Lafayette’s Farewell Tour: Fast Fredonia Frenzy

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Previous: Gaslighting The General 

The trot to Fredonia was anything but quick. The Buffalo and Erie Road turned out to be less “finished” than Joseph Ellicott had hoped. André-Nicolas Levasseur, one of Lafayette’s traveling party who would eventually publish an extensive journal of the General’s American Farewell Tour, went out of his way to point out the poor condition of the Main road between “Portland” (a.k.a. “Westfield”) and Fredonia.

“On leaving Portland,” wrote Levasseur, “yielding to the fatigue of the preceding days, we were sleeping in the carriage notwithstanding the violent jolting occasioned by the trunks of the trees forming the road over which we were rapidly passing.”1

Ellicott had rather strict guidelines for those he hired to clear roads, especially when it came to those jolting tree trunks. “He required that all the main roads should be opened forty feet wide, all trees and saplings to be cut level with the ground if twelve inches or less in diameter; if more than that, they might be cut at the usual height unless standing within eight feet of the center of the road in which case they too were to be cut level with the ground.”2

Meanwhile, in Fredonia, the people waited. According to Olive Risley Seward, “Before midday every road leading to Fredonia was lined with wagons, carts, and carriages; and people came pouring in from over the hills and up and down the Lake and Main roads, on foot and on horse, and in every vehicle that could be found to bring them to greet Lafayette.” She then goes on to imply Lafayette was greatly delayed in arriving at Fredonia.3

Mention of this delay failed to appear in contemporary reports (although it may be inferred by his widely reported 2:00 AM arrival). Still, in an 1886 lecture titled ‘Men of Note Whom I Have Met,” Fredonia native Hanson A. Risley recalls “The committee appointed to meet him, being delayed in returning, he did not reach the place until late in the night…”4 Of course, since Hanson was Olive’s father, he can hardly be considered an independent second source. About all we can conclude is that Olive appears to faithfully retell the story her father told her.

Both Olive Risley Seward5 and Obed Edson6 suggest Lafayette’s carriage suffered an accident on the way to Fredonia, but this cannot be corroborated by Levasseur’s journal. He only mentions the “violent jolting,” until…

“On a sudden the startling explosion of a piece of artillery awoke us, and our eyes were immediately dazzled by the glare of a thousand lights, suspended to the houses and trees that surrounded us.”7

That “startling explosion” would be the sound of Capt. Brown’s thirteen artillery guns firing to salute Lafayette’s arrival in Fredonia. He, along with Capt. Whitcomb’s Rifle Rangers and portions of the 169th regiment stood ready at the west hill to receive the Nation’s Guest.8

It may have been two o’clock in the morning, but the patient citizens weren’t tired. As the carriage pulled up to the Abell Tavern, its riders noticed two distinct lines to the platform in front of the hotel. What they didn’t notice was the edge of the creek by the bridge where the first natural gas well would soon appear.

The reception could not have been better choreographed. On one side stood the women and girls, and on the other side stood the men and boys. “Struck by so touching a reception, the general was unable for some time to subdue his emotions; at last, he advanced slowly through the crowd, at every step shaking affectionately the hands that were stretched out to him, and replying with tenderness to the sweet salutation of the children who accompanied his progress with cries of ‘Welcome, Lafayette.’”9

Lafayette made his way up to the platform, where the Reverend David Brown greeted him and pronounced, “General LaFayette:—We rejoice to see you. We greet you welcome to our rural hospitalities, and thank you for the great pleasure thus to salute a man most high and most dear in the estimation of every American. It pains me, sir, to add the least possible degree to your fatigue at this late hour of night, but my fellow citizens having appointed me to the honor of addressing you, expect from me a passing remark on the motives which have prompted the little attentions within our very limited powers, dwelling as we do, where shortly since dwelt the beasts of the forest.”10

There was much more to the speech than that, to which Lafayette replied:

