Lafayette’s Farewell Tour: Overview Of His 1824-1825 American Visit (Part II)

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Marquis de Lafayette commemerative announcing, “The Nation’s Guest. In Commemoration of the Magnanimous and Illustrious Lafayette’s Visit to the United States of North America in the Forty-Ninth Year of Her Independence,” Perkins and Scheffer (1825). Source: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Once again, only this time with greater speed, Lafayette marched through Virginia. That did not mean Lafayette didn’t have spare time for the local folk. Levasseur provides the following anecdote from a few miles outside of Norfolk, Virginia. It expresses the feelings for the General shared by almost every American during his tour:

“We were sitting in our carriage when the landlord presented himself, asked to see the general, and eagerly pressed him to alight for a moment and come into his house. ‘If,’ said he, ‘you have only five minutes to stay, do not refuse them, since to me they will be so many minutes of happiness.’ The general yielded to his entreaty, and we followed him into a lower room, where we observed a plainness bordering on poverty, but a remarkable degree of cleanliness. Welcome Lafayette, was inscribed with charcoal upon the white wall, enwreathed with boughs from the fir trees of the neighbouring wood. Near the fire-place, where pine wood was crackling, stood a small table covered with a very clean napkin, and covered with some decanters containing brandy and whiskey; by the side of a plate covered with glasses was another plate filled with neatly arranged slices of bread. These modest refreshments were tendered with a kindness and cordiality which greatly enhanced their value. Whilst we were partaking of them the landlord disappeared, but returned a moment after accompanied by his wife, carrying her little boy, about three or four years of age, whose fresh and plump cheeks evinced the tenderness and care with which he had been cherished. The father, after first presenting his wife, next took his child in his arms, and, having placed one of his little hands in the hand of the general, made him repeat, with much emphasis, the following: ‘General Lafayette, I thank you for the liberty which you have won for my father, for my mother, for myself, and for my country!!’ While the child was speaking, the father and mother eyed the general with the most tender regard: their hearts responded to the words of their boy, and tears they were unable to suppress, proved that their gratitude was vivid and profound.”1

Things slowed a bit in North Carolina as he spent a week visiting a dozen sites. While Lafayette may have made fewer stops in South Carolina, he spent nearly twice as much time there. A typical story (and maybe a reason for a longer stay) occurred in Camden, South Carolina on March 8, 1825.

This town of two hundred swelled as people from eighty miles away came to see the French hero lay the cornerstone of a monument dedicated to Baron de Kalb. De Kalb, a German, had served in France before, like Lafayette, joining the American fight for independence. Unfortunately, he was mortally wounded at the Battle of Camden. Though given little notice of his primary role in the ceremony, Lafayette performed with suitable honor and respect.2

The Grand Lodge of South Carolina led the ceremonial re-interment of de Kalb and the dedication of his monument. Lafayette, himself a mason, was no doubt familiar with his duties for the occasion. Many, if not most, Revolutionary War veterans were masons, including de Kalb, who was originally buried in Camden with Masonic honors. For the ceremony nearly a half century later, Lafayette was given a silver trowel made of Mexican coins. Now known as the “Lafayette Trowel,” it remained the property of the Grand Lodge of South Carolina.3

Just over the border in Savannah, Georgia, the same thing occurred. This time to honor Casimir Pulaski, the “Father of the American Cavalry.” Like Lafayette and de Kalb, Pulaski came from Europe to fight for the Patriots. The Polish native, however, suffered a fatal injury when grapeshot struck him while leading a charge to retake Savannah. He died two days later, just outside of Savannah in the town of Thunderbolt. He was buried there. As with de Kalb’s monument, Lafayette laid the cornerstone for the Pulaski Monument on March 21, 1824.4 (The site of the monument was later moved and the cornerstone was re-laid in 1853).

After three days in Savannah, Lafayette ambled through the rest of the most southern of the original colonies for another ten days. Of note, Lafayette did not travel through Florida. Florida Territory was formally annexed from Spain during President Madison’s second term on March 30, 1822. It didn’t become a state until March 3, 1845.

With no state of Florida on his tour map, Lafayette entered Alabama on March 31, 1825. Over the next nine days, he visited ten locations within that state.

