Lafayette’s Farewell Tour: Lafayette Prepares To Enter The Greater Western New York Region

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The sun rose the morning of Friday, June 3, 1825, at 4:05am local time in Waterford, Pennsylvania.1 Lafayette had two weeks—14 days—to travel 550 miles and visit almost two dozen towns and villages before the June 17th dedication of the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston. He was determined to meet every community he promised to visit. Speed was of the essence.

But he couldn’t show it. At least not in a too obvious way.

Roughly three hours after the break of dawn, at about 7 o’clock, Lafayette’s party left Waterford for the seat of the County, Erie, Pennsylvania.2 Though technically still in the Quaker State, what Lafayette experienced there would prepare him for his travels through the Greater Western New York Region.

That made sense. It wasn’t that long ago that New York State claimed what is known as the “Erie Triangle.” And, like Western New York, most of the new settlers in Pennsylvania’s western port came from New England.

It took a while, though.

The western boundaries of the interior colonies were always loosely defined. Well, technically, they were defined by the British royalty, but often in confusing and contradictory ways. Even still, the presence of indigenous inhabitants, who generally opposed western settlement, fuzzed up those technical boundaries. The end of the Revolutionary War failed to resolve this quandary. In a number of ways.

The Erie Triangle represents a prime example of this.

As the Revolutionary War began to turn to America’s favor, the newly formed states began the process known as “cessation.” States ceded western claims to the Federal government as a way to resolve the “sea to sea” boundaries declared by royal decree that created conflicting claims.

One of those became apparent when both New York State and Massachusetts ceded territory which now encompasses the Greater Western New York region. Much to the dismay of Pennsylvania, this included the Erie Triangle.3

Pennsylvania simply had no luck when it came to winning conflicting claims. Early colonial maps showed the northern border of Pennsylvania extended to a latitude just south of present-day Rochester, New York. With that, they claimed nearly the entire eastern coast of Lake Erie.

Given the New York and Massachusetts cessions, Pennsylvania wanted to get to the bottom of this claiming business. The state desired to secure its rights to Lake Erie. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania’s hopes were dashed when, in 1783, its own state-sponsored commission found, instead of the hoped for thirty or forty miles of coastline, the State of Pennsylvania could only reasonably argue it had but two or three miles on the lake shore. The rest, including the much-desired former French harbor of Presqu’ Isle (today, Erie) lay within the land ceded by New York and Massachusetts.4

The state rapidly put in place an effort to buy the Erie Triangle. After George Washington hired Andrew Ellicott (the older brother of Joseph), to formally measure the Triangle, the sale concluded in 1792.5

While the border definitions might have been secured, the western frontier was hardly considered safe. Not only did the Indians maintain an omnipresent threat, but the British, too, offered reason for trepidation. The population of the Triangle, with a little more land to the south added, now called Erie County, had but 1,468 inhabitants in 1800 and, just before the War of 1812, a meager 3,758. Following the end of hostilities, people poured into northwest Pennsylvania. The population swelled to 8,553 in 1820 and 17,041 in 1830.6

Where did all these people come from? The same place those who settled in the Greater Western New York Region came from. One author even says, “Erie County became more like New York than Pennsylvania, with its Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maine settlers, several of whom had tried pioneering in New York.”7

It makes sense that the greeting the citizens of Erie would offer to Lafayette would hint at what he would soon find once he crossed the border from the Keystone State into the Genesee Country.

With most of the short stops Lafayette would make, a committee from the next stop would arrive to escort the General. In the case of Waterford, Judah Colt, Esq., of the Erie committee arrived to welcome Lafayette. After an early breakfast, they left Waterford and began the 15-mile trek to Erie. About a mile outside their destination a uniformed battalion received them.8

Led by General B. Wallace, acting as Chief Marshal, they formed a procession that passed first down State Street to the public square, then down French to Third and back again to State Street. There, Lafayette and his party alighted and were received by Captain Budd, commanding officer of the naval station along with other naval and military officers. The group proceeded to the bank where, in full view of the harbor, the navy yard fired a national salute officially welcoming the Nation’s Guest.9

Next they went to the home of Daniel Dobbins. Dobbins built the ships at the Erie shipyards that Oliver Hazard (“Don’t Give Up The Ship”) Perry used to win the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812. It seemed the entire village, young and old, were at Dobbins to greet the famous French Revolutionary War hero. Those that Lafayette didn’t meet at Dobbins’ house he met immediately afterward at the home of Colt.10

Finally, a dinner was had by all at a table that nearly spanned the length of the one hundred- and seventy-feet long bridge on the Second Street bridge between French and State. With a picturesque vista of Lake Erie behind it, the table, “was covered by an awning of the sails of the British vessels taken by justly famed Commodore Perry during the last war, and tastefully decorated by the ladies with festoons of flowers and evergreens.”11

The Americans toasted their guest: “General La Fayette—In youth a hero, in maturity a sage, in advanced life an example to the present and future generations.” To which the General arose and replied, “Erie — A name which has a great share in American glory; may this town ever enjoy a proportionate share in American prosperity and happiness.”12

Levasseur writes of this event: “The trophies suspended over our heads, the name of Perry and the view of lake Erie, necessarily directed the thoughts of the guests to the events of the last war; and in a short time the gallant deeds of the American navy became the subject of general conversation. As it was perceived that Lafayette took great pleasure in hearing a narration of the glory of the descendants of his former companions in arms, all the details of that memorable day were given him, in which, after a combat of three hours, an American squadron entirely captured a British fleet far superior in the number of guns. In hearing the recital of those noble actions, Lafayette cast his eyes alternately on the numerous English flags that floated over his head, on the lake, the theatre of such glorious events, and on the seamen who surrounded him; and his heart was filled with pride, on perceiving that the Americans of 1813 had shown themselves worthy sons of his old fellow soldiers, the immortal heroes of the revolution of 1776.”13

After a few short hours it was time to say goodbye. The Erie committee escorted the General and his fellow travelers to their quarters where “affectionate” farewells were given to one and all. At three o’clock in the afternoon, Lafayette stepped into his carriage and the group was on its way to the next stop.14

Before the sun would set, Lafayette would once again step into New York State. Only this time, he would find himself in the Empire State’s western region.

And that’s where our real story begins.

Next (but after a few weeks): The State Of The Greater Western New York Region in 1825

1, [Retrieved March 9, 2024] If this seems odd, remember there was no Daylight Savings Time and, indeed, we wouldn’t have Standard Time until 1883.
2 “LaFayette in Fredonia,” Fredonia Censor, August 21, 1872, pp 1-2
3 Documents of the Senate of the State of New York, Volume 5, by New York (State). 1886, p. 438
4 Ibid.
5 Sanford, Laura G., The History of Erie County, Pennsylvania, (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co.), 1862. p.59-60
6 Ibid. p.97
7 Mathews, Lois Kimball, The Expansion of New England, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company), 1909, p.151
8 “Arrival of Gen. La Fayette at Erie,” Erie Gazette, Wednesday, June 9, 1825, p.3
9 Ibid.
10 Ibid.
11 Ibid.
12 Ibid.
13 Levasseur, A., Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825. Vol. II, John D. Godman translation, (Philadelphia: Carey and Lea, 1829), p.185
14 Ibid, Erie Gazette


  1. […] across the Pennsylvania border. How was this possible? Read this week’s Carosa Commentary “Lafayette’s Farewell Tour: Lafayette Prepares To Enter The Greater Western New York Region” to learn something about our region they never taught you in […]

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