History Ahoy

Hunting for the truth and treasure of Pirates Alley
Photo from the Greater New Orleans Tourist Commission|!!| provided courtesy of the New Orleans Public Library.
Pirates Alley|!!| c 1960s. When the name of the alley was changed in 1964|!!| the street sign erected by the city said simply Pirate Alley. This discrepancy has led to three different versions of the name being used by various people and entities: Pirate|!!| Pirates and Pirate’s. According to current Orleans Parish tax records|!!| the correct name is Pirates Alley.

What is now known as Pirates Alley was first laid out in the 1790s as the Cabildo and was rebuilt following the fire of 1794. The paving stones, brought in as ballast on ships arriving in New Orleans, were placed in 1831, and besides its name, not much has changed since.

Originally called Ruelle d’Orleans, Sud (Orleans Alley South), its name was officially changed to Pirates Alley in 1964 to reflect common usage and to make the popular tourist destination easier to find.

Lore and rumor more than hard fact attempt to explain where the name originated. Some claim that General Andrew Jackson and the pirate Jean Lafitte conferred about the 1814 Battle of New Orleans in the alley, located conveniently next to the seat of local government. This was purportedly a business transaction: Lafitte’s strategic intelligence to help defeat the British in exchange for the release of his brother Pierre, held in prison at the Cabildo for smuggling and piracy. A similar story has the pirate tunneling out from the prison walls, making his escape into the alley.

Others claim that the alley became an established place of commerce for the pirates’ black market goods, including Lafitte’s gunsmith shop, where he melted down his looted gold and silver.

While the story of the alley name may never be resolved, there’s one fact about Pirates Alley not in question: its most famous resident. William Faulkner called it home in 1925, living at what is now 624 Pirates Alley. It was there that he wrote his first novel, Soldier’s Pay.

Another famous resident was Morgus the Magnificent. The “horror host” of local late-night television was on air from the 1950s to the ’80s. His mad scientist’s lab had a fire escape that was said to lead to Pirate’s Alley.