Lafayette’s Farewell Tour: Breakfast At Black Rock Then On To Tonawanda

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Previous: Peter B. Porter’s Home Sweet Home

Black Rock in 1925, drawn by Mildred C. Green from the original sketch made by George Catlin. Source: The Picture Book of Earlier Buffalo, Frank Severeace, ed., Buffalo Historical Society Publications, Volume Six, p.252

The gates of the grand lock at the foot of the harbor opened for the first time on Thursday evening, June 2, 1825. Water from Lake Erie came gushing in. Slowly, but steadily, water flowed into the newly opened portion of the Erie Canal from Black Rock to “Tonnewanta” (present day Tonawanda). By nine o’clock Friday morning, the water filled the nine-mile length to a depth of three and a half feet. The celebratory committee launched the inaugural fleet of five elaborately decorated packet boats.1

Upon their return to Black Rock at three o’clock, a procession of 150 people led by Marshall of the day J.L. Marshall, Esq. marched to the Steam Boat Hotel. As the news reported of the event: “The day was marked by great hilarity and good feeling and not the least incident occurred to mar its pleasures.”2

After partaking of a fine dinner provided with usual aplomb by Mr. Thayer, the round of toasts began. General Peter B. Porter, officiating the event as President of the committee, offered the first toast: “The event we celebrate – the tapping of Lake Erie. Seven years of patient and patriotic labor expended in perforating the earth and rock to introduce and stanch the faucet, will be amply repaid by the rich and never-failing stream of water and wealth, destined to flow from this copious reservoir.”3

Indeed, General Porter had led the fight for the canal. He had hoped his hometown of Black Rock would serve as the western terminus, but clever maneuvering by his competitors in Buffalo took that prize. Still, Black Rock received the honor of being an appendage, at the cost of sacrificing the geological formation that gave it its name.

After the first half dozen or so toasts, Mr. Jackson of Black Rock rose and rendered: “Black Rock and Buffalo – never more worthily employed than at present. One in paying homage to a great event and to those who have consummated it – the other waiting with open arms the arrival of their country’s best friend.”4

Indeed, General Lafayette would arrive in Buffalo the next day and spend Saturday night there.

The Nation’s Guest arose early Sunday Morning, June 5. The military units that had greeted him the previous day rose with him, along with the Buffalo committee. The entire entourage left the village at six o’clock AM. At least says the Buffalo Emporium, which also wrote the General arrived at Black Rock when the clock struck seven.5

The Black Rock Gazette had a slightly different interpretation of events. This rival newspaper claimed Lafayette didn’t arrive in Black Rock until “half past eight o’clock” at which point the Buffalo committee handed him off to Peter Porter, chairman of the Black Rock Committee. A few other folks, including acting canal commissioner William C. Bouck, accompanied the committee to Thayer’s Hotel.6

Levasseur noted that Black Rock was “a small but handsome port which rivals that of Buffalo in bustle.”7 Things were sure bustling those couple of days, and that Sunday morning in particular.

After exchanging the usual pleasantries at Thayer’s Hotel, General Porter took the travelers and a few others, (including acting canal commissioner William C. Bouck) to his house for breakfast with his wife and family. As they approached the home, they passed through the elegantly decorated gate that led to the courtyard. While no doubt Mrs. Porter had a hand in this, the entire citizenry gets credit for this festive display. At the top of the arch sat a live eagle. The columns on either side featured two flags, each held in place by “spiral wreaths of variegated cloth.”8

After breakfast, Lafayette emerged from the house to find a very orderly line of men and women to offer him their greetings and good tidings. As usual, he returned their politeness with more of his own, making sure to shake each hand in a sincere manner.9

At ten o’clock, the committee led the guests down to the new steamboat wharf and they boarded the canal boat Seneca Chief. Three barges, replete with flags and with four oarsmen each, towed the brand-new packet boat through the harbor for more than a mile before it reached the entrance of the canal. There, the rowers handed off the Seneca Chief to a pair of teams of horses. One team attached itself to the flagged boats, the other to the Seneca Chief. The small fleet included a number of other boats filled with eager citizens. Off they floated towards Tonnewanta.10

At noon, the boats began to arrive at Tonnewanta. The General disembarked with the Black Rock committee. Waiting for them there was the Niagara County committee. As before with the Buffalo committee, the two committees exchange formalities. Lafayette and his party climbed into the waiting carriages.11

The carriages quickly rolled on their way. Soon, the guests heard “a deep roaring, which shook the earth.” In the distance, they could see “a thick column of vapour… rising towards heaven.”12

They were about to enjoy one of the most unforgettable sights ever.

Next Week: Augustus Porter Could Have Danced All Night

1 “Termination of the Grand Canal,” Black Rock Gazette, Tuesday, June 7, 1825, p. 3
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 “The Nation’s Guest,” Buffalo Emporium and General Advertiser, Saturday, June 11, 1825, p. 2
6 “General La Fayette,” Black Rock Gazette, Tuesday, June 7, 1825, p. 3
7 Levasseur, André-Nicolas, Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825, Volume II, John D. Godman translation, Philadelphia, Carey and Lea, 1829, p. 188
8 “General La Fayette,” Black Rock Gazette, Tuesday, June 7, 1825, p. 3
9 Ibid.
10 Ibid.
11 Ibid.
12 Levasseur, p. 188



  1. […] to the newly opened segment of this important waterway? Read this week’s Carosa Commentary “Lafayette’s Farewell Tour: Breakfast At Black Rock Then On To Tonawanda,” to enjoy the next leg of Lafayette’s tour through the Greater Western New York […]

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