The Journal of Jean Laffite is a document that surfaced in 1948, when a man calling himself John Andrechyne Laflin presented it to the Missouri Historical Society. At first it was believed to be genuine, but later doubts began to surface. Laflin's own past was shady, he was accused of being a forger, and people began to doubt that this was the true journal of the famous privateer whose actions in the Battle of New Orleans turned the tide in the War of 1812.

An examination of the paper and ink confirmed that they were from the 19th century and belonged to the same time period which the journal purported to have come from. The journal is not a day by day diary. It is more like the reminiscing of an older man about his past life. It is written in French and contains many newspaper clippings, rather like a scrapbook.

You would think, however, that an examination of the handwriting, and especially the signature of Jean Laffite, might be dispositive of the issue. If the manuscript was genuine, then surely the signature would match the signature in other documents from reputable sources.

As it happens, the national archives contain a letter written by Jean Laffite to President James Madison. The signature on that letter looks like this: I have copied this signature from the letter written by Jean Laffite to James Madison which is found in the Library of Congress in the James Madison Collection. (It is not protected by copyright).

We can take a very good look at this signature and get some idea if the signature in the Journal of Jean Laffite is the same or different.

I have a copy of the journal which was sent to me from the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center. It, too, is not protected by copyright, and the librarian was happy to make me this copy. The signature in the Journal of Jean Laffite looks like this:
The two signatures do look quite different. You would think this would be dispositive of the issue. The letter to President Madison is genuine and is kept by the government. The journal must be a hoax.

But when I consulted with a genuine Jean Laffite researcher, here is what I found out: the experts all agree that the signature in the letter by Jean Laffite to the president is not in the privateer's hand, whereas the signature in the Journal is very much like the privateer's signature on his ship's manifest.

Now what do you make of that?

Copyright 2013 Aya Katz

The Reproduced Signature Images were made by me, Aya katz, from public domain documents.
The sketch of Jean Laffite is by Lanie Frick but I commissioned it and have the rights to reproduce it

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