Lafayette’s Farewell Tour: Canandaigua Anxiously Waits Before Jubilation And An Elegant Supper

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Canandaigua Hotel, not the original one that Lafayette visited, but the one that replaced it after the one once owned by William Blossom burned down in 1851. Source: History of Ontario County, New York With Illustrations, Everts, Ensign & Everts, Philadelphia, 1878, Plate X

The young boy was no different from anyone else in the town of Canandaigua. Anxious, fretting, full of anticipation, on the morning of Tuesday, June 7, 1825, they all waited for the word they knew was coming but feared it might not.

Located on the northern tip of the lake that bears its name, Canandaigua housed the first land office in Western New York. This former Seneca stronghold sat on the old Genesee Trail, or Central Trail, that cut through the heart of the Iroquois Confederacy. Today we know it as Routes 5 & 20. Back then it had various names, from the Great Genesee Road to the Seneca Turnpike to the Ontario and Genesee Turnpike. Whatever you called it, it was the road everyone heading east or west traveled on.

Lafayette would soon be one of those travelers.

Or would he?

When word first came that Lafayette was visiting the far end of Western New York, the leaders of Canandaigua held a quick assembly. As a result of that meeting, two prominent citizens—Colonel William Blossom, who purchased the Canandaigua Hotel from Amos Read the previous December,1 and Judge Moses Atwater, a director of Ontario Bank and member of other civic committees, were dispatched to Buffalo. Their mission: do their best to convince Lafayette to stop in their bustling town as he traveled east to Boston.2

There was a genuine concern as there were reports Lafayette would bypass the Ontario and Genesee Turnpike in favor of the newly established Erie Canal.3

So, the boy, like everyone else, paced with worry. How long would he—and they—have to wait?

It turns out the wait wasn’t long at all. Early in the morning, an express messenger rode in from nearby Rochester. “Lafayette is coming!” was the word. The courier promised the General would appear in Canandaigua later that afternoon.4

Once the word was received, it spread like wildfire. Those assigned to escort duty quickly gathered. They hopped in their carriages or on their horses. Samuel Greenleaf led a team of four gray horses, pulling “the finest coach that could be obtained.” This would be Lafayette’s ride. Off they went to Mendon.5

The boy had other things on his mind. He was in the Ontario Brass Band. Led by Asa Spaulding, they played an important role in the festivities. About sundown, they marched to the head of Main Street. At roughly half-past eight, the first sighting of the General was announced.6

If you thought the people went crazy at the initial early morning announcement, anticipating the approaching General was just too much. The good citizens of Canandaigua simply couldn’t contain their excitement. With the firing of the cannon announcing Lafayette’s imminent arrival, the best laid plans of an orderly procession went out the door. The crowd went wild, jockeying for the best seats, all searching for the ideal position to get a good glimpse of the Nation’s Guest.7

Finally, a mature calm settled everyone down. They formed a “lengthy procession of carriages and horsemen, with the multitude on foot” to escort the precious cargo in Greenleaf’s carriage down Main Street. The band led the way, alternating with martial music. Cannon salutes were fired from Arsenal hill. The spreading twilight only added to the elegance of the occasion. The darkening skies made the lights from the buildings along Main Street twinkle like diamonds in the sky. The young boy took a look at Blossom’s hotel and Kingsley’s tavern opposite it. The top-to-bottom illumination dazzled him.8

His diary doesn’t say whether the awe he was experiencing interfered with his playing.

As he marched down Main Street, the young boy could see women waving their white handkerchiefs. “Welcome,” they mouthed as the General passed in his carriage. The boy noted Captain Ira Merrill was there. He was in command of an artillery company, and they proudly displayed their six pounder. He saw Captain James Lyon, too. Captain Lyon led a company of thirty cavalrymen mounted on gray horses.9

Countless people, not only from Canandaigua, but from adjacent communities, lined the streets hoping to get an up close and personal view of the General. Some wished Lafayette wasn’t in such a hurry.10 However, that didn’t appear to have diminished the honor of his presence.

As the procession came to the hotel, it split to the right and to the left, opening a promenade through which Lafayette’s coach could be driven directly to the front door of Blossom’s place. As the General stepped down from the carriage, the crowd pressed in.11

The committee greeted the General and introduced him to nearly 100 ladies and gentlemen. Once inside the hotel, they had an “elegant” dinner.12

Our young friend, who would write his experiences the next day in his diary, was very lucky. As a member of the Ontario Brass Band, he was one of the few allowed into the hotel. Once inside, the doors were shut and guarded.13

At about ten o’clock in the evening, the boy and his fellow band members headed out onto the balcony. He peered over the edge. The crowd hadn’t moved. It was still there. Anxious. Excited. Anticipating. Suddenly, the General stepped out. Men held candles to each side of his face so the crowd could see him. He took a bow and smiled at the people. He offered a quick speech. It contained the kind words he shared at every stop he made. He added he wished he could have arrived in the daylight. He ended with a polite bow and then returned to the room from which he emerged.14

Here’s the boy’s eyewitness report, as he saw it from the front row at the seat of the action:

“The General spoke very slow—in broken English—and it was quite difficult to understand him. His son was with him on the balcony. They passed into a large room assigned to them. While on the balcony, I had a fine view of him. In the large room, the ceremony of introduction and a promiscuous hand-shaking took place. The General grasped the hand with much vigor and cordiality. He was quite a stout built man—full florid face, and seemingly very healthy—yet he showed signs of fatigue.”15

As the evening came to a close, and Lafayette’s long day was ending, it was John Greig’s time to shine. Of all the people in Canandaigua, and despite the dinner occurring in the hotel, it would be John Greig, who would provide Lafayette with a place to rest for the night.

Greig, who immigrated from Scotland more than twenty-five years earlier, was about to experience the ultimate American dream. He was about to host a hero of the American Revolution. At the conclusion of the hotel event, Lafayette was taken to Greig’s mansion where he retired for the evening.

One wishes Greig (or his wife) had a diary in which to record the experience of that evening. For sure Lafayette didn’t go immediately to bed. He was too polite not to have some late-night chit chat, away from the crowd, sitting across the kitchen table, in the quiet serenity of the family’s home.

Next Week: The Great Central Trail Becomes The State Road

1 Ontario Repository, Tuesday, March 9, 1825, p. 1
2 “Lafayette in Canandaigua,” Ontario County Times, Wednesday, June 7, 1911, p.6
3 Albany Argus, June 10, 1825
4 “Early History Continued,” Ontario County Times, January 30, 1873, p. 3
5 “Lafayette in Canandaigua,” Ontario County Times, Wednesday, June 7, 1911, p.6
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid.
10 “La Fayette,” Ontario Repository, Wednesday, June 8, 1825, p. 2
11 “Lafayette in Canandaigua”
12 “La Fayette”
13 “Lafayette in Canandaigua”
14 Ibid.
15 Ibid.

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  1. […] visits before anyone had even heard of rock and roll music? Read this week’s Carosa Commentary “Lafayette’s Farewell: Tour Canandaigua Anxiously Waits Before Jubilation And An Elegant Supper,” to take a step back in time and, for at least a moment, become a citizen of Canandaigua on June […]

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