We are getting cabin fever, so we have been taking road trips on weekends. This time it was a day trip, as Galveston is so close to Houston. Galveston, for those who don’t know, such as me before I moved to Texas, is an island south of Houston. It is an island with deep cultural roots.
The island started out as “Auia”, which I have researched and am unsuccessful in finding a translation, was shared by the Karankawa and Akokisa tribes. From 1529 on, travellers were shipwrecked, chose to as a base to attack neighbouring states and countries, or for leisure. They filled the history with layers of Native American, Spanish, French, Piracy, organized crime, and developed as a cotton exportation powerhouse. It was an important place for trade, imports, and exports at the base of the Mississippi River. All the visitors, settlers, and was the primary point of European immigration, which made it a diverse place.
Jean Lafitte, French pirate and privateer’s headquarters in Galveston are little more than ruins. Once I read more about the ruins, it turns out they might not even be from the original Maison Rouge!
The favoured belief is that Jean Lafitte, and his brother Pierre, left their island near New Orleans and settled on Galveston. In New Orleans 1805, he was operating a warehouse to disperse the goods stolen by his brother Pierre. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, they moved their operations to an island in Barataria Bay, Louisiana. There they continued to grow in wealth and power as pirates until the United States naval force, enforcing the Embargo Act of 1807, captured most of their fleet in 1918.
The Lafittes were provided the opportunity to help General Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans in the Battle of New Orleans and receive legal pardon. The Lafitte’s and their former lieutenants repulsed the British alongside General Andrew Jackson.
The brothers seemed to find a niche in helping governments. They moved from pirates to privateers, to spies for the Spanish during the Mexican War of Independence in 1817. Mexican revolutionaries used Galveston Island for their base in the attempt to free Mexico from Spanish control. Within weeks of Lafitte visiting the island, the leaders of the revolutionaries left.
According to multiple sources, Jean was aristocratic in nature. A gentleman pirate.
Taking advantage of the situation, or perhaps causing it, — the brothers were wonderful pirates, they left no documents behind surrounding their lives in mystery — the brothers then moved their headquarters to Galveston Island, which they called Campeche. Galveston was their new smuggling base. As it was outside the authority of the US, and a part of Mexico, they could basically smuggle openly. Ships operating from Galveston used the Mexican flag, even though they did not take part in the revolution. The headquarters were a two-story red building, surrounded by a moat, the Moulin Rouge.
They were making money smuggling, stealing, and reselling slaves, making millions of dollars a year. In 1821, the United States sent the USS Enterprise to remove Jean Lafitte from the Gulf. He agreed to leave, then had his men burn the Maison Rouge along with the settlement. Lafitte and his men turned to piracy.
Although there are only ruins left on the spot, the infamous pirate lived, the history is engaging. I wish they could find more beneath the ruins, but pirates do not give up their secrets lightly. Ghost hunters believe this place to be haunted, I have no doubt there are many reasons it might be. Jean Lafitte’s hounds, black dogs with flaming eyes, are said to warn of impending disasters. The headquarters of a pirate crew must hold many deadly secrets.
We took an early morning tour of the Moody Mansion. Home to the Children’s Museum, in the basement, and the Moody family museum upstairs. I chose the Moody Museum over the Bishop’s Palace, even though both are opulent examples of their time, because they focused it on the story of one family and how they built their wealth. I have cousins whose last name is Moody, but I am sure there is no close relation. Though I wish there was after the tour.
Social Distancing was easy in this giant estate. There was a garage filled with their favourite vehicles followed by the mansion itself. The mansion is a 28,000 square-foot historic home. So lots of space to spread out in. Not to mention it was not busy on a Sunday morning. I prefer to be the first one in the door, we basically get the place to ourselves. W. L. Moody Jr. bought the mansion after the great Galveston Storm of September 9, 1900. They still consider the hurricane the nation’s deadliest natural disaster, with over 8,000 deaths on the island, and thousands more on the mainland. It destroyed thousands of houses along with businesses.
Many who survived the deadly hurricane left their businesses and homes destroyed. The Moody’s stayed. As the Seawall grew, and Galveston restored, the Moody family moved into their new house in time for Christmas. The Mansion was fortunate to suffer minimal damage. It weathered many storms that took out many of the neighbouring properties. The family remained in the mansion until 1986. The building made it through several hurricanes, last year the mansion celebrated its 125th anniversary. It is an example of robust building and opulence.
There are several audio tours available with an entrance ticket. Make sure you use it.
I enjoy exploring older homes as they give a better understanding of the times and an inner look at the family. As a whole, my impression was family-wise in their investments who proved mighty in the cotton and many other industries, (there is a Moody Bank not too far from my house). The only disappointment I had was the kitchen was not on the tour. The kitchen, as with many mansions, palaces, and castles, has its kitchen in the basement. Kitchens are my favourite room in any home. So not being able to see it was a bummer. There was the Butler’s closet, but it wasn’t the same.
As for the ghosts that are said to live there, we saw no orbs of light, no cold spots detected, and no visions of the family. But I went on a Sunday morning and cannot say if that was a contributing factor:)
Our final stop was the Galveston Pleasure Pier. The sanitized location is home to family-friendly entertainment. A large amusement park rolls out onto the pier. From 1924 to 1957, Galveston was an open port city where gambling and other adult amusements were found. America’s top dance bands, open-air movies, fishing, and carnivals existed on the pier.
We did not partake in the amusement park, but it looked like a lot of fun.
Hurricane Carla, in 1961, severely damaged the Galveston, ending the amusements. Four years after the hurricane, The Flagship Hotel opened, bringing back tourism to the area. The area was once again open, this time with more family-friendly entertainment. A hurricane again ended the entertainment, much like the last transition, Hurricane Ike in 2008 damaged the hotel and pier.
The last rebirth occurred in 2012, when the new Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier opened as a world-class amusement park. We stopped by the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and the place was already hopping. Clearly well-loved by locals and visitors alike.
Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. bench out front
It was a fun little trip. I usually pick up ghost stories and local lore when I was in the area, but Galveston is unique. The storms in the area, whether political or weather, cause complete shifts to occur. So finding the history is a challenge. I found multiple sources, took a tour previously, and still do not see a straight path. Despite that, it is a beautiful place and worth a visit.
Gaveston Ghost can be found here
Galveston History Center can be found here
Galveston Texas Government Site can be found here
Moody Mansion can be found here
Texas Highways has a nice writeup on the history of Jean Lafitte in Galveston. It can be found here
Wikipedia had the most comprehensive information about the Lafitte Brothers history. It can be found here