The Richmond History Podcast

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lafayette In Richmond, Va

Marquis de Lafayette

In 1777 a 20 year old, Marie-Joseph-Paul-Tves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette left his young wife in France to risk his life and spend some $200,000 of his fortune in the name of the American revolution.1  After surviving the French Revolution's prison and avoiding the guillotines, he was invited back to the US by President James Monroe and Congress, during the "Era of Good Feelings", for the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.2  At the age of 671, he arrived in New York in Aug of 18242 and would spend a year taking a victory lap around the States like a rock star.

On Oct 26 he returned to Richmond,1 accompanied by a secretary and his son George Washington Lafayette.  It wasn’t his first time in RVA.  He defended Richmond from Cornwallis twice in 1781, and in 1784, after peace had declared, he was a guest of George Washington's, where they were both entertained in Bower's Tavern.1

He was in Norfolk on Monday for a party in his honor and was suppose to arrive in Richmond on Tuesday at 2:00 via Petersburg.2  The city had a huge procession planed but Richmond Mayor John Adams tried to put the festivities off till the next morning because of inclement weather.2  Mayor Adams had no power to squash the excitement of the citizens.   When the Marquis arrived at noon, two hours early, crowds had already formed.2  He was suppose to get out at Osborn Landing but it was decided that he would continue up to Rockett’s Landing and get in a carriage.2  He lead the impromptu procession down Main St, followed by masses including many on horseback, "the Light Infantry Blue, Rifle Rangers, The Junior Volunteers, and the pretty looking company of small boys, dressed in hunting shirts, and styling themselves the "Morgan Legion."2  At intersections, carriages filled with women waited.2  As one women remembered "Every door and window was crowded; nothing was heard but "Welcome, Lafayette! Welcome, Lafayette!"3   Women hung out windows waiving their handkerchiefs to get a peek at the Frenchmen.2  As the rain stopped artillery salutes interrupted the music coming from the bands along the route.2  These bands were already interrupting the 23 piece brass band that was also in the procession.3

The parade ended at the Eagle Hotel where Lafayette would stay, but the General's groupies still hung out in the streets outside of the hotel.  Many were able to meet the revolutionary hero, but 40, old and venerable vets of the revolution got a personal reception from the Frenchmen. They were able to meet with him in an elegant room the evening he arrived.  Some saluted in silence, some "welcomed him with every expression of sincerity and kindness."2

John Brockenbroough
That night he had dinner at the Governor’s Mansion1 with dignitaries including Vice President John C Calhoun, John Brockenbrough, president of the Bank of Virginia (his home later became the White Houe of the Confederacy)4, VA Governor James Pleasants, Chief Justice John Marshall, and more revolutionary vets among others.2  At this dinner he was presented with a bottle of malmsey wine, vintage of 1757, the year of his birth.1

John Marshall
The day after he arrived, the planned and postponed procession took place.   Crowds gathering in front of the Eagle Hotel between 11-12:00 with him appearing at the window at least twice to the crowds cheers, but the crowds really went wild when they saw him get in his barouche (4 wheeled carriage).  He was lead to the city hall where he was addressed by John Marshall, met more
Revolutionary officers, fireworks were shot off, and then he went to the theater.
Lafayette spent a full week in Richmond with one party in his honor after another.

To make sure the peace was kept, the newspapers wrote, "No intoxicated or Colored people will be admitted".2  His visit was not an all white affair though.  While on Capital Square at one of the festivities, through the crowds, he recognized the face of James Lafayette, a black man who had won his freedom by being an important spy during the revolution.   Lafayette openly embraced him.1  While in Petersburg, Lafayette also commented to Mayor Lewis Mabry that he wanted to send a Richmond newspaper back to France as a souvenir but didn't want to disturb his family with the ad for the sale of 50 slaves.1

He also went to the Masonic Lodge thats still on Franklin and 18th, attended church at Monumental Church,1 and was a guest at some races at Tree Hill were he was honored by the jockeys and some female students.1 George Washington's tent from the Revolution was also set up on Capital Square.  Lafayette must have felt at home in his son's namesake's tent.  General Washington’s tent was guarded by the Morgan Legion, a group of volunteers that were too young to join the militia.   One of these guards, voted second in command by his fellow legionaries was a not quite 16 year old Edgar Allen Poe.1

After a week of being praised by everyone in Richmond, he left for Monticello for a 10 day stay with former President Thomas Jefferson.1  He would return to RVA a few months later in January 1825 at the invitation of the General Assembly.1  He must have known Richmonders know how to party. 

When the Frenchmen died in 1834, another elaborate procession was held in his honor on July 4 that ended at the First Baptist church which was on Broad St at the time.1

The Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834) and John D Rockefeller are the only people to be made and honorary member of the commonwealth.2

1. Richmond: The Story of a city, Virginius Dabney
2. A Richmond Reader: 1733-1983, Maurice Duke & Daniel P. Jordan

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