Lafayette’s Farewell Tour: Regal Reception In Buffalo’s Blossoming Queen City

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Our County and Its People, Volume I, edited by Truman C. White, The Boston History Company, 1898, p. 282

Thousands crowded the shore near Buffalo’s new harbor. Oliver Forward couldn’t help but gloat. It had been a slugfest. Whether Joseph Ellicott or Peter B. Porter, it seemed like those who could help his struggling village didn’t. But he and his friends succeeded. And now, just as the clock struck noon, the Nation’s Guest – General Lafayette – appeared on Lake Erie’s horizon.

The big show was about to begin.

But the impetus for it almost didn’t. There almost wasn’t a harbor. And without a harbor, there would be no canal. And without a canal, well, Peter Porter would have been the one gloating right about now.

A dozen years earlier, Buffalo, once “a little scattered village of about one hundred houses and stores,” had been reduced by the British torch to all but one house, one blacksmith shop, and one jail. And lots of naked chimney rising like oh-so-many solitary obelisks from the blackened ashes below. Beside these ruins snaked “a sinuous creek, navigable for small vessels only, winding its way through marshy ground into the lake, its low banks fringed with trees and tangled shrubbery.”1

The canal represented the key to prosperity. With it, Buffalo would attract more settlers, more businesses, and more money.

Ah, money. There’s the rub. For it was money that was needed to create the one thing that would set everything in motion: a navigable harbor.

Black Rock, then a competing village a couple miles up the Niagara River, had several distinct advantages. It possessed a superior natural harbor thank to – you guessed it – that big black rock that protected the inlet from stormy lake waters and nasty river currents.

Black Rock also had a powerful advocate in Peter Porter. The former Congressman had connections galore. And ambition. The combination represented a one-two punch that had the potential to knock Buffalo out of contention in the fight for which harbor would become the western terminus of the fast-approaching Erie Canal.

In 1818, Buffalo was able to convince the state to authorize a survey of Buffalo Creek, but with the caveat that Niagara County pay for it. (Remember, Erie County had not yet been created from Niagara County). William Peacock, the Holland Company’s agent located in Mayville, agreed to do the survey without charge. In 1819, the state agreed to provide a loan for the construction of the harb0r. This loan would convert to a grant if Buffalo became the terminus of the Erie Canal. In the meantime, private individuals had to back the loan.2

The village was still a relatively small community. It didn’t possess men of great wealth. So, it turned to the one entity that would most benefit from the canal: the Holland Land Company. They had been contemplating a canal for some time now. Indeed, Joseph Ellicott pushed the idea. Surprising, when Buffalo asked the Company to back the loan, General Agent Busti rejected the request because the work would not be completed by the public authorities.3

Not to be denied, Oliver Forward and a handful of others (Charles Townsend, Samuel Wilkeson, and George Coit, under the superintendence of Judge Wilkeson) agreed to secure the loan. They put up their own money, took personal risk, all for the benefit of the entire community.4

The plan worked. The harbor was finished and the state selected Buffalo as the western terminus of the Erie Canal. The state paid the loan.5 On August 9, 1822, Oliver Forward, turned over the first shovel of dirt signaling the start of local construction of the Erie Canal. He was joined by Cyrenius Chapin and other prominent citizens.6

And now the village would reap its first reward for this endeavor.

Meanwhile, on board the Superior, a “violent and contrary” wind slowed the ship’s entry into port. It took two hours from the time their eyes first spotted the shore until they pulled up to port. Levasseur says they were “struck by the air of prosperity, and the bustle in its port.” They also couldn’t help but notice what they saw before them. Only months earlier, and five hundred miles to the east, they had seen the eastern terminus of the Erie Canal. Now, before them, stood its western counterpart.7

Once again the roar of guns greeted the travelers. First, a round of 18 announced to the large crowd gathered on the shore that Lafayette had arrived. On cue, another 24 artillery units answered from the hill. 8

With that, the show was about to begin. No doubt this was much to the relief of Colonel H.B. Potter’s several companies of the military. They had been in a constant state of readiness for almost two days. But now, the time for the grand reception had come. General Lafayette had arrived. As contemporary reports said, “the immense multitude of spectators had collected to witness an event which had been so long and so devotedly wished for.”9

Upon disembarking, Lafayette and his suite were received by the military under Col. Storrs, Marshal of the day. The throng of citizens present also received him.10 A detachment of Capt. Vosburgh’s company of Cavalry, and the Frontier Guards, under Capt. Rathbun immediately escorted them to the Eagle Tavern. In front of the tavern sat an ornate pavilion, constructed specifically for the event.11

In no time, the familiar face of Le Couteulx introduced the visitors to the village corporation. Oliver Forward, on behalf of the village trustees and the entire citizenry, offered the following formal welcome:

“In behalf of the citizens of this village and its vicinity, I have the honor of welcoming you among them and of tendering to you that regard which has been again reiterated, from the centre to the remotest extremity of the Union. This regard we are unable to testify to you amidst the splendor and magnificence of a state or national emporium: but to you we are aware that it will not be less acceptable if presented in the unimposing forms of republican simplicity. We are not less mindful than the whole people of this extended empire, or the services you have rendered our common country, nor less conscious of the gratification the patriot and the philanthropist must feel in passing the declivities of life, carrying with him the richest of all earthly rewards, a nation’s love and a nation’s gratitude. But few of us were among those who participated with you in the toils and the dangers of the revolution, which established not only the liberties of the confederacy, but what the world had never before seen, a welcome, a happy, and a protected home, for the oppressed of all nations. But we alike revere the memory of the brave, cherish with the same zeal the principles for which you and our fathers bled; and with all the grateful recollections which a love of liberty can inspire, of the voluntary sacrifices you have made in support of her cause, we beg you to accept the humble tribute of our respect, in conjunction with what has been and will continue to be proffered not only by every citizen of the American nation, but by every friend of liberty and of mankind.”12

