Galveston ho! Don’t Call Him a Pirate: The Galveston Laffite Society celebrates yo-ho-ho history

Jim Nonus portraying the corsair Jean Laffite.

See also other Galveston Ho! features:
The ‘No-Sand, No-Shellfish’  Galveston Weekend
OutSmart bellies up to the bar at 3rd Coast’s hot new location to have a drink with Galveston’s Rodney Seiler

by Karen Derr

For Galveston Island resident Clifford Johnson, finding out that his partner, art broker Jim Nonus, had recently purchased an artifact that might be from the Jean Laffite era in Galveston (circa 1817 to 1820) was not too surprising. He and fellow members of the Galveston Laffite Society have collected and cataloged all things Laffite for decades.

Studying the life and times of the Laffite brothers has been a lifelong interest—even an obsession–for many of the Laffite Society’s amateur and career historians and archaeologists. (The membership even includes at least one direct descendent of Pierre Laffite.) For other members of the society, the interest is less scholarly and more of a social nature. But all members share a common passion for the details–such as the correct spelling of Laffite’s name (two f’s, not two t’s), discrepancies in dates, pinpointing the precise location of a short-lived French encampment, or the exact ingredients of libations popular during Laffite’s lifetime. Of course, publishing details such as authentic drink recipes has contributed to the society’s broader appeal.

Events organized by the society since 1995 have included field trips to Laffite hangouts in New Orleans, Mérida, and Cancún. Members have made discoveries that have added to the body of knowledge about the “privateers”–a term preferable to “pirate” for many who feel Jean and Pierre Laffite were not actually outlaws. One society member, a Houston CPA who has a passion for the Spanish language, translated a 1936 Spanish book based on an obscure account of the Laffites’ time in the Mexican Yucatán. Another member and club founder owns the Galveston property believed to be the site of Jean Laffite’s home, known as the Maison Rouge. Today, all that remains of the Maison Rouge is a large stone foundation and a Texas historic marker. But as evening shadows fall, some would say there is evidence of the early privateers and their companions haunting the property (Google “ghost tours Lafitte” for details). A few years ago, society members held a séance there with a local mystic.

The Galveston Laffite Society is proud to have provided source information for several books in recent years, and they are widely quoted in websites devoted to pirate history. Invitations to the society’s annual Christmas party and other events are much sought-after, and their drink recipe research has at times involved undisclosed amounts of rum and whiskey. Who knew history could be so much fun? Find out more about the Galveston Laffite Society at

The Nonus Sazerac
Jim Nonus, a 15-year member of the Galveston Laffite Society, explains that while there are various acceptable versions of this drink, the following Sazerac recipe was the society’s official cocktail during his presidency.

1 oz. of absinthe, or Herbsaint
(a New Orleans brand of anise liqueur)
1 teaspoon of simple syrup
4 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters
1 small dash of Angostura bitters
2 ounces of Old Overholt rye whiskey
1 twist of lemon peel

Fill an Old Fashioned glass with ice. Discard the ice when the glass is well chilled. Add about an ounce of absinthe or Hersaint. Swirl it to coat the glass, and then pour it off into the next glass to be served. Shake or stir the whiskey, simple syrup and bitters together with ice to chill. Strain the whiskey into the chilled glass. Twist the lemon peel over the glass so that the lemon oil mists over the drink, then rub the peel over the rim of the glass; do not put the twist in the drink.


Karen Derr

Karen Derr is a Houston-area Realtor and the founder of Karen Derr Realtors. She writes and speaks about home and small-business topics and is a frequent contributor to OutSmart.

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