On April 8, 1825, he took a steamship Natchez from Mobile, Alabama. The city of New Orleans provided the boat. A stormy night had the passengers of the Natchez fighting seasickness. At dawn, they spotted La Balize, the former French fort at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Later that morning, about 40 miles upstream, they spotted Fort St. Philip (formerly Fort Plaquemine), which honored them with a thirteen-gun salute. By midnight that same day, they could hear the batteries of New Orleans firing “a salute of a hundred guns” announcing their imminent arrival.5

As they awoke the morning of the 10th, they heard “cries of Vive la liberté, vive l’ami de l’Amerique! vive Lafayette! in the French language.”6 It was as though they had returned home. Lafayette remained in New Orleans until April 15th.

The following day he was in Baton Rouge from which he went directly to Natchez, Mississippi, for three days. From April 20, 1825 through April 27, 1825, Lafayette steamed up the Mississippi River. He stopped in St. Louis, where the former Missouri Territory Governor William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) escorted him.

The ship then turned back, heading south towards Kaskaskia, Illinois. At the insistence of the Illinois governor, Lafayette agreed to make an unscheduled stop there. It was one of the stops that didn’t pull out all the stops to greet Lafayette. There was no carriage waiting for him (but one was quickly obtained), no ornate military parade to march for him, indeed, there was no triumph of any sort. Still “the accents of joy and republican gratitude which broke upon his ear, was grateful to his heart, since it proved to him that wherever American liberty had penetrated, there also the love and veneration of the people for its founders were perpetuated.”7

Upon reaching the Ohio River on May 1, 1825, they parted ways with the Natchez and boarded the Artizan, the former being too big to navigate the shallow waters ahead.8 In the next week, they traveled on the Ohio and Cumberland rivers. Along the way, they visited four states, but spent the most time (three days) in Nashville, Tennessee with Andrew Jackson as his escort. Like New Orleans, Nashville toasted Lafayette in the festive way of the east coast cities.

It was back on the Ohio River to Louisville, Kentucky, on board the Mechanic. That’s when the unthinkable happened. The ship hit a snag. It went down in ten minutes. Lafayette lost everything but one or two trunks. He even lost a cane that belonged to George Washington, which he had just received as a gift.9 Fortunately, Levasseur retrieved a snuffbox “ornamented with a picture of Washington” before escaping the sinking craft.10 Later, a trunk believed to contain Lafayette’s “valuable papers” was recovered and sent to meet the General during his visit to Boston.11

From May 12, 1825, through May 18, 1825, Lafayette’s party, which since they had left Washington D.C. now included Francisque Alphonse de Syon, toured Kentucky via the overland route, arriving in Cincinnati, Ohio, on May 19, 1825. Then it was once again on the Ohio River, all the way to Pittsburgh on May 30, 1825. In those eleven days, Lafayette visited not fewer than thirteen separate towns in Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

Pittsburgh presented another big city celebration. It also offered reunions with more Revolutionary War veterans. One approached Lafayette and asked if the General remembered him. “No!” said Lafayette, “I have not forgotten Wilson, and it is a great happiness to be permitted to embrace him to-day!” Wilson was the soldier who carried the wounded Lafayette on a litter at the Battle of Brandywine.12

Once again, Lafayette takes the land route from Pittsburgh through Butler, Mercer, Franklin, Meadville, and Waterford before arriving at Erie, Pennsylvania.

Next Week: Lafayette Prepares To Enter The Greater Western New York Region

1 Levasseur, A., Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825. Vol. II, John D. Godman translation, (Philadelphia: Carey and Lea, 1829), p.31
2 Ibid. p.42
3, [Retrieved February 24, 2024]
4 Levasseur, Vol. II, p.63
5 Ibid. pp.87-88
6 Ibid. p.89
7 Ibid. p.130
8 Ibid. p.149
9 “La Fayette,” The Evening Post [New York, New York], Friday, May 27, 1825, p.2
10 Levasseur, Vol. II, p.159
11 “LaFayette’s Papers,” Buffalo Emporium and General Advertiser, Saturday, July 9, 1825, p. 3
12 Levasseur, Vol. II, pp.182-183

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