By Paul Gagneaux, staff writer
In the past, many pirates sailed around the island areas of Louisiana. Although many of these pirates are gone, some of their descendants and relics of their history remain in Louisiana’s coastal areas, like Grand Isle.
“One of them is actually buried right in my backyard, and not many people are aware of the fact that he’s here,” says island resident Helen Tabor.
— Helen Tabor
The most well-known pirate in Louisiana’s history was Jean Lafitte. According to the National Endowment for the Humanities, Jean Lafitte was known for his crew, as well as aiding in The Battle of New Orleans. Historians say he bordered the line between hero and criminal, and he preferred the term “privateer” over pirate when referring to himself and his crew. According to the National Park Service, Jean Lafitte and his crew of Baratarians (as he called them) insisted that if they ever committed a crime it was the fault of America for making laws that were so restrictive.
Louis Alcide Chighizola, Jr., the son of Jean Lafitte’s lieutenant Louis Chighizola, died March 24, 1893 and is buried in Grand Isle Cemetery. His father, nicknamed Nez Coupe, pirated alongside Lafitte and eventually settled on Grand Isle, where he raised his family. Nez Coupe even made an appearance in the 1958 film The Buccaneer.
Pirates played a prevalent role in American history, especially between the 1700s and 1800s. According to the National Endowment for the Humanities, pirates held a leading role in developing commercial structure and port towns in America.
According to a history-based website about the origins of Grand Isle, Nez Coupe and Jean Lafitte set up base in Grand Isle to attack Spanish ships, steal treasures and resell them in New Orleans. However, they did not do this often because Grand Isle did not have a harbor at the time, which made it hard for Jean Lafitte and his men to work from there. Jean Jafitte and his men were forced to leave Grand Isle in 1814 by the government, but many of his men stayed behind and retired.
Nez Coupe was one of the men who decided to stay in Grand Isle, where he later had his son Louis Alcide Chigizhola Jr. As such, the Chigizhola family line continued to grow within Grand Isle. Members of the Chighizola family still reside on the island to this day.
“I think it’s pretty cool being related to a pirate,” says Pj Chighizola, a descendant of Nez Coupe and Louis Alcide Chighizola, Jr. and a Grand Isle reserve police officer. “I was born and raised in Grand Isle where Jean Lafitte and Louis Chighizola spent a lot of time, and they are part of the history of Grand Isle, so I am proud to be a part of the history of our little town.”