Author reimagines pirate Jean Lafitte
Morgan Molthrop regales tourists with his tale of self-destruction on Wall Street and eventual resurrection back in New Orleans. Reinvention is an experience many of his listeners can relate to and a classically American phenomenon. A former investment banker, Molthrop is a natural storyteller who has more recently devoted himself to re-envisioning Louisiana history through his own books, lectures, photographs and illustrations, telling time-honored stories through a modern day capitalist lens.
“I’m a bard,” says Molthrop, who has become so entrenched in Louisiana history, “I can feel the muck under my feet.”
The author and tour destination manager turns New Orleans’ history inside out, giving newcomers and locals a different perspective on characters and events. In his latest book, “Jean Lafitte’s Pirate Code: 17 Strategies for Acquiring Untold Fortune from America’s first Laissez Fair Capitalist,” Molthrop challenges readers to consider the French pirate as a smart businessman who merely took advantage of a “deregulated” market following the Louisiana Purchase.
“Lafitte lost everything in the Saint Domingue slave revolt, but made back his fortune within 15 years by infiltrating New Orleans,” Molthrop explains.
America’s most infamous pirate, Jean Lafitte was a charming 19th-century smuggler of luxury goods whose unscrupulous reputation morphed into a Louisiana folk hero for whom streets, bars, restaurants, hotels and even a National Historic Park are named. (Tourists romanticize the brigand stealing his way up a shady, flagstoned French Quarter alley to a blacksmith shop where contraband was traded and stored.)
A smooth operator who switched sides whenever the political situation vacillated, siding alternatively with the Spanish, British or Americans, he partnered with Native Americans, Cajuns and Free People of Color whenever the need arose.
Lafitte was an enigmatic figure who consorted with wealthy customers at formal events by night while navigating bayous for booty by day. He was able to finesse government officials, bribing them to turn a blind eye to his notorious affairs while building a modern port for smuggling 80 miles south of New Orleans.
"He became American in his thinking, shedding French tradition ill-suited to a man without pedigree. However, he masked as a French gentleman. He dressed well, lived well, and courted public opinion.”
Similarly, Molthrop sees himself as a contemporary pirate who has uncovered the secret to success by retelling classic New Orleans stories from a novel perspective.
"My job is to get people interested in the people and the places. I’m often told by audience members that if their teachers had been like me, they’d have loved history!”
Molthrop doesn’t feel the need to become a novelist because New Orleans’ stories are already so fascinating.
“I’ve already got the Baroness Pontalba (Spanish royalty turned real estate developer), I don’t need to make her fiction!”
“Americans came here to change New Orleans, but New Orleans changed America.”
“Pirate’s Code” is the second book in a trilogy of Louisiana stories; “Andrew Jackson’s Playbook: 15 Strategies for Success” was the first installment and Marie Laveau will be the third. The 114-page book is being published by Barataria Communications and will be available on amazon.com, ULpress.org at bookstores and public lectures given by the author by Memorial Day 2016.
Mary Rickard has been a regular contributor to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, New Orleans Advocate and Gambit, as well as newspapers and wire services in other locales. Feel free to send her comments or critiques at firstname.lastname@example.org.