Lafayette’s Farewell Tour: Dispelling Mendon Myths

Bookmark and Share

Previous: Timothy Barnard, A Soldier’s Story

Lafayette’s probable path from Rochester to Canandaigua, 1840 Map of New York State by Henry S. Tanner. Source:

By 1825, the road from Rochester to Canandaigua was a well-travelled road. Samuel Hildreth saw to that, although he didn’t live long enough to see it first-hand.

Hildreth might be considered a first generation Western New Yorker. He was born on March 20, 1778, in what would become the town of Phelps in Ontario County. His parents had moved there from New Hampshire.1 He moved to Pittsford in November 1814. There, he quickly established himself as a mover and shaker. He ran a store, rented to others, and operated a tavern. More important, he set up the first stage line from Rochester to Canandaigua.2

This was just part of a larger network of stages using his horse barn in Pittsford as a center of operations. He served as postmaster for the Town of Pittsford.3 In 1815 he began running mail twice a week between Rochester and Canandaigua.4 By August 1817, the Rochester to Canandaigua stage line had stops in Pittsford, Mendon, and East Bloomfield.5

Because this was the standard stagecoach route, it’s reasonable to assume this is the route Lafayette took from Rochester to Canandaigua. We also know that, if Lafayette took this route, the man who blazed this trail wasn’t there to see him. Samuel Hildreth died on April 20, 1824, more than a year before Lafayette passed through this road on Tuesday, June 7, 1825.

The exact route was not recorded in contemporary newspapers. The best report we have comes from the Ontario Repository, which wrote, “After receiving the hospitality of the citizens of Rochester, he was escorted to Mendon, where he was met by a deputation from the committee of Canandaigua, who, with a number of other gentlemen, accompanied him to this village, where he arrived last evening.”6

An article published more than a century later claims, without citing sources, “General Lafayette was escorted to an awaiting carriage by Colonels Brown and Riley and driven, with these officers, by Main Street and East Avenue, to Mendon Village, where a relay coach waited to carry the General as far as Canandaigua on his journey eastward. A repair job on the canal, east of Rochester, with no available water detour, made necessary the carriage ride from Rochester to Syracuse.”7

Again, no contemporary report confirms either the exact route or who accompanied Lafayette in the carriage once it left Rochester. It would have been standard practice for the committee of arrangements to accompany Lafayette to a transfer point between any two destinations. They would then present the General and his travelling companions to the committee representing the next stop upon reaching this midpoint.

The small hamlet of Mendon was that midpoint between Rochester and Canandaigua. The entire town of Mendon had only 2,777 inhabitants, and most of them lived in the growing community of West Mendon, soon to be incorporated as the Village of Honeoye Falls. This was the original Ball Tract of Township 11, R.5, which had been purchased by Augustus and Peter B. Porter, (remember them?) and Zebulon Norton.8 Norton would be the first to establish a homestead there, along with building some mills. Early on, this part of Mendon was called “Norton’s Mills.”

Ebenezer Barnard, who with Jeremiah Wadsworth owned half of a big chunk of that township called the “Eleven Thousand Acre Tract,” never settled there.9 Barnard’s son Timothy, however, located to this tract and became a prominent citizen by the time Lafayette passed through. In fact, the Barnard family became and remained prominent for generations. Besides his progeny serving as supervisor of the Town of Mendon and as a U.S. Congressman, his great-great-grandson Kenneth Barnard Keating of Lima served a term as U.S. Senator before losing his bid for reelection to Robert F. Kennedy.

Being so prominent, it’s easy to understand how later Lafayette stories stretched the truth to include people, places, and things that didn’t really happen. These historical errors come at the hands of otherwise well-respected historians. To be honest, not all can be classified as “errors.” They may merely be the result of lack of source citation with the original sources no longer readily available.

Timothy Barnard figures into one of these faux pas. A prolific writer of local history once penned a piece with his son telling a tale of Lafayette’s visit to Mendon.10 In it, they had Lafayette casually recognizing Barnard in the crowd. Granted, the authors cite their cousin (Kenneth Keating’s grandmother) as the source. Apparently, she told them this story just before she died at age 100. Unfortunately, that may explain the inconsistency with eyewitness reports. We know, from Ashley Sampson’s 1855 recollections, that Lafayette met Barnard at Hoard’s Tavern in Rochester, not in the Hamlet of Mendon.11

Along the road to Canandaigua, there are other questionable calls of “Lafayette stopped here” (a riff on the equally dubious claims of “George Washington slept here”). Nearly all these accounts did not surface until a century or more after Lafayette’s visit.

