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Marquis de Lafayette

Marquis de Lafayette

Marie Jean Paul Joseph Roche Yves Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, was born in Auvergne, France, into a family with a long history of service to the State.He entered the French army at an early age, rising to the rank of captain. Lafayette shared with many of his countrymen an enthusiasm for the ideals put forth in America's Declaration of Independence, and with typical bravado he invested his own funds to outfit a ship and sailed for America in April 1777. He landed in South Carolina then headed north to join the forces of George Washington, with whom he established a lasting friendship during the travails at Valley Forge. Serving as an unpaid volunteer on Washington's staff, Lafayette was wounded at Brandywine and served later at Monmouth and in New Jersey. He advocated a joint French and American invasion of Quebec, but the French were non-commital and the Second Continental Congress referred the question to Washington, he argued that it was a bad strategy, and the plan came to nought.Lafayette's continued service was rewarded with a promotion to major general, but in 1779 he returned to France to promote America's interests. He also served on the board of judges that condemned the spy, John André.In 1781, Lafayette led American forces in Virginia against both Benedict Arnold and Lord Cornwallis. Once again, he returned to France and served as a diplomatic aid to Benjamin Franklin during the peace negotiations.Lafayette played a prominent role in the early stages of the French Revolution, but was removed by the Jacobins for alleged moderation. He went on to a series of turbulent experiences during the Reign of Terror, the Napoleonic Era and the Restoration.Lafayette made his final visit to America in 1824-25 and was received with great adulation and enthusiasm. Congress provided him with a cash gift of $200,000 in appreciation of his valuable services.


American Revolution: Marquis de Lafayette

Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette (September 6, 1757–May 20, 1834) was a French aristocrat who gained fame as an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Arriving in North America in 1777, he quickly formed a bond with General George Washington and initially served as an aide to the American leader. Proving a skilled and dependable commander, Lafayette earned greater responsibility as the conflict progressed and played a key part in obtaining aid from France for the American cause.

Fast Facts: Marquis de Lafayette

  • Known For: French aristocrat who fought as an officer for the Continental Army in the American Revolution, and later, the French Revolution
  • Born: September 6, 1757 in Chavaniac, France
  • Parents: Michel du Motier and Marie de La Rivière
  • Died: May 20, 1834 in Paris, France
  • Education: Collège du Plessis and the Versailles Academy
  • Spouse: Marie Adrienne Françoise de Noailles (m. 1774)
  • Children: Henriette du Motier, Anastasie Louise Pauline du Motier, Georges Washington Louis Gilbert du Motier, Marie Antoinette Virginie du Motier

Returning home after the war, Lafayette served in a central role during the early years of the French Revolution and helped write the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. Falling from favor, he was jailed for five years before being released in 1797. With the Bourbon Restoration in 1814, Lafayette began a long career as a member of the Chamber of Deputies.


— History —

Both The Lafayette and the city of Marietta are of significant historical importance. During 1788, pioneers to the Ohio Country established Marietta as the first permanent settlement of the new United States in the territory Northwest of the River Ohio.

The Lafayette Hotel draws its name from the visit in 1825 of the Marquis de Lafayette, French hero of the American Revolution. A plaque near the Hotel marks the spot where Lafayette came ashore in Marietta and today the locals boast that the first tourist to visit Marietta was Marquis de Lafayette.

The Bellevue Hotel was built in 1892 where The Lafayette Hotel stands today. It was 4 stories tall, had 55 steam heated rooms, a bar, a call bell system in every room and advertised hot and cold baths. The rate at the time was $2-$3 per night! The Bellevue was destroyed by fire on April 26, 1916 and pictures of the fire are on display by the Lafayette's Gunroom Restaurant. After the fire, the hotel was rebuilt by a Marietta businessmen, opened on July 1, 1918 and renamed as the Lafayette Hotel.

Various rooms within the hotel hold interesting artifacts that all come together to tell a fascinating, historical story.


Marquis de Lafayette

Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, better known simply as the Marquis de Lafayette, was born into an extremely noble family in Chavaniac, France in 1757. By 1770, he had amassed a large inheritance after the deaths of his mother, father, and grandfather. His wealth and prestige afforded him many opportunities in life, including a commission to the rank of sous-lieutenant in the Musketeers at age 14 and a captaincy in the Dragoons at age 18 the latter he received as a wedding present.

In his youth, Lafayette developed a fascination with the colonial conflict brewing in the Americas. In April of 1777, Lafayette embarked on the Victoire—a ship paid for with his personal funds—for North America desperate to serve as a military leader in the Revolution, despite a royal decree prohibiting French officers from serving in America. Shortly after arriving, the Continental Congress commissioned him a major general and he became a member of George Washington’s staff.

Lafayette participated in his first military engagement at the Battle of Brandywine in September of 1777. He suffered a wound in one of his legs early in the battle but managed to calmly lead a Patriot retreat. Because of his composure and courage at this moment, Washington commended him for “bravery and military ardour” in the battle and recommended him to Congress for the command of a division.

Washington and Lafayette shared a close companionship over the course of the entire war. In fact, Lafayette spent the harsh winter of 1777-78 with Washington and his men at Valley Forge, suffering along with the other Continental soldiers in the frigid, disease-ridden encampment. He helped Washington at his darkest hour when he faced an internal threat from the Conway Cabal, a plot to drive Washington from his command.

Over the course of the next year, Lafayette more intensely pursued the glory he so desperately wanted. The Continental Congress charged him with leading an invasion of Canada. However, Lafayette met with much disappointment upon reaching the launch point at Albany, New York. Continental forces there amounted to less than half the number Congress promised. Disappointed, he returned south, nearly escaping capture by the British that summer at Barren Hill, Pennsylvania and Delaware Bay.

For his skillful retreat from Newport, Rhode Island, Lafayette earned another commendation but this time for “gallantry, skill, and prudence” from the Continental Congress. Lafayette managed to secure leave and returned home to France at the beginning of 1779. Despite receiving a hero’s welcome from the people, King Louis XVI tried and failed to secure his arrest, charging him with disobeying his orders prohibiting French soldiers in America. During Lafayette’s time in France, he played an extremely crucial role in securing 6,000 French troops for the American cause.

Returning to the colonies in 1780, Lafayette’s news of French aid greatly improved American moral. Since his departure, the crucial field of battle had moved to the south. Former Patriot and infamous turncoat, Benedict Arnold, had committed treason and now wreaked havoc on the Virginia countryside as a British commander. Lafayette, in coordination with Baron von Stueben, hunted Arnold, who Washington had condemned to death if captured. By the fall of 1781, the Frenchman found himself at the center of the action and the culmination of a successful war of independence. From the heights of Malvern Hill, Lafayette and his men surrounded the British force at Yorktown, holding them until reinforced by Washington. Together, they initiated the siege that eventually led to the British surrender and an end to the conflict.