“My Dear Sir:—Accept my most sincere thanks for your most affectionate address. Your allusion to my early visit to America, to my services here and to my sufferings since, are very kind, and, as I must frankly confess, are very gratifying to my feelings. The manner of my reception here, my very dear sir, this place so shortly since a wilderness, as you have said, surprises me as much as it pleases me. Surely, I am very much obliged. And I beg you, sir, with the committee, who have shown me every kindness, to accept my grateful acknowledgments.”11

With that, the General then turned to greet everyone individually, first the ladies, who impressed him by staying up so late. “That the ladies, too,” he repeated for emphasis, “That the ladies, too, should remain up all night to receive me, surely it is too much.” and then the veterans. There were so many people there that he had to stand on the platform as the crowd paraded by him.12

One story involving the ladies was told by Olive Risley Seward: “The ladies were presented individually by a master of ceremonies equal to the occasion, Mr. David J. Matteson, and he has often recalled to me his care to choose the prettiest lady in the village, who happened to be my grandmother, Doctor Crosby’s wife, for the first presentation, and how he noted with pride the elegance of her plum colored satin shawl and the enormous size of her fashionable bonnet. Mr. Matteson said he was somewhat surprised, however, as lady after lady came forward arrayed as she in a plum colored shawl and flaring bonnet, and how he never would have understood the mystery had not his own wife explained to him the next day that the doctor’s wife who possessed a new bonnet and shawl from Boston, the mart of fashion, had loaned her finery in turn to each less fortunate friend and neighbor, as they passed in to be presented.”13

With the introductions complete, it was now time to partake of the entertainment and repast prepared by Mosley Abell. John M. Edson had traveled all the way from Sinclairville to see Lafayette. He was lucky enough to sit down at the same table as Lafayette. He would later describe the General as “a man less than six feet in height and somewhat corpulent. He wore a wig of dark hair, was of dark complexion and had full cheeks. He talked English well and freely with the soldiers; was very affable and courteous. He sat at the head of one of the tables, at which, besides others, there were thirty soldiers of the Revolution, twelve of whom were at Yorktown.”14

All this occurred within sixty minutes. His travel on the Main (a.k.a. “Buffalo and Erie”) road may have been slow and bumpy, but his whirlwind visit with Fredonia was fast and furious. It was three o’clock. “Notwithstanding the striking character of this scene, the general felt himself obliged to abridge it, that he might not expose to the cold, for a longer time, the women and young girls, who, slightly clad, had passed all the night in the open air, waiting for him.”15

The sun was just beginning to paint the forests to their right as they made their way out of Dunkirk.

If they thought the Main road was bad, just wait until they discover what something that isn’t the main road is like!

Next: Dunkirk, The Last Frontier

1 Levasseur, André-Nicolas, Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825, Volume II, John D. Godman translation, Philadelphia, Carey and Lea, 1829, p. 185
2 Evans, Paul Edmund, The Holland Land Company, Buffalo Historical Society, Buffalo, NY 1924, p.273
3 Seward, Olive Risley, “The Marquis De Lafayette. His Great Service to our Country and His Visit to Chautauqua County,” The Centennial History of Chautauqua County Vol I, Chautauqua History Company, Jamestown, 1904, pp. 458-459
4 “A Glimpse of the Past,” Fredonia Censor, March 10, 1886, p 1
5 Seward, p. 459
6 Edson, Obed, Historian, History of Chautauqua County New York, Georgia Drew Merrill, Editor, W.A Fergusson & Co, Boston, Mass, 1894, p. 481
7 Levasseur, p.185
8 “LaFayette in Fredonia,” Fredonia Censor, August 21, 1872, p 1
9 Levasseur, p.185
10 “LaFayette in Fredonia,” p 1
11 Ibid.
12 Ibid.
13 Ebson, p.461
14 Edson, p.288
15 Levasseur, p.186


  1. […] visit. What did this small rural village have to offer? Read this week’s Carosa Commentary “Lafayette’s Farewell Tour: Fast Fredonia Frenzy,” and find out why, of all the towns and villages Lafayette visited in the Greater Western New […]

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