History of Grand Isle Louisiana by Irv L. Magri Jr.
Grand Isle is a natural subtropical island, basically located at 29.2N90.00W. The island is approx. 7.5 miles long and 1 mile wide at its widest point. It lies directly below the City of New Orleans as the Crescent City is located basically at 30.0N-90.00W. Grand Terre directly to the east was the headquarters of the famed privateer (some would disagree with this statement and say ‘pirate’) Jeane Lafitte and his brother Pierre Lafitte as well as Nez Coupe Chighizola, and Dominique You. The island is washed by the Gulf of Mexico surf on the south side of the island and Caminada Bay on the north. Caminada Pass separates Grand Isle from the mainland and Barataria Pass separates it on the east from Grand Terre. Barateria Pass is located at 29 16.13N and 89 56.72W, while Caminada Pass is located at 29 11.78N and 90 02.49W. To the east of Grand Terre is Coupe Abel Pass located at 29 18.02N and 89 54.07W. To the east of Coupe Abel is Four Bayou Pass located at 29 18.65N and 89 51.40W. If you drew a line due south of Grand Isle, Louisiana you would be near the Mexican town of Meridan in the Yucatan. Grand Isle is Louisiana’s only inhabited barrier island. It has been incorporated as a town since 1959 and is the southern most incorporated Town in the entire State of Louisiana. The Caminada Bridge connects Grand Isle from the mainland to the Island on Highway 1, which is the oldest and longest highway in the state. The Grand Isle State Park East is located at the extreme eastern end of Grand Isle and has full facilities including showers RV hookups, observation platforms, bathrooms, and until Hurricane Katrina a beautiful 400′ long pier that extended into the Gulf of Mexico and was an extremely popular fishing location. This beautiful State Park consists of 140 acres. Directly next to the Grand Isle State Park is our United States Coast Guard base. Grand Isle is the island gem of Louisiana and one of the very best saltwater fishing spots in North America.
On June 30th 2009, the state of Louisiana, through the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, dedicated the ultramodern Research Lab at the end of Ludwig Lane. This facility is one of the most modern fisheries in the United States today. This lab will greatly assists our Wildlife Fishery Department in monitoring the growth, stability and population of numerous species of fish, shrimp, crabs, etc. for the benefit of all citizens. This facility cost the State of Louisiana approximately 23 million dollars and is truly a word class facility. Special thanks goes to Governors Mike Foster, Kathleen Blanco and Bobby Jindal, for their foresight in seeing this tremendous asset to both Grand Isle and the Great State of Louisiana. According to several noted archaeologists, Grand Isle is approximately 12,000 years old. Of course, its first human inhabitants were Indians. The tribe of Indians that inhabited Grand Isle were the Chitimacha. They were known as excellent fishermen and wild game hunters. The
Indians were obviously attracted by the abundant supply of food and its warm sub-tropical climate that the Island enjoys, including its usually mild winters. According to the Louisiana almanac (2002-2003) the Chitimacha were a proud and noble tribe and their descendants constitute the Indian aristocracy of Louisiana. Several of these Indian tribe descendants are present on Grand Isle today. Indians of Louisiana have been divided into three linguistic groups – Tunican, Caddoan,Muskhogean. Each group may be subdivided into the lesser units or tribes.
Of course the very name Grand Isle brings to memory the famous privateer or as some would say pirates that sailed her waters and made Grand Terre and Grand Isle their home and pirate base. We are speaking, of course, about Jean Lafitte, his brother Pierre Lafitte, his trusted and loyal lieutenants Nez Coupee (cut nose in French) and Dominick You to mention just a few.
