Tuesday, January 1, 2019

A Famous Visitor
Marquis de Lafayette

            Marquis de Lafayette, a 19 year old Frenchman, eagerly offered his service, at his own expense, to fight in the war for American Independence. Although discouraged by Benjamin Franklin, our minister to France, Lafayette bought the ocean-going Victoire and left France on March 27, 1777. The young man fought courageously for the Americans and Washington Irvin wrote about him: “Lafayette from the first attached himself to Washington with an affectionate reverence… it is a picture well worth being hung up in history—this enduring alliance of the calm, dignified, Washington, mature in years and wisdom and the young, buoyant, enthusiastic Lafayette.”[1]    
            He was wounded at Brandywine, but after a short period of time, he was able to accept the command of a division of Virginia light infantry. It was a time of brave men, swords, muskets, horses and intense suffering. Lafayette is best remembered, along with Gen. “Mad Anthony” Wayne and the Comte de Rochambeau, for defeating Cornwallis at Yorktown. The heroic young Frenchman played a noble part in our fight for independence.
Triumphant Return
            In 1824, Lafayette returned to America to make a triumphant tour which included several stops in North Carolina. Much loved by the American people, he was met by thousands of people wherever he went. He was accompanied by his son George Washington Lafayette and Auguste Levasseur, his personal secretary.
            In planning Lafayette’s journey through North Carolina, the sad state of the roads between Richmond and Raleigh forced the party to travel east through Suffolk, VA and Halifax, (Halifax County) NC. His first stop in NC was in Murfreesboro (Hertford County) where he spent the night of February 26, 1825 at the Indian Queen Inn. The difficult journey to Murfreesboro was recorded by Levasseur in Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825: Or, Journal of a Voyage to the United States.
            “After stopping a few moments among the citizens of Suffolk, we continued on our route to Murfreesborough, where we were to lodge. Our late arrival had the appearance of a nocturnal journey. The bad condition and length of the road had tired our horses, and we thought for a while that we should be compelled to sleep at the foot of the hill on which the town is built. An enormous bonfire, lighted on a neighbouring mountain, whose light displayed our distressed situation; the illuminations of Murfreesborough, which exhibited the appearance of a city in flames; the noise of cannon resounding on our right, with the effect of battery on our flank; the cries of our escort; the whipping and swearing of our drivers, all was insufficient to stimulate our horses, which, sunk in the mud to their knees, appeared to have taken root, refusing to make the least exertion to draw us out of this sad situation, in which we remained about an hour. At length we arrived, and were very amply compensated by the cordial hospitality of the inhabitants of Murfreesborough, who neglected nothing to prove to General Lafayette that the citizens of North Carolina were not less sincerely attached to him than those of the other states.”[2]
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program- Murfreesboro, Nc

            Lafayette was escorted from Murfreesboro to Northampton Courthouse at what is now Jackson, (Northampton County) NC and from there to Halifax. They crossed the Roanoke River by ferry and arrived in Halifax at about 5 pm on February 27 amid the firing of artillery and ringing bells. “The mounted escort, consisting of 24 of our citizens …, paraded to receive the General, and proceeded to the river accompanied by the deputation of the corporation and county of Halifax. … The citizens and members of the [Royal White Hart] Lodge were formed in front of the hotel … and a numerous collection of ladies occupied the piazza …. On the arrival of the General in front of the Hotel, he descended from the carriage, was introduced to the persons composing the deputation individually and was conducted through the line to the piazza of the Hotel. The waving of Handkerchiefs by the ladies, the Masonic salutation, the respectful raising of the hat by the citizens, and the universal murmur which ran through the assembly, ‘Welcome Lafayette,’ evinced the deep sensibility which his presence inspired.”[3]
            In Halifax, impressive plans were made for the reception of General Lafayette, including a dinner and a grand ball. The banquet was highlighted by 13 toasts, one for each state. This was followed by the ball after which the visitor spent the night at Eagle’s Tavern.
Eagle's Tavern
Small Town North Carolina

           The next day the party made a stop at the Grove Plantation to spend an hour with Mrs. Willie (Wylie) Jones and her daughter. 