Marquis de Lafayette Biography: French Revolution

When Lafayette returned to France in 1787 he was still only 29 years old and had experienced much since he arrived in America at 20. He was a student of the Enlightenment, a friend of Thomas Jefferson, and also heavily influenced by General Washington and many of America&rsquos founding fathers. The ideas of America came back with him when he returned to France which was beginning to show signs of their own revolution.

France&rsquos Revolution was not the Americas. While the ideas were similar they did not have a George Washington to buffer the military from the legislature. Lafayette wanted reform, but he was more of a moderate which caused some problems with some of the radicals such as the Jacobins.

On 20 June 1791, a plot, dubbed the Flight to Varennes, almost allowed the king to escape from France. As a leader of the National Guard, Lafayette had been responsible for the royal family&rsquos custody. He was thus blamed by extremists like Danton for the near-escape and called a traitor to the people by Robespierre. These accusations made Lafayette appear a royalist, damaging his reputation in the eyes of the public and strengthened the hands of the Jacobins and other radicals. Lafayette continued to urge the constitutional rule of law but was drowned out by the mob and its leaders.

Through the latter half of 1791, Lafayette&rsquos standing continued to decline. On 17 July, the radical Cordeliers organized an event at the Champ de Mars to gather signatures on a petition to the National Assembly that it either abolish the monarchy or allow its fate to be decided in a referendum. The assembled crowd, estimated at up to 10,000, hanged two men believed to be spies after they were found under the platform. At the head of his troops, Lafayette rode into the Champ de Mars to restore order they were met with gunshots and thrown stones.

When a dragoon went down, the soldiers fired on the crowd, wounding or killing dozens. Martial law was declared, and the leaders of the mob, such as Danton and Marat, fled or went into hiding. In September, the Assembly finalized a constitution, and in early October, with a semblance of constitutional law restored, Lafayette resigned from the National Guard.

Immediately after the massacre, a crowd of rioters attacked Lafayette&rsquos home, attempting to harm his wife. His reputation among the common people suffered dramatically after the massacre as they believed he sympathized with royal interests.

Lafayette eventually ended up in exile with his wife for several years. The radicals gained full control of Paris and he was seen as a member of the old guard. He did not regain his reputation until Napoleon Bonaparte returned his status in 1800.


The Marquis de Lafayette

The Canadian invasion never materialized. As Lafayette speculated, the entire proposal was primarily a distraction with the objective of removing those loyal to Washington. In March 1778, Congress passed the following resolution on behalf of Lafayette's service:

Lafayette returned to Valley Forge early in April 1778. The conspiracy to displace Washington had failed. Lafayette remained at Valley Forge, improving his knowledge of military tactics, until Washington marched out of Valley Forge to meet the enemy in New Jersey.

The British evacuated Philadelphia on June 19, 1778. Washington pursued the fleeing enemy across across New Jersey. Washington called a council of war at Hopewell, New Jersey to discuss strategy with his generals.

Charles Lee
Engraved by Johann Michael Probst
circa 1776-1790
LOC id:cph.3a45386

Charles Lee favored a policy of small targetted attacks and harassment. Anthony Wayne, Nathanael Greene and Lafayette proposed a more aggressive campaign, beginning with a major offensive on the rear of the enemy. Washington accepted this plan, offering the command to General Lee but Lee was certain the plan would result in disaster. Lafayette requested command of the advanced position, and Lee was happy to oblige, as he was convinced that defeat was inevitable.

But Lee changed his mind, deciding that he wanted to command the perhaps not-so-hopeless expedition after all. He wrote to Washington on June 25, 1778:

Washington acquiesced to the mercurial General's change of heart, writing to Lafayette the following day:

The Battle of Monmouth: June 28, 1778

On June 28, the American and British forces clashed at Monmouth Courthouse, in central New Jersey. Lafayette perfomed ably. Lee, in command, did not. His troops were in disarray and in retreat. Washington managed to rally the American troops, relieving Lee of his command and placing many of his former troops under Lafayette's command. The Americans salvaged a partial victory from near defeat. The British managed to escape to New York, but lost their foothold in New Jersey and suffered heavier casualties than the Americans. Many on both sides died of heat-stroke during the blisteringly hot battle. Lee was later court-martialled and found guilty on three charges for his dismal performance.

D'Estaing
Jean-Baptiste Le Brun, 1769

On July 8, the French fleet arrived under command of Admiral d'Estaing. Washington planned to use the French naval forces as part of a coordinated attack by land and sea on British-held Newport, Rhode Island, sending Greene and Lafayette with 3,000 troops to serve under command of General John Sullivan. On August 10, the French and British naval forces clashed, but a severe storm damaged both fleets. The Americans on the ground could not launch an attack without the French naval support, the absence of which prompted many of the Americans to desert. D'Estaing brought his damaged fleet to Boston for repairs. Lafayette rode to Boston to plead with his countryman to bring the fleet back to the siege of Newport, but d'Estaing remained unpersuaded

By the time Lafayette returned to Rhode Island, the siege had ended and the British had attacked the withdrawing American forces. Lafayette was instrumental in commanding troops during the strategic withdrawal. On September 9, 1778, Congress officially commended Lafayette, resolving:


The Lafayette Story

A College built from the hopes and dreams of a young nation by inspired citizens who named it for a Revolutionary War hero. A pioneering institution that continues to reshape itself to best serve its educational and philosophical missions.

The Concept for a College

Imagine, if you will, that it is the year 1821 and you are in the picturesque town of Easton, Pennsylvania, nestled in the forks of the Delaware and Lehigh rivers. The United States of America is still very young, and you can feel something in the very air around you a richness of promise and opportunity. This feeling is mixed with a very real sense of urgency to act on it, to build a country worthy of such limitless bounty.

It was in this historic atmosphere that an idealistic lawyer by the name of James Madison Porter was appointed attorney general of Northampton County, of which Easton is the county seat. His father, Andrew Porter, had been a general in the Revolutionary War, and the younger James was well familiar with how much his newfound freedoms had cost. In 1824, a few years after he received his appointment, a bustle of excitement overtook Philadelphia, a day’s journey to the south. The exceedingly popular Marquis de Lafayette, a French general whose success and inspired leadership in the Revolutionary War had made him a hero, had just concluded a momentous 24-state visit to the United States to celebrate the nation’s upcoming 50th anniversary.