Jean Lafitte, who it is thought by many to have a father of French decent and a mother of Mexican heritage based his operations and also used Grand Isle. Grand Terre and Grand Isle are “sister islands” separated only by Barataria Pass on the east end of Grand Isle and the west end of Grand Terre. It was Jeane Lafitte, Pierre Lafitte, Nez Coupe, Dominick You and his brave band of pirates that greatly assisted General Andrew Jackson (later the 7th President of the United States of America) and his men in soundly defeating the British at the Battle of New Orleans on a very cold January 8, 1815 at Chalmette (St. Bernard Parish). This was the greatest American victory on American soil as the Americans lost 13 men and the British Army under General Packenham lost over 2,000 red coats within 60=90 minutes. Many historians unfortunately miss this very important historical fact. General Andrew Jackson himself raved about the courage and marksmanship and fighting ability of Jean Lafitte and his men. General Jackson stated that he would \fight to the gates of hell with Lafitte and his band of privateers. Lafitte and his brave band
honorably defended New Orleans, then the 4th largest city in the United States and her second largest seaport. The Governor of Louisiana in 1815 was William C. C. Claiborne who later pardoned Jean Lafitte, Pierre Lafitte, Nez Coupe, Dominick You, and many other Privateers. Governor Claiborne unfortunately referred to these gentlemen as “pirates.” Pardons are still the right of the Governor of Louisiana and the Louisiana Pardon Board,which ironically, IrvinMagri, Jr. your host was the Chairman of the Louisiana Pardon Board from 1998 to 2004 and a member of the State Parole Board from 1996 to 1997 under Governor Mike Foster!
Anyone visiting our subtropical island of Grand Isle should venture across Barataria Pass to Grand Terre which is Grand Isle’s “sister” island and also an excellent salt water fishing spot with a natural sandy beach and great surf fishing. You will also find the brick remains of the old Sugar Mill Plantation that operated from approximately 1820 to the end of the American War
Between the States which ended in 1865. Also, the main attraction on Grand Terre is Fort Livingston which was named in honor of the attorney that brokered the “Peace Agreement” between Louisiana’s First Governor, William C. C. Claiborne and Jeane Lafitte and his 600-800 Baratarian privateers that made both Grand Terre and Grand Isle their home base. In fact, Fort Livingston was built directly on top of Jeane Lafitte’s headquarters and construction
ended in 1841. This Fort was strategically located on the extreme western end of Grand Terre to protect New Orleans from invasion through Barataria Pass and the waterways leading to the “Queen City of the South,” New Orleans. At the time of the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1915, New Orleans was the fourth largest city in population in America, even larger that
Recently, this author was informed by a very reliable source that one of Jeane Lafitte”s “temples” was located on the east bank of Little Lake! Of course, many of us have fished the Little Lake area which is basically south of the Town of Jeane Lafitte, but north of Grand Isle and Grand Terre. This author would like to see the controlled and well supervised archaeological “digs” on the east bank of Little Lake.
Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina which struck the Louisiana coast and Grand Isle and lower Plaquemines Parish in particular, the State of Louisiana and FEMA archeologists explored the north side of Grand Terre, the sister island just to the east of Grand Isle. Irv Magri, based upon information he received from the legendary promoter of Grand Isle, Nat Chigizola, advised these officials where he thought they should dig on Grand Terre, as they were originally digging approximately 150-250 yards away from the site that Nat Chigizola had told Irv Magri about. These archaeologists discovered broken china and some silverware from Circa 1810-1825 which probably once belonged to the privateer, Jeane Lafitte and his brothers, Pierre\
Lafitte and Dominick You.
This author and writer, Irvin L. Magri, Jr. who resides full-time and year round on Grand Isle and has been on the island on and off since 1947, and his parents before him would respectfully urge interested individuals to read the book, “Fonville Winans” Louisiana by Cyril E. Vitter and published by the LSU Press in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This is a tremendous book with many, many old and historic photographs of Grand Isle. It is truly a “must read” book by anyone’s standards.
This subtropical and beautiful island remains as one of the very last tourist destination spots that offers old world charm, natural sand beaches, and of course, world class fishing in the Gulf of Mexico and the surrounding bayous and bays. Grand Isle is truly a sportsman’s paradise for the family to enjoy. Irv Magri will gladly work with any student or historian interested in Grand Isle’s glorious past.
You may call Irv Magri, who has authored a book in the past and a graduate of Loyola University at 985-242-4364, 504-270-7513 or fax him at 985-242-4346.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]