LINCOLNTON, N.C. (WBTV) - In the 1820s, pirate Jean Laffite, a smuggler from the Gulf Coast area in Louisiana, allegedly faked his death.
He resurfaced in North Carolina under a different name, an alias.
Thousands of miles away, and two centuries later, from where Laffite made his name, in Lincolnton, North Carolina, people continue to visit what is known to locals as “the Pirate’s Grave” in the graveyard at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.
That’s where Lorenzo Ferrer is buried.
For all these years, the legend is believed that a pirate’s plot is situated there, but no one could prove the ongoing mystery.
Lincolnton residents Ashley Oliphant and Beth Yarbrough spent about two years researching, documenting and writing about Laffite, whose story coincidently hit close to home.
With evidence to back their claims, they revealed what no one else had before – that the pirate who smuggled in Mississippi and Louisiana moved to Lincoln County and changed his name to Lorenzo Ferrer after faking his death in 1823.
Oliphant, a writer and professor at Pfeiffer University, and Yarbrough, a writer and photographer, turned their notes into a book, based on all of the evidence they uncovered about the connection.
Jean Laffite Revealed: Unraveling One of America’s Longest-Running Mysteries was released to the public on March 15.
It discloses information that reveals that pirate Jean Laffite faked his death, changed his name to Lorenzo Ferrer and later moved to Lincolnton where he died.
“(Book) was supposed to be about Laffite, in general, but then as we began to research while we were in New Orleans we casually mentioned the old legend here in Lincolnton about a man named Lorenzo Ferrer, who from day one, everyone had said could have been the pirate Jean Laffite,” Yarbrough said. “We began to look around and dig and uncover evidence and we realized the story was true, and that became the book.”
Oliphant and Yarbrough consider themselves to be “armchair” historians.
Oliphant has always been intrigued by the story of pirates.
So, when they learned Laffite’s life ended in their hometown, that just added some more interest.
“Everyone in Lincolnton visits the “Pirate’s Grave,” Oliphant said. “We thought it was nothing more than a myth until we actually investigated. We were just as shocked as anybody to learn there is evidence to prove it to be true.”
Pirate Jean Lafitte was said to have died in the Caribbean in the 1820s.
He had hundreds of ships and thousands of crew members who helped him steal and then sell for money.
Oliphant and Yarbrough unveiled in their book there is more to the story.
Lafitte arrived in Lincolnton in 1839, at the age of 59 years old. He was there for 36 years until his death in 1875.
“We were able to track him using the new alias he has adopted to come back to the United States. We were able to track him first through Mississippi and then into North Carolina,” Oliphant said. “What was most exciting about our discovery in North Carolina was that we learned that the man living as Lorenzo Ferrer was actually the pirate, Jean Laffite.”
The co-authors found a document in the Princeton University Library from Laffite’s lawyer and Laffite’s best friend essentially exposing the fact they were hiding him well after he was supposed to be dead.
According to Oliphant, the pirate met the Henderson family, from Lincolnton, North Carolina. Laffite met them in Mississippi before he was compelled to move to North Carolina.
Ferrer helped found the Freemason Lodge in Lincolnton.
“We know those ties continued into Lincolnton because it was actually the Hendersons who raised and vouched for Lorenzo Farrer to join the Freemason Lodge,” Oliphant said. “Their names are on the petition he signed.”
Oliphant and Yarbrough learned more and more about the mystique and connection between pirate Jean Lafitte and this alias, Lorenzo Ferrer.
“There is the mystique of this long-lost time period,” Oliphant said. “It didn’t take us long to begin uncovering things, it dawned on us that there’s something here and we are on the trail of it, and we have to keep pushing.”
At the height of his wealth, Jean Laffite was one of the Top 10 wealthiest men.
He was a known businessman with dozens of ships and had thousands of crew members.
Oliphant said he organized a “massive smuggling operation” where his crew members stole, and he would sell.
The authors say Lafitte rose to prominence in the early 1800s in Louisiana.
“He was sending them out to do the dirty work and he was in New Orleans figuring out a way to sell the stolen things,” Oliphant said.
After allegedly faking his death, Oliphant and Yarbrough say Laffite lived in Mississippi before spending the rest of his life as Lorenzo Ferrer in Lincolnton.
“He was a businessman, first and foremost,” Yarbrough added. “It was nearly impossible to set up the level and size of scope of smuggling operation that he did in a swamp using various miscreants as his employees, but that’s what he did.”
While on the verge of finishing their book, Oliphant and Yarbrough did a little more research, closer to home, at the Freemason building in Lincolnton, the lodge that started in the 1850s, thanks to a helping hand from Lafitte.
As they were digging around, the authors made a startling discovery – this really old sword that had been hanging around.
No one had known the history behind the sword until Oliphant and Yarbrough questioned about one of the men who founded the Freemason lodge.
It was found that there was a faint inscription that read – J.N. Laffite.
It was the finishing touch on cracking the case of pirate Jean Laffitte resurfacing in Lincolnton.
“The freemason lodge realized they had a very old sword in their possession that no one really thought to investigate closely,” Yarbrough said. “They realized there was a very old inscription on the sword. After close examination, it turns out the inscription reads, J.N. Laffite, which is exactly how Jean Laffite spelled his name.”
You can find the book Jean Laffite Revealed: Unraveling one of America’s Longest-Running Mysteries on Amazon, at Barnes and Nobles bookstores and on the website: jeanlaffiterevealed.com.