That the infamous New Orleans pirate Jean Laffite has ties to Lincolnton is not well known. That’s about the change with the release of a book by Ashley Oliphant and Beth Yarbrough, two Lincoln County writers, “Jean Laffite Revealed: Unraveling One of America’s Longest Running Mysteries.” To be released nationally on March 15, this book provides answers to questions that have lingered in Lincolnton since 1875.
Community members will be offered an advance preview of the book one week prior to that launch in a series of presentations being sponsored by the Lincoln County Historical Association. Three separate sessions will be offered on Saturday, March 6 as well as a walking tour of Lincolnton on the same day. There will be two more sessions on Sunday, March 7, all being held at the Lincoln Cultural Center on Main Street in Lincolnton. Attendance at these sessions will allow residents an opportunity to hear first-hand the story of Lorenzo Ferrer and to learn if the long-held suspicions of Ferrer’s real identity are true.
“Local lore has always maintained that Ferrer, a Frenchman who arrived in Lincolnton in the year 1839 accompanied by a beautiful mistress named Louisa, was actually the infamous New Orleans pirate Jean Laffite,” Oliphant said in a press release. “During Ferrer’s years of residency here until his death in 1875, as well as in all the years since, rumor and speculation have swirled around this question – fueled in part by Ferrer’s own reluctance to reveal much in the way of where he came from or what he did for the first 59 years of his life.”
Yarbrough and Oliphant, who also happen to be mother and daughter, spoke about the idea for the book and the two-year research effort that led up to its publication.
“I was in New Orleans doing some very early research on Laffite in preparation for what I thought might turn into my next book,” said Oliphant, who has published three books prior to this one. “My mom was with me, and while there, we both spoke of the local North Carolina legend about Laffite, thinking that the least we could do would be to investigate. I asked for her help, and as soon as we returned home, the work began.”
Yarbrough picked up the tale from there.
“We were scarcely into our research” she said “when it became apparent that there was more to this story than we realized. Our work quickly expanded beyond the borders of North Carolina, eventually taking us to seven states and dozens of archival repositories, research libraries, court houses, and historical associations before we were through. The results of what we were able to find still have us a little bit stunned.”
Both women shared writing duties once their research was completed.
“Some chapters were written entirely by me, and roughly the same number of chapters were written by my mom,” Oliphant said. “Additionally, some of the chapters represent our collective effort – often featuring us both from one sentence or paragraph to the next. Our writing styles are so similar, however, that we don’t think the reader will be able to tell where one of us stops and the other picks up.”
Based on primary archival documents and artifacts uncovered during the research, the authors are confident in what they have found and are very excited to finally be able to shed some light on a story that has stumped local historians for more than a century.
When asked if they cared to answer the big question for this article, the duo politely declined.
“We wanted to give Lincoln County a week’s head start on the rest of the world, and we’re excited that we can do that on March 6 and 7 before the book’s release on March 15 – but everyone will have to wait until March 6 to find out what we have discovered,” Yarbrough explained.
Oliphant did add with a smile, “We don’t believe they will be disappointed, though.”
The presentations will offer a unique opportunity for residents to see the actual documents and artifacts that Oliphant and Yarbrough used to unravel the mystery. Some of these items will be on public display for the first time.
For those who would like to hear Oliphant and Yarbrough’s findings in a more adventurous format, the pair will host a twilight walking tour at 5 p.m. on March 6. The 1.77-mile route will take participants to all of the Lincolnton sites associated with Lorenzo Ferrer as the authors narrate. For those who are unable to walk the entire distance, maps will be provided to allow participants to drive to the tour stops.
Tickets for the March 6-7 events can be purchased through Eventbrite. They are $5, and all proceeds benefit the Lincoln County Historical Association. Seated presentations will be limited to 25 people, and social distancing and masks will be required. Book signings will follow all five presentations and the walking tour.