Porter, who was among a Easton contingent of 200 residents who traveled to Philadelphia that September to pay respects to Lafayette, forged a special connection with the aging general during their conversations, begun by Lafayette’s recollections of Porter’s father and uncle from the Battle of Brandywine in 1777.

David Bishop Skillman, class of 1913, recounts the conversation in his book, “The Biography of a College.” Upon hearing his surname, Lafayette said, “Porter, Porter, I remember that name. Any relation to Capt. Porter, whom I met at Brandywine?”

“Yes, sir, a son,” replied Porter.

“Well, sir,” said the general, “I bless you for your father’s sake. He was a brave man. He had with him there a young man, a relative I think, whose name I have forgotten. They fought very nearly together.”

“Was it Parker?” asked Mr. Porter.

“That was the name,” said Lafayette.

“He was my mother’s brother,” Mr. Porter explained.

“Ah, indeed well, they were good soldiers and very kind to me when I was wounded. Farewell, young gentleman, I wish you well for their sakes,” said the French general. Porter took his leave, basking in the experience of having one of the nation’s greatest heroes fondly reminiscing about his father and uncle.

Not long after that meeting, he traveled to the Military Academy at Norwich, Vermont, where the idea of founding a college at Easton first came to mind. The concept gained further traction when Porter visited the grounds of Dartmouth College, the liberal arts college founded in Hanover, New Hampshire in 1769. The enthusiastic attorney returned to Easton to begin building the foundation for his dream.

The Origins of a Name

On December 24, 1824, newspapers carried the following message: “The citizens of the County of Northampton, friendly to the establishment of a college at Easton, in which, besides military science and tactics, the various other branches of education, including the German language, shall be taught, are requested to meet at the Easton Hotel on Monday evening 27th inst. at half past six o’clock to adopt the necessary measures to procure a charter of incorporation.”

Skillman recounts in his book: “That as a testimony of respect for the talents, virtues and signal services of General La Fayette in the great cause of freedom, the said institution be named, ‘La Fayette.’

“The records are silent as to whose happy thought it was to name the college ‘La Fayette.’ But the suggestion must have received an enthusiastic response from the citizens, 200 of whom had so recently traveled to Philadelphia to pay homage to the grand old soldier and grasp his hand . . . . It is likely that Mr. Porter, who so recently had been singled out by Gen. Lafayette and shown personal attention, suggested the name at the same time as he suggested the establishment of the college.”

It’s interesting to note that the spelling ‘La Fayette’ went on to be used in official government records and in many early college documents. The correct and current spelling wasn’t formalized until 1876, when Dr. William C. Cattell, President of Lafayette from 1863-83, made his own investigations in France. Dr. Cattell found Lafayette, the spelling used by the Marquis himself in his own signature, was also used in the inscription on his tomb, by his family when publishing the general’s “Mémoires et Correspondence,” and in a number of biographical writings by his countrymen.

The Early Years

When the governor of Pennsylvania signed the new college’s charter on March 9, 1826, he gave the state’s blessing to the launch of the new college, a much bigger task than the pen stroke that created it. In 1832, the College purchased nine acres of land on a hill across Bushkill Creek from Easton. Initially named Mount Lafayette, it quickly became known by the name still in use today: College Hill. Also that same year, the Reverend George Junkin, a Presbyterian minister, agreed to move the curriculum and student body of the Manual Labor Academy of Pennsylvania from Germantown to Easton and take up the Lafayette College charter.

On May 9, 1832, classes in mathematics and the classics began in a rented farmhouse on the south bank of the Lehigh River, where the 43 students worked in the fields and workshops to earn money to support the educational program. Mathematics was a priority for the founders, along with English. In fact, Lafayette was the first college in America to establish a Chair for the study of English language and literature. Francis A. March, the first professor to hold the Chair, achieved international acclaim for his work in establishing English as a pivotal subject in the liberal arts curriculum.

Two years later, on the summit of College Hill, Lafayette’s first building was constructed on a site now incorporated into South College. The founders also knew that a growing country needed a solid infrastructure to allow that growth. That’s why they made Civil Engineering another priority Lafayette was one of the first – and possibly even the first – college in America to create a civil engineering curriculum.

The resulting – and ongoing – union of arts, sciences, and engineering remains perhaps the most distinctive feature of the Lafayette curriculum.

Growth and Change

Throughout its history, the College continued to shape itself to best serve its educational mission, supporting the tradition of liberal arts education while responding to the challenges of a changing society. Enrollment reflected that: By the start of the 20th Century, it had reached almost 300 students. By 1910, enrollment had passed the 500 mark. During the 1920s it reached 1,000. After World War II, enrollment more than doubled again as returning veterans reached out for opportunities in higher education.

In 1970, the first women entered the student population— now women make up about half the student body—raising total enrollment to about 2,100. Today, Lafayette enrolls about 2,400 students, gathered together on 100 acres of land in more than 60 buildings across the campus on College Hill and elsewhere.


The Marquis de Lafayette

The Marquis de Lafayette was a French aristocrat who joined the American Revolutionary War at his own request, becoming one of America’s most successful leaders in combat and General George Washington’s most loyal companion.

Lafayette was the son of a general in the royal navy, and his father died when he was not yet two. His mother passed away when he was twelve. His grandfather passed away when he was fourteen. Thus he inherited a large fortune and was a rich, independent young man at the age of fourteen.

At sixteen he married a relative of the British king, and gained even more social status than he already possessed.

The marquis’ given name was Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Du Motier. Is it any wonder that history knows him simply as Marquis de Lafayette?

The Marquis de Lafayette in theRevolutionary War

The Marquis de Lafayette in battle

When he heard of the American Revolution he was inspired and decided to go over and help where he could. He had no idea that he was going to become one of America’s greatest leaders.

he Marquis de Lafayette became friends with General George Washington very quickly. That friendship never died out. His first battle was the Battle at Brandywine, where he performed very well and showed great courage. He was an excellent person to have by your side while fighting.

During the Battle of Brandywine he was wounded, the Army was forced to retreat. Lafayette organized the retreat, in spite of his wounds. That day he was partly responsible for getting the all the men out safely. Washington commended him on this greatly and sent a letter to the Congress recommending him for a promotion.

Soon after this, the Marquis showed great initiative in following orders and in being responsible in battles. Due to this, he began climbing in rank and looking better and better in the eyes of his superiors, especially George Washington. Lafayette continued at this rate until, soon, he had been given a command in the American army. He was the most noble and loyal soldier there was. There was not a man alive more loyal to Washington than the Marquis de Lafayette.

He had, by this time, become one of Washington’s closest and most trusted friends. He was one that Washington could rely on to do things correctly and to make good decisions for the American Army. Lafayette looked up to and trusted Washington so much that some would say George Washington was Lafayette’s role model. And indeed Lafayette did aspire to be like Washington.

