The recently published Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean, by Edward Kritzler, explores Jewish ties to the legendary pirates who plagued the Caribbean during the Age of Discovery. While the scholarship is lacking, according to Adam Kirsch, who wrote a review of the book for J. The Jewish News Weekly of Northern California, the links Kritzler makes are at least interesting.
Here’s what Kirsch had to say about Kritzler’s claim on the infamous Jean Lafitte:
Kritzler even stakes a Jewish claim on one of the marquee names in pirate history, Jean Lafitte, the patriot buccaneer who ran a smuggling empire from New Orleans in the early 19th century, then redeemed himself by fighting with Andrew Jackson against the British in the War of 1812. Kritzler quotes Lafitte himself on the importance of his Jewish ancestry:
“My grandmother was a Spanish-Israelite … [She] told me repeatedly of the trials and tribulations her ancestors had endured at the time of the Spanish Inquisition … [Her teachings] inspired in me a hatred of the Spanish Crown and all the persecutions for which it was responsible — not only against Jews.”
The oppressed becomes the foe of oppressors, the beaten-down Jew takes up a cutlass. It is an irresistible story line and the central premise of Kritzler’s book.
But if Lafitte’s pronouncement seems too convenient, perhaps it is. Kritzler’s notes said he found the quotation in a book on the history of New Orleans Jews, where it is cited from “The Journal of Jean Lafitte.” Nowhere, however, does Kritzler mention that “The Journal of Jean Lafitte” was the work of a notorious forger named John Laflin, who also invented documents related to Davy Crockett and Abraham Lincoln.
So maybe Jean Lafitte wasn’t Jewish after all, but Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean does at least make the connection that Christopher Columbus’s explorations occurred simultaneously to the Spanish Inquisition and the expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal. It makes sense that some of the diaspora, jilted by their homelands, would wind up fighting alongside country-less pirates in the seas of the New World.
Adam Kirsch’s review is worth a full read, even if the book itself isn’t. Click here to read the full article, cleverly entitled “Yo ho ho and a bottle of Manischewitz.”