This Historic New Orleans Landmark May Have A Disturbing History Of Slavery

New Orleans is famous for many things — Mardi Gras, cajun food, the debaucherous Bourbon Street, and jazz music. It's known as a city of both sin and culture, thanks to its rich cultural traditions, cuisine, history, and legendary French Quarter nightlife. Even though the city sits squarely in the Deep South, New Orleans isn't usually associated with slavery — at least not right off the bat. 

As it turns out, though, one of New Orleans' most historic landmarks may actually have a troubling history involving the slave trade. The building at 941 Bourbon Street is now a bar called "Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop," (per New Orleans Historical) named for an actual blacksmith shop that once occupied the space, is said to have been owned and operated by the Lafitte brothers in the 18th century. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970, and has remained so ever since. This story of this "blacksmith shop," however, may be more illicit than it appears.

A blacksmith in name only

Built between 1772 and 1791, Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop was located on the corner of Bourbon Street and St. Philip Street, and operated by pirate brothers Jean and Pierre Lafitte. A French Colonial Louis XV-style townhouse, the shop may have looked like a blacksmith from the outside, but according to New Orleans Historical, its real purpose was allegedly more problematic.

Legend suggests that the Lafitte brothers were operating the blacksmith shop as a front for selling not only goods plundered on the seas, but also enslaved people. These rumors are supported by many New Orleans' notarial records, which are filled with thousands of sales of enslaved people by Pierre Lafitte. 

The true purpose of the blacksmith shop makes sense in the context of New Orleans' slave trade. Many in the city wanted slaves, but the embargo on the importation of Africans into the U.S. made obtaining slaves difficult. The Lafitte's took advantage of this supply and demand to offer illicitly-obtained slaves that weren't otherwise available.

The legend of the pirate brothers

The involvement of Jean and Pierre Lafitte in such underhanded dealings isn't exactly surprising. According to New Orleans Historical, the brothers were privateers who assisted Andrew Jackson and the U.S. Army at the Battle of New Orleans, though Jackson didn't exactly trust the pair. Indeed, Jackson described Jean Lafitte as a "hellish banditti." Nontheless, they assisted Jackson in the defense of New Orleans during the War of 1812, and received accolades for their efforts.

While many legends and rumors hold that the Lafitte's lived or worked in the blacksmith shop, others argue they aren't associated with the place at all. According to History Engine 3.0, author Barbara SoRelle Bacot said, "[941 Bourbon Street is] romantically known as Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, but it has nothing to do with Lafitte or any blacksmith."

Whether the brothers were actually associated with the blacksmith shop or not, local legends surrounding the Lafitte's exploits means the place will be forever linked with them.