The Invasion of Canadaand the Conway Cabal

Washington recommended to Congress that Lafayette lead an invasion, which Thomas Conway had suggested, into Canada. Congress adopted this idea with great pleasure.

The Marquis de Lafayette

Lafayette was soon asked to lead the invasion. He reluctantly accepted under the persuasion of Washington and began preparing for battle.

Conway wanted to replace General Washington with Horatio Gates as part of his plan to separate Washington from Lafayette, because the Marquis de Lafayette was such a strong support to Washington. Conway knew Washington would ask Congress to send Lafayette, and he planned to request Washington’s removal while Lafayette was away.

General Lafayette did not think the trip would be a success, but he would go since Washington had asked him.

Before he left he got wind of General Conway’s plan, later known as the Conway Cabal, and warned Washington. He was instructed to go anyway and proceed with the mission. Washington would watch out for Conway’s plan, which, as you may have guessed, went awry (by Washington’s doing) and never came to fruition in fact, Gates and Conway were put out of their positions entirely.

Lafayette proceeded with the mission.

On the way to Canada they were to meet with a group of reinforcements which never arrived. Also, they had a serious lack of financial support and food. They were now in no position to wage war with the Canadians, who were used to the harsh winter climate. Lafayette was sure they would all die if they continued, so he wrote a letter of complaint to Washington, who called off the mission. This was a major relief to the Marquis de Lafayette, who didn’t want to go through the trauma of losing an entire battalion of men and possibly his own life on a suicide mission.

Valley Forge

He retreated to Valley Forge with the men. That winter, 1777-1778, was one of the harshest winters they were to face. There was an attack on Valley Forge—known as the Battle of Valley Forge despite the fact that there was no actual fighting—which left them so desolate in the cold that it was said that “they looked like skeletons.”

When the army emerged in the spring they were a new and better one. They had survived Valley Forge, and victories at the Battle of Saratoga had turned the war around. This heartened the French and encouraged them to join the war.

Lafayette had a large role in persuading the French army to come over and help. With the French on their side the Americans were ready to go back into battle and face the British.

The Battle of fooren Hill

When winter had ended, the Marquis de Lafayette was sent from Valley Forge by General Washington to check on the British forces in Philadelphia. While he was encamped at fooren Hill, later named Lafayette Hill, a British General, William Howe, learned of Lafayette’s presence on the hill. General Howe decided to capture Lafayette, due to his position and the fact that he was an icon for the French patriots (the alliance between France and America).

The British sneaked up on Lafayette’s troops and attacked. The Marquis’ army immediately scattered, but General Lafayette quickly marshaled them and had them retreat in groups.

Lafayette’s strategy was beautifully thought out, considering how quickly it was thrown together. He had some of his soldiers go up on the hill and fire down at the British every once in a while. Meanwhile he got other men out. He was then able to lead his last troops out safely.

General Howe was very disappointed at his loss.

Final Years

Lafayette fought a few more battles in the war, but it ended soon after. He then returned to France, where he helped lead the French revolution a few years later. After that, he lived a few more happy years, and died a successful hero to both this country and his own.

We are extremely grateful to the man who was willing to risk his life, family, and outstanding potential for a country that was not even his own. Without him, we may not have become the country we are now.


Why Marquis de Lafayette Is Still America’s Best Friend

In her new book, Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, writer Sarah Vowell tells the story of the American Revolution through the life and experiences of Marquis de Lafayette, the French aristocrat who joined the Continental Army as a teenager, convinced King Louis XVI to ally with the rebels, and became a close friend of George Washington.

Lafayette symbolizes many things for Vowell: the ideals of democratic government, the hard reality of those democracies, the tremendous debt early Americans owed to France and the importance of friendship. Like her previous books, such as Assassination Vacation, Lafayette strikes witty blows against the stodgy sorts of U.S. history taught in classrooms. It's less a history book than a collection of stories. I spoke with her last week about her work, her opinion of Lafayette, why she doesn't consider herself a historian, and what she admires about the hit Broadway musical Hamilton.

The interview was edited and condensed.

Why did you decide to write a book about Marquis de Lafayette?

That question always stumps me. There are so many answers to that. I lived near Union Square in New York City for about 10 years. There's a statue of Lafayette in the square and it's right next to the sidewalk, so I walked by him pretty much every day. He was one of my neighbors so I was always thinking about him. And also, I had written a shorter piece a number of years ago about Lafeyette's return trip to America in 1824

Was that the story that appeared on This American Life?

Yes, yeah. It was for a show about reunions and that piece was a very kind of sentimental journey, literally, about how he came back in 1824. He was invited by President Monroe, he stays for over a year and the whole country goes berserk for him. It's just Lafayette mania. Two-thirds of the population of New York City meets his ship. Every night is a party in his honor. And I guess the reason that story attracted me was because of the consensus that the whole country embraced him. By 1824, the Civil War is pretty much a foregone conclusion. But because he was a Frenchman and because he was the last living general from Washington's army, the whole country—north and south, left and right—he belonged to everyone and that seemed so exotic to me.

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States

From the bestselling author of Assassination Vacation and The Partly Cloudy Patriot, an insightful and unconventional account of George Washington’s trusted officer and friend, that swashbuckling teenage French aristocrat the Marquis de Lafayette.

So Lafeyette comes back to America in 1824, just shy of 50 years after the revolution. Eighty thousand people meet him at New York Harbor. It's an enormous crowd.

Totally. Yes. Only 4,000 met The Beatles in 1964.

So why was Lafayette universally beloved when he returned?

I think there are a few reasons. He is, basically, the most obvious personification of America's alliance with France in the war. And Americans back then were still grateful for French money and gunpowder and soldiers and sailors. The help from the French government was the deciding factor in the revolution. Lafayette was the most swashbuckling symbol of that. There was also, then and now, a great reverence and almost a religious love for George Washington. Lafayette had served with Washington and became his de facto adopted son—Lafayette was an orphan and Washington had no biological children of his own—so their relationship was very close. And so, he was so identified with Washington.

The visit also coincided with the presidential election of 1824, which is basically the first election when Americans had to vote for a non-founding father. There was this nostalgia, this kind of national moment of reflection about how the country had to continue on without its fathers. Lafeyette's secretary kept a diary during that whole trip. He marveled that these newspapers would be full of bile about presidential candidates, then Lafayette would show up, and the day's paper would be all like, "We 'heart' Lafayette." Those two things are related a little bit, nostalgia and reverence for that very singular past and nervousness about the future.

And what happened? Why don't we feel that way anymore?