To which, Lafayette replied:

“It would have sufficed to my high gratification, Sir, to visit this frontier on the state of New York, to admire its wonderful improvements, and to meet the affectionate welcome which I have received from the people of Buffalo, and which in their behalf you are please most kindly to express. But here additional sources of delight are opened to me: after having lately seen the lines of Orleans, I now have approached those parts of the union, where in the last war the rights and honor of the nation have been gloriously supported by the sons of my revolutionary contemporaries; the account of which achievements have excited in my breast proud and patriotic emotions long before the principal leaders in that war had become my personal friends. I have this morning navigated the lake the name of which is forever associated to the illustrious name of Perry, as being the theatre where has been so conspicuously evinced the superiority that in every instance of two wars against Great Britain has attended the American flag. Be pleased, Sir, to accept my personal thanks, and to receive the tribute of my grateful respect to the citizens of Buffalo.”13

Upon conclusion of these pleasantries, Lafayette met with the people. There is a famous interaction between Lafayette and Red Jacket, much chronicled by the press at the time and repeated in the historical annals. While the event may have occurred as written, its premise may be false. It involves a story that Lafayette had previously met Red Jacket at Fort Stanwix during the treaty negotiations of 1784. There is some question if Red Jacket actually attended the Fort Stanwix negotiations.14

We’ll close this with an account of the dinner at Buffalo from the June 15, 1825, Fredonia Censor. [N.B.: The Buffalo Emporium and General Advertiser wrote the dinner began at five o’clock, an hour later than reported by the Censor.] Reprinted here is the Censor’s account in full:

“At 4 o’clock the General and suite, (his son George Washington La Fayette, and secretary, Mr. La Vasseur,) sat down to dinner, with the corporation, committee of arrangement, and as many citizens as could be conveniently accommodated. C. Townsend, Esq., presided, assisted by Col. H.B. Potter, and E. Walden, Esq. as vice presidents. On the removal of the cloth, the president expressed to Gen. La Fayette the gratification he felt in common with his fellow citizens, in beholding one of the founders of the republic, and gave:

Our Illustrious Guest – The efficient defender of Liberty in both hemispheres.

By the 1st Vice President, H.B. Potter, Esq. – The surviving patriots and soldiers of the American revolution.

By the 2d Vice President, Capt. M.M. Dox – The pillar of American Glory – On its column are engraved the names of Washington, La Fayette, and Bolivar.

By the President of the Corporation – Our Country – Her majesty is her laws, her sovereign, her people.

Gen. La Fayette’s Toast. – Buffalo – May this young city, rapidly improved from its ashes, more and more exhibit in example of republican prosperity and happiness.

By G. W. La Fayette. – Lake Erie – One of the Theatres of American Glory.

By Mr. La Vasseur. – Liberty – May its principles pervade the world.

By the President. – The health of our Guest, George Washington La Fayette.

By Hon. W.C. Bouck. – History does not present a more brilliant example of virtue and heroism, or one more worthy of imitation, than is offered in the biography of our illustrious Guest.

By Maj. Gen. Risley. – The Prisoner of Olmutz – He now receives the homage of freedom’s friends throughout the world.

By a Stranger. – Amid our national prosperity and happiness, let us bear in mind suffering Greece. Heaven send a Washington to her councils, and a La Fayette to lead her armies.

By Mr. Le Couteulx. – His Excellency the Governor of the State of New York.”15

With that, “the evening was spent pleasantly, and the village handsomely illuminated.”16

Then it was off to sleep. In a bed. Not moving. For the first time in two days.

And rest would be important, for tomorrow would be a big day.

Next Week: Breakfast At Black Rock Then On To Tonawanda

1 Lossing, Benson J., The Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1868, p. 379
2 Turner, Orsamus, Pioneer History of the Holland Purchase of Western New York, Jewett, Thomas & Co., 1849, p. 641
3 Evans, Paul Demund, The Holland Land Company, Buffalo Historical Society, Buffalo, NY 1924, p. 292
4 Turner, p. 641
5 Evans, p. 292
6 Sheldon, James, The life and public services of Oliver Forward, read before the Buffalo historical society, January 25, 1875, p. 6
7 Levasseur, André-Nicolas, Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825, Volume II, John D. Godman translation, Philadelphia, Carey and Lea, 1829, p. 186-187
8 “Arrival of Gen. La Fayette,” Fredonia Censor, Wednesday, June 15, 1825, pp.2&3
9 “The Progress of La Fayette,” Albany Argus, Tuesday, June 14, 1825, p.2
10 Fredonia Censor
11 “The Nation’s Guest,” Buffalo Emporium and General Advertiser, Saturday, June 11, 1825, p. 2
12 Ibid.
13 Fredonia Censor
14 Parker, Arthur C., Red Jacket, last of the Seneca, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1952, p. 86
15 “LaFayette in Fredonia”
16 Levasseur, André-Nicolas, Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825, Volume II, John D. Godman translation, Philadelphia, Carey and Lea, 1829, Levasseur, p.186


  1. […] growth. And it’s all because of one thing. What was it? Read this week’s Carosa Commentary “Lafayette’s Farewell Tour: Regal Reception In Buffalo’s Blossoming Queen City,” and you’ll find Lafayette is sitting smack dab on top of […]

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