Documenting the American South: Memoirs of a Southern Woman "Within the Lines,"  by Mary Polk Branch, Page 94
Rocky Mount   
        They then continued to the village of Rocky Mount at the Falls of the Tar River where they were entertained at Donaldson’s Tavern. The Battle-Evans Mill, built in 1818, stood on the north side of the river in Edgecombe County. The town, south of the river, was in Nash County.
            People from both counties were crowded in a nearby grove hoping to get a glimpse of the Revolutionary hero. A number of people waited in their buggies or wagons. At last, a shout, “He’s here!” and the genial Donaldson came out of the tavern with the postmaster and others who were invited to a banquet hosted by the tavern-keeper. No list of the guest has survived. They spent the night at the tavern.
Donaldson's Tavern Marker located in Battle Park, Rocky Mount, NC
Marquis de La Fayette - Memory Spaces

           They arrived in the Capital at about 12 o’clock on Wednesday. “They were met a few miles from this place by the well disciplined corps of Cavalry under the command of Col. Thomas Polk of Mecklenburg. The General and suite alighted from their carriages, and were introduced to the company individually, after which, preceded by the Calvary and followed by nearly an hundred citizens on horseback, … they proceeded to this city [Raleigh]. At the limits thereof, they were met by the handsome company of Light Infantry… which received them with military honors. Here the General again alighted, and was presented to each member of the company—the interest of which scene was heightened by fine martial music from an excellent band.”[4] 

 An Incident

           In his journal, Levasseur noted the following incident: “The morning of our arrival at Raleigh was near being marked by a very unfortunate accident. In one of the calashes [a light small-wheeled 4-passenger carriage with a folding top] which followed us, was General Daniel of the militia, and a young officer of his staff; their horses ran off, and, the driver not being able to guide them, dashed violently against the trunk of a tree. The force of the shock threw both the riders and the coachman to some distance, but the one most hurt was poor General Daniel, who lay almost senseless upon the spot.
            “Our progress was immediately suspended, and General Lafayette, who, at the time, was a considerable distance in advance of the procession, hastily returned to assure himself of the nature of the accident. General Daniel already began to recover, when the hasty zeal of his friend, General Williams, was upon the point of placing him in greater danger than arose from the fall. This gentleman insisted upon his being immediately bled, and already held the fatal lancet in hand to proceed with the operation, when Mr. George Lafayette besought him seriously to forbear, representing that we had just left the table, and that a bleeding immediately after dinner might be attended with injurious consequences.
            “After having rendered General Daniel the first attentions which his situation demanded, we had him carried to the house of a rich planter, whom we had visited in the morning, some miles off; and, the next day, our wounded friend joined us at Raleigh, entirely recovered from his fall, returning his warmest thanks to Mr. George Lafayette, for having averted the employment of the lancet.                      “I was, at first, much surprised to see this lancet drawn upon such an occasion, but one of our travelling companions informed me, that in the southern and western states, and especially in those where the population is widely scattered, the art of blood-letting is familiar to almost all the great planters. The difficulty of finding a surgeon at the moment of accident often makes it necessary to bleed themselves, which they sometimes do so profusely, that the most hardy phlebotomists of the French school would be alarmed at the sight.”[5]

            After this ceremony, the procession moved in the following order to the Government House.—First, the Cavalry— then followed the Infantry, succeeding which in an open barouche, drawn by four elegant iron greys, with out-riders, were Gen. Lafayette and Col. Wm. Polk—after which, in carriages, also drawn by four horses each, were George W. Lafayette, M. LeVasseur, the State Escort, &c. As the cavalcade proceeded, a federal salute was fired from cannon placed in the Capitol Square, on reaching which, the General was greeted with the cheers of the assembled multitude. Every door, window and piazza on the street, were crowded with ladies, who manifested their gratification by waving their handkerchiefs, &c.
Original State Capitol in Raleigh before it burned in 1831.
Image by W. Goodacre, Jr. 1831. Call no. OP-14, collection of the State Archives of North Carolina. 

