking like someone out of the past—he well may be. The old timers say that Lafitte roams the beach making sure no one steals the treasure he left behind. You may not find that piece of trivia at the museum, but some old timers swear by it.
The New Pirates Museum adjoins Galveston’s year-round Haunted Mayfield Manor –both are next to Saengerfest Park at 2302 Strand.