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The Bold Pirate Plan To Bring Napoleon To The United States

The Napoleon House lay awaiting its infamous tenant.

On Chartres Street in New Orleans's French Quarter, you can find the best muffuletta sandwich and the best Pimm's Cup cocktail at a place called Napoleon House—so named because it was meant to be the residence of L'Empereur, just as soon as the pirates could rescue him from his exile in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

After the Battle of Waterloo saw the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815, he was exiled for a second time to a remote island. The world was certain he could never escape and would never again threaten the security of Europe or its royal families. That island was St. Helena, from which the British could see pretty much anyone coming their way, allowing them to fight off anyone who might try to rescue the former French emperor. You would have to be a crazy kind of outlaw to attempt such a daring rescue.

New Orleans just happened to have a lot of those—and some very famous ones at that.

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  • Napoleon House in New Orleans.

  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By 1821, Napoleon had been on this chunk of rock in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by British warships and British troops, for five years. The onetime "Master of Europe" was likely getting tired of his forced retirement from public life. So were the fans of the Emperor. One of those fans was Nicolas Girod, the first popularly-elected mayor of New Orleans. Girod was a bonafide Bonaparte superfan and a Frenchman through and through; he hated that his Emperor was stranded on a rock somewhere in the ocean. He wanted to bring Napoleon to New Orleans, so he enlisted the most infamous pirate in New Orleans's history to bring him there.

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Jean Lafitte was the leader of the Barataria Bay pirates, the very same ones who helped Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans from the British in the 1815 battle. Lafitte and his men received pardons for their pirating crimes that day. But the pirates and Girod were ready to take to the seas against the British once more, this time to bring Napoleon to his new home in New Orleans.

napoleon united states
  • Jean Lafitte. 

  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Lafitte hand-picked a crew of men with extensive experience in piloting small, fast boats. Though no writings of the specific plan exist, from what is known of the plot, it appeared the pirates were just going to fly past the British warships under the cover of darkness, land quickly on the shore, and attempt to spirit the emperor away via those small boats.

Related: 8 Essential Texts About Napoleon Bonaparte and the Napoleonic Wars

Just before the crew was set to depart in 1821, however, a ship arrived in the port of New Orleans with the news that Girod's emperor had died. The plan was, of course, scrapped. Today, the house on Chartres Street still stands and is a restaurant and bar called "Napoleon House", retaining the name of its famous would-be tenant.

Published on 19 Nov 2019

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