Well, he has been a little bit forgotten, but I think you could say that about many, many figures in American history. I think the forgetting of Lafayette is just a symptom of the larger cultural amnesia. When I was starting my research on this book, there was this survey done by the American Revolution Center that said most adult Americans they didn't know what century the Revolution was fought in. They thought the Civil War came first. They didn't know the Bill of Rights was part of the Constitution. So yes, Lafayette is a little bit forgotten, but so are a lot of other things more important than him.

You mention in the book this idea that Lafeyette is no longer a person. His name is a bunch of places now.

The most practical effect of his visit in the 1820s was that everything started getting named after him. When I was at Valley Forge, I was with this friend of mine who had lived in Brooklyn. There was a monument to the generals who had been at Valley Forge: Lafayette was one of them, and General Greene and DeKalb. And I remember my friend just calling it "that big monument thing with all the Brooklyn streets." A lot of these people just become street names. It's natural that these people leave behind their names and their stories are forgotten, I suppose. But for me, every time I would walk, say, past the statue of Lafayette down towards Gansevoort Street, the whole city came alive. If there's any practical effect of learning about this stuff, it just makes the world more alive and interesting. And it certainly makes walking around certain cities on the eastern seaboard more fascinating.

Let's rewind five decades. Lafayette crosses the Atlantic in 1777, at age 17. He abandons his pregnant wife—

He leaves behind a comfortable aristocratic life. His family doesn't even know what he's doing and it's all to fight in someone else's war.

When you put it like that it does not seem like a good idea.

Plenty of 19-year-olds have bad ideas.

Oh, for sure. I would distrust one who only made good decisions. There are a few reasons for his decision to fight. Lafayette married quite young. He's a teenager. He's the richest orphan in France, and he's kind of pounced upon by this very rich and powerful family, then he marries their daughter. His father-in-law wants him to get a cushy boring job at the French court and be a proper gentleman, but Lafayette is the descendant of soldiers. His ancestors are soldiers going back to the Middle Ages. One of his ancestors fought with Joan of Arc. His father, who died when Lafayette was almost two years old, was killed by the British in battle during in the Seven Years War.

There's a grudge there.

That's one reason he's pretty gung ho to fight the British in America. He wants to be a soldier like his father before him and all the fathers before that. He's just one of many European soldiers who flocked to the American theater of war to volunteer with the rebels, some of them not for particularly idealistic reasons, but because they were out of a job. The defense industry in Europe was downsizing. Lafayette is one of these Frenchmen who are coming over to fight.

The other thing is, he got bitten by the Enlightenment bug and was enamored with ideals about liberty and equality. The letters he writes to his poor, knocked-up wife while he's crossing the ocean are incredibly idealistic. He says that the happiness of America will be bound up with the happiness of mankind, and then we'll establish a republic of virtue and honesty and tolerance and justice. He's laying it on a little bit thick because he has just abandoned her. But it's still very stirring, and I do think he believed it.

So after all of your research, after writing this book, spending a lot of time trying to get into his head, how do you feel about Lafayette? Do you like him?

Do I like him? Yes, I do like him. I am very fond of him. He's a very sentimental person I think part of that was his youth, maybe his being an orphan. Jefferson complained of his canine appetite for affection. Lafayette has this puppy-dog quality.

He was kind of a suck-up.

Yeah, he was. But I like puppy dogs. And when push came to shove, Lafayette got the job done. For all of his French panache, he really did roll up his sleeves and set to work on behalf of the Americans. Maybe it was bound up with his lust for glory.

Washington was constantly dealing with desertion crises. His soldiers are deserting him in droves throughout the whole war. And who can blame them? They're not getting paid. They're not getting fed. There's frequently no water. A lot of them don't have shoes. It's a really crummy job. But then this kid shows up like a football player asking his coach to put him in the game.

In his first battle, the Battle of Brandywine, he's wounded and barely notices because he's so busy trying to rally all the patriot soldiers to stand and fight. He never turns down an assignment. He's always ready to get in the game. And then, when he goes back home to Paris after the war, he's constantly helping the American ministers, Jefferson and Monroe, with boring economic stuff. There's not much glory in that. But Lafayette lobbied to get the whalers of Nantucket a contract to sell their whale oil to the city of Paris. That's real, boring, grownup friendship. And then to thank him, the whole island pooled all their milk and sent him a giant wheel of cheese. What was your question?

Do you like him?

Yes, I do like him. The thing I like about nonfiction is you get to write about people. The older I get, I feel I have more empathy for people's failings because I've had so much more experience with my own. Yes, he was an impetuous person. But generally, I think he was well intentioned. And he also really did believe in these things that I believe in. So, yes. Is he a guy that I want to have a beer with?

Yeah, of course. Who wouldn't want to meet him?

In this book, you describe yourself as "a historian adjacent narrative nonfiction wise guy." Self-deprecation aside, how does that—

I don't think of that as self-deprecation. You're thinking of that as self-deprecation in the sense that a proper historian is above me on some hierarchy. I don't think that way at all.

I meant that, in the book, it's played a little bit as a joke. You're teasing yourself, right?

I am, but I'm also teasing Sam Adams, because he says, ["If we do not beat them this fall will not the faithful Historian record it as our own Fault?"] I don't think of myself as an historian and I don't like being called one. And I also don't like being called a humorist. I don't think that's right, partly because my books are full of bummers. I reserve the right to be a total drag. I just consider myself a writer. That's one reason I don't have footnotes. I don't have chapters. I just want to get as far away from the stench of the textbook as I can. I inject myself and my opinions and my personal anecdotes into these things in a way that is not historian-y.

Given how you describe your work, and the empathy you've developed towards peoples' flaws, what can you write about that historians can't?

For one thing, empathy can be really educational. If you're trying to look at something from someone else's point of view, you learn about the situation. You might not agree. But as I go on, I become maybe more objective because of this. Ultimately, there's something shocking about the truth.

I'll give you an example. My last book was about the American takeover of Hawaii in the 19th century. It's the story of how native Hawaiians lost their country. It's a big part of their lives and it's a huge part of their culture. And if you go back to the historical record, there are kind of two narratives. There's the narrative of the missionary boys and their descendants, how these New Englanders took over these islands. Then there's the native version of those events, which is necessarily and understandably upset about all of that.

You're trying to parse complicated histories. There's one line early in the Lafayette book that seems related to this: "In the United States there was no simpler, more agreeable time." Why do you think it's so hard for us to recognize dysfunction within our own history? And where does this temptation to just indulge nostalgia come from?

I don't know. I just loathe that idea of the good old days. Immoral behavior is human nature. So I don't know why there's this human tendency to be nostalgic about the supposedly superior morals of previous generations.