For example, the same article referenced above goes on to state that Lafayette stopped at Wangum Mills in Fishers, NY and met with Silas Pardee where he spoke from the porch of Beach’s Tavern in Victor. This implies the carriages turned east at Mendon rather than go the usual south. There’s no contemporary record stating that Lafayette visited either of these locations and the authors fail to cite their sources.

Closer to Rochester, two articles make the claim that Lafayette stayed at the Stone-Tolan House, then a tavern, in Brighton12 and was a guest at the Phoenix Hotel in Pittsford.13 He most certainly didn’t stay at either of these locations. While it is certainly possible Lafayette may have passed by these two buildings (assuming he did exit Rochester via East Avenue), the most he could have done was pause and shake a few hands in the vicinity of those taverns.

Finally, there’s the mistaken report that Lafayette dined in the Mendon Hotel.14 This popular stagecoach stop was located in the Hamlet of Mendon. It’s very likely Lafayette stopped near or at that location to change carriages. The story was repeated several times over the years.

It’s false. You can attribute it to a misunderstanding of the contemporaneous report in the Albany Argus what, after mentioning Mendon, reported “After receiving the hospitality of the citizens of Rochester, he was escorted to Mendon, where he was met by a deputation from the committee of Canandaigua, who, with a number of other gentlemen, accompanied him to this village, where he arrived last evening. Here he partook of a supper, which was served up in a handsome style, at the Hotel.”15

It’s a bit misleading and one can easily see where a reader might mistake “this village” to mean Mendon instead of Canandaigua. Had one read the original article, which appeared in the Ontario Repository, (see above), then the reference to “this village” might have been more obvious.

Here’s what we do know: what happened when Lafayette’s carriage arrived in the Hamlet of Mendon. It comes from the diary of a young man who was in the “Ontario Brass Band” and who went to Mendon to receive the General.

“The General was received from the Rochester committee at Mendon, and placed in the finest coach that could be obtained, and drawn by four grey horses under the hands of Mr. Samuel Greenleaf. A lengthy procession of carriages and horsemen, with the multitude on foot, and was finally formed, and escorted by the band and martial music (alternating), they marched down Main street [in Canandaigua].”16

Like so many small communities, the Hamlet of Mendon didn’t offer much more than a passing fancy on Lafayette’s farewell tour. But unlike the others, we know that Lafayette did stop there.

If only to change carriages.

Next Week: John Greig Lives The American Dream

1 [retrieved June 24, 2024]
2 Turner, Orsamus, Pioneer History of the Phelps and Gorham’s Purchase and Morris Reserve (Monroe), William Alling, Rochester, 1851, p. 527
3 Morrison, William, History of Monroe County, Everts, Ensign & Everts, Philadelphia, 1877, p.236
4 Child, Hamilton, Gazetteer and business directory of Monroe County, NY for 1869-70, Journal Office, Syracuse, 1869 p. 83
5 History of Ontario County, New York With Illustrations, Everts, Ensign & Everts, Philadelphia, 1878 p.55
6 “La Fayette,” Ontario Repository, Wednesday, June 8, 1825, p. 2
7 Rochester Historical Society Publication Fund Series Vol. 14, Rochester Historical Society, Rochester, 1936, p. 235
8 Turner, Orsamus, p. 530
9 Ibid.
10 Fisher, J. Sheldon, and Douglas A. Fisher, “Revolutionary War hero came calling,” Democrat and Chronicle, Wednesday, June 7, 2000, p. 13A
11 1855 Greece Daily Union, reprinted in “From The Arm Chair,” The Greece Press, Friday, December 28, 1934, p.2
12 Morrell, Alan, “Stone-Tolan House oldest in county,” Democrat and Chronicle, Friday, June 17, 2016 ·Page 10A
13 “Pittsford has historical points of interest,” Democrat and Chronicle, Friday, August 24, 2001 ·Page 13F|
14 Krieger, Amo, Sesquicentennial Souvenir Program And History of the Town of Mendon, 1963
15 “The Progress of La Fayette,” Albany Argus, Tuesday, June 14, 1825, p.2
16 1855 Greece Daily Union


  1. […] how tempting is it to fill in the empty with something? Read this week’s Carosa Commentary “Lafayette’s Farewell Tour: Dispelling Mendon Myths” and discover the difference between fact and […]

Speak Your Mind


You cannot copy content of this page

Skip to content