Barthelemy Lafon

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Barthélemy Lafon (1769 – 29 September 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 travelled 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]

Bust of Barthelemy Lafon

After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, with the Mississippi River open to free trade, landowners 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 flooding the city, and they retained Lafon to subdivide their property to create an American suburb. From 1806 to 1809 he was Deputy Surveyor of Orleans County, and prepared elaborate plans for what is today known as the Lower Garden District. His designs crossed the barriers 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 features were ever realised. 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 was also noted for his philanthropy. However, after the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, he did not resume his architectural career, instead turning 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 and is 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.