Barthelemy Lafon

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Barthélemy Lafon (1769–1820) was a notable Creole architect, engineer, city planner and surveyor in New Orleans, Louisiana. He appears to have had a double life, as a respectable architect, engineer, and citizen; but also as a privateer, smuggler, and pirate. In later life, his association with piracy, specifically with Jean and Pierre Lafitte became public knowledge.[1]

Lafon was born in Villepinte, France and traveled to New Orleans c. 1790. He designed several public buildings, including public baths (plans submitted in 1797, but the bath house was never built)[2] and a lighthouse, and numerous private homes (including the Benachi Cotton Brokers' House and the Vincent Rillieux house).[3][4]

After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, with the Mississippi River open to free trade, land owners upriver from the Vieux Carre realized that the old quarter dominated by the Spanish and French could not contain the hordes of Americans who were now flocking to the city, and they retained Lafon to subdivide their property and create an American suburb. From 1806 to 1809, Lafon also served as deputy surveyor of Orleans Parish, during the territorial period prior to statehood. He prepared elaborate plans for what is today known as the Lower Garden District. His designs crossed the boundaries of five plantations (Soulet, LaCourse, Annunciation, Nuns and Panis), to include all properties up to Felicity Street. A lover of the classics, Lafon named his streets after the nine muses of Greek mythology: Calliope, Clio, Erato, Thalia, Melpomene, Terpsichore, Euterpe, Polymnia and Urania.[5] His sophisticated plan featuring tree-lined canals, fountains, churches, markets, a grand classical school, and a coliseum; but, few of these features were ever realized. However, the grid pattern of streets survives, as do some of the street names leading to Coliseum Square.[6] Parts of the Bywater and Bayou St. John neighborhoods were also planned by Lafon.

His services included map making, designing the plan for Donaldsonville in 1806,[7] and surveying and recommending improvements to the fortifications of New Orleans during the War of 1812.

Lafon also had a relationship with Modeste Foucher, a free woman of color. When Lafon wrote his will, he acknowledged several free black children that he had with Foucher. Thomy Lafon (born 28 December 1810) was likely named after him, though the father was probably one Pierre Laralde.[8][9]

As a businessman and investor, Lafon became a rich man, but he was also noted for his philanthropy. However, after the Battle of New Orleans early in 1815, he did not resume his architectural career. Instead, he turned to piracy and smuggling, working in league with the notorious brothers, Pierre (1779–1844) and Jean Lafitte (1782–1854). He died of yellow fever in New Orleans on September 29, 1820, and was buried in Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1.


  1. ^ The Garden District of New Orleans - Page 19 Jim Fraiser - 2012 "For this task, Foucher hired Barthélemy Lafon, a Creole architect, former U.S. Army consulting engineer, business partner of pirate Jean Lafitte, and deputy city surveyor of Orleans Parish. Lafon proposed the same type grid plan for this ..."
  2. ^ Louisiana Timeline
  3. ^ The Cotton Brokers' Houses
  4. ^ Creole Homes
  5. ^ Lower Garden District history
  6. ^ Coliseum Square: A Grand Renaissance
  7. ^ Historic Donaldsville Museum
  8. ^ Smith, Frederick D. (2006). "Thomy Lafon". In Jessie Carney Smith. Encyclopedia of African American business. vol. 2 K-Z. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 447–449. ISBN 0-313-33111-1. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
  9. ^ Ingham, John N.; Feldman, Lynne B. (Greenwood Publishing Group). "Lafon, Thomy". African-American business leaders: a biographical dictionary. 1993. pp. 410–414. ISBN 0-313-27253-0. Retrieved 2009-05-19.  Check date values in: |date= (help)