Why is it so difficult to recognize and acknowledge the role that dysfunction has played?

I think it has to do with this country. History is taught not as a series of chronological events, but as adventures in American exceptionalism. When I was growing up, I was taught America never lost a war because "America is God's chosen nation." I started kindergarten the year the helicopters were pulling out of Saigon.

It's funny, one reason why Americans loved Lafayette was because of how much he loved them. In 1824 or 1825, he's speaking before the joint houses of Congress and he says, "America will save the world." What European thinks that? We love to think about ourselves as helpful and good.

Yeah. And sometimes, the historical record doesn't back that up. That's true of every country. But unlike every other country, we have all of these documents that say we're supposed to be better, that say all men are created equal. All of the great accomplishments in American history have this dark backside. I feel very reverential of the Civil Rights Movement. But then you think, well, why was that necessary? Or all of these great amendments we're so proud of. It's like, oh, everyone can vote? I thought we already said that.

So how do you—

Let me say one more thing. You know that scene in Dazed and Confused where the history teacher tells the class that when you're celebrating the Fourth of July, you're celebrating a bunch of like old white guys who didn't want to pay their taxes? I'm not one of those people. I don't think it's all horrors and genocide and injustice. I do think it's still valuable to celebrate those founding ideals. And there are some days that the idea that all men are created equal, that's the only thing I believe in. I think those ideals are still worth getting worked up about.

Just because Jefferson owned slaves, I don't think that completely refutes the Declaration. I think you have to talk about both things. I'm not completely pessimistic about it. That's what I love about nonfiction: if you just keep going back to the truth, it's the most useful and it's the most interesting. I don't want to be a naysayer or a "yaysayer." I want to like say them both together. What would that word be?

So what's next? Do you have plans for another book?

It's what I do for a living so I would hope so. I have a few ideas floating around but I was actually so late.

With this one?

Yeah. And I still haven't recovered. My books, I think they seem breezy to read. I write them that way purposely. But it's incredibly time consuming to put all that together and edit out the informational clutter. I just hate jargon and pretentious obfuscation. This book, which seems like a nice romp through the Revolutionary War, was actually tedious and life sucking to put together. So, yes, I'll write another book when I get over writing this one.

Have you seen Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton musical [which features a rapping, dancing Marquis de Lafayette]?

What did you think of it?

Well, it's not about Lafayette.

No, it's not about Lafayette. That is my one complaint about Hamilton. It has too much Hamilton sometimes. The thing I loved about it most, honestly, was aesthetic. It so perfectly utilized every aspect of theater. It just milked the meaning out of everything. And the nonstop force of the narrative and the rhythm is so effusive and hilarious. I love how alive it is and how alive the people onstage are.

Daveed Diggs!

Daveed Diggs, yes. Daveed Diggs and his hair. He has so much swagger and joie de vivre. I do love how funny it is. But I also like how it doesn't run away from all of these people and their foibles and how they didn't get along.

What would happen if you and Lin-Manuel Miranda went head-to-head, high school debate style?

I'm glad it's high school debate style and not a rap battle because I'm pretty sure he would kick my ass.

Hamilton versus Lafayette. The battle of American heroes. Who wins?

That's the thing. You don't have to choose. I mean, basically, it's going to be Washington. That's even one of the songs, "It's good to have Washington on your side," I think. They each have their contributions. I mean, probably, ultimately, the banking system is more important day-to-day.

We're lucky we don't have to choose.

It'd be a pretty interesting choice to have to make. But, obviously I hope I never have to debate that guy.

The musical is very concerned with the legacies of historical figures. We talked a bit about this already, the idea of what Lafayette has become. What do you think his legacy is today, aside from the statues and the colleges and the towns? What does he represent?

More than anything, he represents the power and necessity and joys of friendship. I think of him as America's best friend. The lesson of the Revolutionary War in general, and of Lafayette in particular, is the importance of alliance and cooperation. A lot of my book is about how much bickering was going on, but I still call it the "somewhat United States" because the founders were united enough. Britain loses because Britain was alone. America wins because America has France. It's easier to win a war when you're not in it alone. And it's easier to live your life when you're not in it alone.

The friendship among those men is one of their more enduring legacies. It's why we call them, we think of them, we lump them together as "the Founding Fathers." Even though they didn't really get along, and maybe they didn't even like other a lot of the time, but they were in it together. 


The Marquis de Lafayette Sails Again

The sun was sparkling off the Bay of Biscay and a light breeze barely ruffled the sails as the three-masted frigate l’Hermione headed out from La Rochelle for sea trials one morning last October. It was a beautiful day, dammit! This would be one of the new ship’s first times out in open water, and the captain, a Breton sea dog named Yann Cariou, was eager to see what it and its crew of 18 seasoned sailors and 54 volunteers could do. The balmy weather would test neither.

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The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered

Cariou fired up the two 400-horsepower Italian engines and motored north looking for wind. At dinner in the galley, he made a show of peeking under the tables, as if he were playing a children’s game. “No wind here,” he says with mock gravity. But there was good news, meaning bad news, on the radar. A big storm off Iceland was generating nasty low-pressure systems as far south as Brittany, so that’s where we headed.

Many people had waited a long time for this moment. The French spent 17 years and $28 million replicating the Hermione down to the last detail, from its gilded-lion figurehead to the fleur-de-lis painted on its stern. When the original Hermione was built in 1779, it was the pride of a newly re-energized French Navy: a 216-foot, 32-gun barracuda that could take a real bite out of the arrogant English, who not only ruled the waves but concocted an in-your-face anthem about it—“Rule, Britannia!”—in 1740.

As instructed by the bosun, crew members, mainly in their 20s, grunted the French version of “heave ho” as they hoisted the tall ship’s sails. (Association Hermione La Fayette) On sea trials off Brittany, the seasoned sailors and volunteer crew hit the rough water they were hoping would test the vessel. (Association Hermione La Fayette) After a transatlantic crossing, the Hermione will dock in ports from Maine to Virginia that were significant during the Revolution. (Association Hermione La Fayette) “You’re in the wrong business” if you can’t handle the seasickness,” said the Hermione’s first mate. “But then, we’re all masochists.” (Association Hermione La Fayette) The 18th-century Hermione was the jewel of the French Navy. Today’s replica boasts a fleur-de-lis on the stern and gilded-lion figurehead. (Association Hermione La Fayette) The marquis wounded at Brandywine, 1777. (Kean Collection / Getty Images) The Marquis de Lafayette. (Gianni Dagli Orti / The Art Archive At Art Resource, NY) (Illustration by Romy Blümel) The 1,260-ton replica (during construction) required 40,000 cubic feet of oak to recreate the ship that Lafayette reported, “sails like a bird.” (Association Hermione-La Fayette) The recreated ship required 15 miles of rope, 40,000 cubic feet of oak and 23,680 square feet of sail. In a nod to modernity, it has two engines. (Association Hermione La Fayette) The Hermione’s replica hews to the specifications of the swift warship that carried Lafayette to America󈟟 miles of rope, 1,000 pulleys and 330 square feet of sail. (F. Latreille / Association Hermione-La Fayette)

With a sleek, copper-bottomed hull, the Hermione could out-sail almost any ship it couldn’t out-shoot. Even the English recognized the Hermione’s excellence when they captured its sister ship, the Concorde. They promptly reverse-engineered their prize, drawing detailed schematics to help re­create the vessel for their own fleet.

