Battle of New Orleans: Pirate's Alley, The Arsenal, Creole House & Jackson House

Stop 5 of 10 in the Battle of New Orleans tour

Walking out of Jackson Square toward St. Louis Cathedral, Pirate’s Alley appears on the left, between the Cathedral and the Cabildo. Formerly known as “Orleans Alley,” the passage is one block long, extending from Chartres Street at Jackson Square to Royal Street. Halfway down the alley, a lamppost marks its intersection with Cabildo Alley, which extends (the width of the Cabildo) to St. Peter Street.

Much legend swirls around Pirate’s Alley and its location between the original Spanish prison and the Cathedral. One legend maintains that pirates traveled this alley to enter the town from the Mississippi River. Another suggests that pirates and other criminals were often seen being escorted to the prison via this route.

The Arsenal at 600 St. Peter Street stands directly behind the Cabildo. From approximately 1728, the French Guard House and prison occupied the site until destroyed during the Good Friday Fire of March 21, 1788. The Spanish rebuilt the prison, which was destroyed once again by fire in 1793. Two years later, in 1795, Don Andres Almonester y Roxas, who financed and built St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo, rebuilt the “Calabozo,” or prison. (Some linguists suggest that the 19th century American slang term for prison, "calaboose," derives from this Spanish term.)

In 1814, Pierre Lafitte, brother of Jean Lafitte, was imprisoned in chains in the Calabozo, until his escape on September 6, 1814. Even though a thousand dollar reward was offered for his capture, Pierre Lafitte was not apprehended and served honorably at the Battle of New Orleans. The prison was demolished in 1837 to allow for the construction of the Arsenal.

In 1836, the Louisiana legislature passed a bill to construct the “State Armory” or Arsenal on this property, fronting St. Peter and Orleans Streets between Royal and Chartres Streets. From 1846 until the Civil War, the Orleans Artillery occupied the building. After the Union forces captured New Orleans, the Arsenal served as a military prison and Federal headquarters. During the most violent period of Reconstruction, the Metropolitan Police controlled the arsenal until September 14, 1874, when the White League Democrats defeated the Metropolitan Police at the Battle of Liberty Place. The White League prevailed at first, occupying the Cabildo and Arsenal for three days until President Ulysses S. Grant sent in federal troops to restore order. After Reconstruction ended, the building again became the State Arsenal until it was transferred to the Louisiana State Museum on March 15, 1914. The Arsenal was dedicated as “Battle Abbey” for the centennial celebration of the Battle of New Orleans in 1915.

The Creole House, at 701 Chartres Street, and the Jackson House, at 616 Pirate’s Alley, are also both owned by the Louisiana State Museum, but closed to the public. The three story antebellum houses share a courtyard with the Arsenal and occupy the site of the French Guard House and later the Spanish Calabozo, which was demolished in 1837. Both houses have two-story slave quarters at the rear of their properties.

In 1921, the Louisiana State Museum purchased the Creole House, which at that time was still known as the “Calabozo.” In 1937, the house was formally dedicated as the Creole House or “Maison Creole,” to commemorate a visit by French and Canadian dignitaries. (There is no known historical connection between Andrew Jackson and the Jackson House.)

On May 11, 1988, the Cabildo caught fire, resulting in the closure of the Creole House for repairs. Fortunately the Creole House was not damaged, but was included in the restoration of the Cabildo that followed.

Images

Orleans Alley or Pirate's Alley, 1939

Orleans Alley or Pirate's Alley, 1939

Pirate's Alley is located between St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo. Courtesy of the Collections of the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Sanborn Map 1876

Sanborn Map 1876

Upper right-hand corner, above Jackson Square, one can see the original term "Orleans Alley" for Pirate's Alley. View File Details Page

Gaslight, Corner of Pirate's Alley and Royal Street, circa 1920

Gaslight, Corner of Pirate's Alley and Royal Street, circa 1920

Library of Congress View File Details Page

Pirate's Alley, circa 1920

Pirate's Alley, circa 1920

St. Louis Cathedral, located on the right, casts a large shadow over the alley. The view is from Jackson Square towards Royal Street. Library of Congress View File Details Page

Pirate's Alley, same view, sans people, circa 1920

Pirate's Alley, same view, sans people, circa 1920

Library of Congress View File Details Page

Arsenal Building, 1920

Arsenal Building, 1920

Viewed from St. Peters Street near Jackson Square, the Arsenal appears as the second building in the image. It's connected to the Cabildo, which is in the foreground. Library of Congress View File Details Page

Le Courrier de la Louisiane, Sept. 7, 1814: $1000 reward for capture of Pirate Pierre Lafitte and three slaves

Le Courrier de la Louisiane, Sept. 7, 1814: $1000 reward for capture of Pirate Pierre Lafitte and three slaves

Courtesy of the Collections of the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Lafitte Cell: in the Courtyard of the Cabildo, 1950

Lafitte Cell: in the Courtyard of the Cabildo, 1950

This prison cell is said to have held Jean Lafitte's brother Pierre after his arrest in the city in 1814. Courtesy of the Collections of the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Arsenal Building, 1920

Arsenal Building, 1920

The Arsenal viewed from the front. Library of Congress View File Details Page

Arsenal, circa 1930s

Arsenal, circa 1930s

The Historic American Buildings Survey image, taken in full sunlight, reveals more clearly the beautiful lines of the Arsenal Building. Library of Congress View File Details Page

Creole House, 616 Pirate's Alley

Creole House, 616 Pirate's Alley

Formerly the site of the guard house for the French and Spanish prison; building now owned by Louisiana State Museum. Courtesy of the Collections of the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Creole House parlor

Creole House parlor

Courtesy of the Collections of the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Restoration of Jackson House, 1939

Restoration of Jackson House, 1939

Back of the image reads: "Brick foundation probably of old calabazo unearthed during the restoration of the so called Jackson House which when rebuilt will be used by the daughters of 1812 as their meeting place." Courtesy of the Collections of the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Restoration of Jackson House, 1939

Restoration of Jackson House, 1939

Back of the photo reads: “It was revealed during the work of excavating the foundation of the old so called Jackson House that the bricks were held together by a combination of crushed shells, broken glass and refuse of all kinds. The cypress foundations were completely rotten.” Courtesy of the Collections of the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Mary Ann Wegmann, Jenny Star, Louisiana State Museum, and University of New Orleans History Department, “Battle of New Orleans: Pirate's Alley, The Arsenal, Creole House & Jackson House,” New Orleans Historical, accessed May 28, 2017, http://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/516.
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