This proved a stroke of luck 200 years later when France decided it was tired of being the only great seagoing nation without a replicated tall ship of its own. “In the 1980s, we restored the shipyards at Rochefort, where l’Hermione was built, and made them a cultural monument,” says Benedict Donnelly, who heads France’s Hermione project, the Association Hermione-La Fayette, supported by public funds and private donations. “But then in the 󈨞s we said, we’re missing something. A recreated tall ship. France is really the poor relation among nations in this department. The Hermione was the jewel of the navy from a glorious moment in French maritime history—which hasn’t always been glorious, thanks to our friends the English. Happily, our English friends had captured the Hermione’s sister ship and left us the plans.”

There’s another reason that the Hermione sails again—it possesses a particular transatlantic back story and cachet. In March 1780, the Hermione set out from Rochefort bound for Boston. Its speed and agility suited it ideally to the task of carrying Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, back to America. He was charged with giving George Washington the nation-saving news that France would soon be sending an infusion of arms, ships and men.

That life support was due in no small part to Lafayette’s tireless cheerleading. His earlier efforts had helped nudge King Louis XVI into recognizing the United States and signing a defensive alliance with it in 1778 (just how big a nudge is open to debate, since French policy was already strongly inclined in this direction for reasons of pure realpolitik). Now, Lafayette, the public face of France in the United States, was returning to deliver the goods.

The American Journey of l’Hermione: The ship’s June/July itinerary highlights ports that were significant during the Revolution. 1. Yorktown, Va 2. Mt. Vernon, Va 3. Alexandria, Va 4. Annapolis, Md 5. Baltimore 6. Philadelphia 7. New York 8. Greenport, NY 9. Newport, RI 10. Boston 11. Castine, Me. (GUILBERT GATES)

Surely Lafayette’s name could work the same fund-raising magic for a recreated Hermione, this time in the America-to-France direction. The connection with Lafayette has brought in U.S. donors under the auspices of the Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America, a nonprofit that has helped to raise roughly one-quarter the $4.5 million it is costing to send the replicated Hermione from Rochefort voyaging to America and back. Donnelly, whose own background seems tailor-made for overseeing the Hermione project since 1992—his mother is French and his American father participated in the D-Day invasion at Normandy—says that was never a consideration. “Choosing to rebuild Lafayette’s boat was not a question of marketing,” he insists.

Still, a project that has often been as cash-strapped as Washington’s Continentals has benefited from a brisk American tail wind. After crossing the Atlantic this month, the ship will dock in many of the ports that figured in the Revolution, to welcome the curious aboard to discover a ship lost to history and the young marquis who is a misunderstood American icon.

‘unknown’ works here. Hermione will be unknown to Americans And in Manhattan, the New-York Historical Society is mounting the exhibition “Lafayette’s Hermione: Voyage 2015,” on view May 29 through August 16.

Pretty much everyone in the United States has heard of Lafayette. Scores of towns around the U.S. are named for him, from Fayetteville, North Carolina, to Fayette, Maine, to Lafayette, Oregon (to this list must be added every town named La Grange, after Lafayette’s manse, the Château de la Grange-Bleneau). But the man himself has been swallowed up in a hazy myth surrounding his general helpfulness.

He turns out to be more interesting than his myth, not to mention a good deal quirkier. “Americans don’t in the least know who Lafayette was. The story has been lost in the telling,” says Laura Auricchio, author of a new biography, The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered.

The Marquis de Lafayette who first arrived on U.S. soil in South Carolina on June 13, 1777, was an unformed, untested youth of 19. In a way, he had nowhere else to go. He had been orphaned young—his father was killed when the English crushed the French at Minden in 1759, during the Seven Years’ War. The early death of his parents left him a very rich young man.

In 1774, Lafayette, then 16, was married off to 14-year-old Adrienne de Noailles, who came from one of France’s best-born and most powerful families. The marriage made the provincial Lafayette an instant player at court, but his door pass did him little good. For one thing, he was a lousy dancer. Lafayette himself confessed in his memoirs that he made a clumsy courtier, undone “by the gaucheness of my manners which. never yielded to the graces of the court or to the charms of supper in the capital.”

The match with Adrienne also brought Lafayette a lieutenant’s commission in the Noailles Dragoons, and with it the promise of an army career. But here, too, he hit an unexpected wall. A broad military reorganization in 1775 affected many of France’s existing regiments, Lafayette’s among them. He and many others like him suddenly found themselves sidelined with little hope of advancement.

It was in this context that Lafayette took up America’s fight for freedom. So did many of his frustrated compatriots, whose motives ran the gamut from high-minded to mercenary. “I am well nigh harassed to death with applications of officers to go out to America,” wrote the American diplomat Silas Deane, who worked alongside Benjamin Franklin in Paris to drum up French aid.

Deane and Franklin were pretty picky, and many who asked to fight were turned away. In Lafayette, however, they recognized a pearl of great value—that is to say, great promotional value. In his signed agreement accepting Lafayette’s services and commissioning him an (unpaid) major general, Deane enumerates an unusual list of qualifications for a commanding officer: “high birth, alliances, the great dignities which his family holds at this court, his considerable estates in this realm. and above all, his zeal for the liberty of our provinces.” Thus recommended, the marquis first set sail for America in April 1777.

Lafayette never fully understood that his real job was to help get France into the war, not to fight it himself. Politically, he could be obtuse. “He was an ingénu and quite naive,” says Auricchio. “The opposite of someone like Talleyrand.”

I met with the historian Laurence Chatel de Brancion—who with co-author Patrick Villiers published the French-language biography La Fayette: Rêver la gloire (Dreaming of Glory) in 2013—at her grand apartment near Parc Monceau in Paris. On her father’s side of the family (an ancestor helped found Newport, Rhode Island), Chatel de Brancion is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Through the French branch of the DAR, she oversaw a donation to the Hermione re-creation project. But when it comes to Lafayette the man, she takes the cold-eyed view often found on her side of the Atlantic. The man often called a “citizen of two worlds” turns out to be a hero in only one of them.

“Lafayette is just an image. He’s the portrait of the terrible inconsequence of the French elite of that period,” Chatel de Brancion tells me. “Franklin used Lafayette, purely and simply. He said, ‘Cover this guy with glory, don’t let him go too near the fighting, and send him back to France full of enthusiasm.’” Moreover, she adds dryly, “Everything the U.S. thanks Lafayette for, it should be thanking Franklin for.”

Maybe so, but nobody will deny that Lafayette played his assigned part perfectly. After an initial chilly reception, he stepped quickly into the role of America’s BFF—Best French Friend. This required a lot more than just showing up. Many of the Frenchmen Silas Deane sent over managed to make themselves deeply unpopular with their haughty manners and their prickly sense of entitlement (Deane later took considerable heat for this).

“These people think of nothing but their incessant intrigues and backbitings,” wrote the German-born French officer Johann de Kalb, the brilliant soldier who came over with Lafayette on the 1777 voyage. “Lafayette is the sole exception. He is an excellent young man.”

The very qualities that made Lafayette a dud at Versailles made him a hit in Boston, Philadelphia and Valley Forge. He was straightforward and enthusiastic. He said what he meant, and then he said it again, and then he said it again. His stubborn optimism in the face of hardship rivaled Candide’s. He was, well, a lot like us. “He had a certain self-deprecating charm, and the ability to make fun of himself, which is not the French style of humor,” says Auricchio.

Crucially, Lafayette won over George Washington, a commander-in-chief with a marked distaste for intimacy and a hostility to the French officer class. In explaining how Lafayette broke the ice, Chatel de Brancion makes much of the fact that Lafayette fought in the blue uniform of a major general in the Continental Army. “We’ve lost the subtlety of that gesture today. Washington was honored that a foreign aristocrat would fight in that uniform—it did him, Washington, enormous credit.”

But clothing alone can’t explain the unusually affectionate bond that sprang up between the two men. Lafayette spent much of the war at Washington’s side and at one point pretty much moved into his house. He named his own son George Washington. By all accounts, the relationship was a bright spot in both their lives. It has withstood the full Freudian treatment over the years history has yet to find a dark underside to it.

It didn’t hurt that Lafayette happened to be the truest of true believers. Auricchio quotes a French comrade who tries to convince Lafayette to stop being such a sap by believing Americans “are unified by the love of virtue, of liberty. that they are simple, good hospitable people who prefer beneficence to all our vain pleasures.” But that is what he believed, and nothing could convince him otherwise. Lafayette’s American bubble remained unburst to the end.

It must be said that battlefield heroics contribute little to Lafayette’s legacy, even though he sought to win glory through force of arms at every opportunity. Whether by circumstance or design—Chatel de Brancion says some of both—Lafayette was rarely put in a position to risk serious harm. Lafayette’s physical courage was beyond question, but his ardor often outweighed his military judgment.

About Joshua Levine

Joshua Levine is a Paris-based freelance journalist. He has written for Forbes and the Financial Times, and is the author of The Rise and Fall of the House of Barneys.


The Marquis de Lafayette

Soldier. Scholar. Revolutionary.
Hero of Two Worlds.

If there was a rock star of the American Revolution, it was a man who went by an impressively lengthy name: Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. Born in 1757, Lafayette was a young, handsome, rich and brave French aristocrat who defied his own king to enter the Revolutionary War in America to support the cause of freedom in the New World. After his success as a military leader, he became a renowned statesman whose support for individual rights made him a beloved and respected figure on two continents.

Born into a family with illustrious ancestors on both sides, Lafayette at first appeared destined for a conventional aristocratic, military career. But he had other ideas. He adopted the motto “Cur Non” (“Why Not?”) for his coat of arms and joined the Freemasons in 1775. Two years later, at the age of 20, and lured by the idea of a nation fighting for liberty, he bought a ship and sailed to America to volunteer in General George Washington’s army.

He explained his attraction to the revolutionary cause in a letter to his wife: “The welfare of America is intimately connected with the happiness of all mankind she will become the respectable and safe asylum of virtue, integrity, tolerance, equality, and a peaceful liberty.”

He first saw action at the Battle of Brandywine in 1777 where he was shot in the leg and spent two months recovering from his wound at the Moravian Settlement in Bethlehem. His heroism in the battle encouraged George Washington to give the young Frenchman command of a division and Lafayette stayed with his troops at Valley Forge. After a brief visit to France in 1779, he returned to the Revolution in 1781 and helped contain British troops at Yorktown in the last major battle of the war.

As principal author of the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen,” written in 1789 in conjunction with Thomas Jefferson, he also helped propel the French Revolution. As an ardent supporter of emancipation and a member of anti-slavery societies in France and America, Lafayette lobbied for the restoration of civil rights to French Protestants and he was instrumental in ensuring that religious freedom be granted to Protestants, Jews, and other non-Catholics.

He was known as a friend to Native Americans and he endorsed the views of leading women writers and reformers of his day.

His triumphal Farewell Tour of America in 1824, conducted during the new nation’s years-long 50th anniversary celebrations, proved the Marquis had lost none of his rock-star status. His arrival in New York prompted four days and nights of continuous celebration – a response replicated during his visits to each of the other 23 states then in the Union. When Lafayette visited Congress, Speaker of the House Henry Clay delivered an address citing the deep respect and admiration held for him due to his “consistency of character . . . ever true to your old principles, firm and erect, cheering and animating, with your well-known voice, the votaries of liberty, its faithful and fearless champion, ready to shed the last drop of blood, which here, you so freely and nobly spilt in the same holy cause.”

Easton lawyer James Madison Porter was so impressed upon meeting the Marquis in Philadelphia that year that he proposed naming the town’s new college after Lafayette as “a testimony of respect for his talents, virtues, and signal services . . . in the great cause of freedom.”

On June 30, 1832, a month after the first students matriculated at Lafayette College, five of them—members of the Franklin Literary Society—wrote to Lafayette that they had made him an honorary member to pay “a feeble though sincere tribute of regard to a man who has proved his own and our country’s benefactor, and whose enlarged philanthropy as with a mantle of blessedness would cover the whole family of man.”

On August 7, 2002, 178 years later, Congress made him an honorary citizen of the United States. In May 2010, Lafayette College, the only college in America to bear his name, awarded the Marquis the honorary degree of Doctor of Public Service (posthumous) at its 175th Commencement.


Watch the video: La Fayette - British surrender at Yorktown, Virginia 1781 (November 2021).