            “On reaching the Government House, the Military filed off on each side leaving a space through which the General, suite and escort passed. In the vestibule, they were received by the Governor and Committee of Arrangements, and conducted to the reception chamber, where were the Heads of Department, Judiciary and other citizens. Governor Burton then welcomed him ….
            “After partaking of some light refreshment, the General was introduced to a numerous party of Ladies, assembled to pay their respects to him. Immediately after which, escorted as before, he proceeded to the East Front of the capitol, opposite Canova’s celebrated statue of Washington, where he was addressed …by Colonel Wm. Polk. …
Statue of George Washington by Antonio Canova
This is a copy. The original was destroyed by fire in 1831.
Located inside the State Capitol Building
Wikimedia Commons
           “At the conclusion, the veteran soldiers, Gen. Lafayette and Col. Polk rushed into each other’s arms, and again wept their gratitude, that they who had borne the brunt of battle together in their youthful prime, had been spared to meet again on peaceful plains and in happier hours. It was a sight which warmed the cold heart of age and made the youthful spirit glow with brighter enthusiasm, and a simultaneous expression of feeling burst forth in a lengthened huzza from the attendant crowd.”[6]
          Back at the Government House, an elegant dinner was provided. The dinner was accompanied by numerous toasts and band music. The company separated sooner than they normally would have in order to prepare for the evening ball.
            “In the evening, a Ball was given complimentary to the General, and also held at the Government House. The pillars in the Ball-room were tastefully wreathed with evergreens. In the centre of the room, surmounting the pillars, appeared in large golden characters, the name of Lafayette. Though no military trophies adorned the walls, no splendid ornaments excited admiration, yet there were two objects which spoke to the memory and feeling—a large full length portrait of Washington and the living presence of his great co-adjutor in the work of glory. There was no need of artificial embellishments, for the ‘human face divine’ shone in all the beautiful variety with which Nature’s cunning hand has painted woman.
            “When we compare the simplicity and plainness with which Gen. Lafayette was received here with the splendor and high wrought scenery of our sister States, we acknowledge that our externals are by no means to be compared—we will contend that in our Republican reception of the man whom all delight to honor, there was as warm a welcome, as pure a spirit of patriotism, as though our walls had been tapestried with cloth of gold, and our floors painted by the first artists of the country.”[7]
            “The next morning, (Thursday) the General, his suit and escort breakfasted with Col. Polk, where he was introduced to three or four old revolutionary soldiers. At 11 o’clock, he took leave of Col. Polk (whose health would not admit of his proceeding farther) in the same affectionate and feeling manner as on his first meeting with this old revolutionary brother officer; and, at about 1 o’clock, took his departure for Fayetteville, attended by the governor, the State escort, and Col. Thos G. Polk’s Calvary.”[8]
            The Lafayette party arrived in Fayetteville (Cumberland County) on March 4, after a rainy day. This was the first town named for the general after the Revolution.
            “He was met 10 miles from town by the Fayetteville Flying Artillery …. The whole cavalcade proceeded thence, amidst the discharge of artillery, to the Town House, where the troops formed lines on each side of the street, and the carriages, containing the General and suite, passed between them to the east door of the House. Here, alighting from his carriage, with the gentlemen accompanying him, he was met by Judge Toomer, who, in behalf of the Committee and citizens of Fayetteville welcomed him.”[9]
            “After General Lafayette had expressed his gratitude for the reception given him by the citizens of Fayetteville, … we were conducted to the residence of Mr. Duncan M'Rae [sic], where, by the attentions of Mrs. Duncan, our lodgings had been prepared in an elegant and commodious manner. The general was there received by the committee, appointed to supply all his wants.
            “ ‘You are here in your own town,’ said the chairman of the committee to him, ‘in your own house, surrounded by your children. Dispose of all— every thing is yours.’

            “Every moment of our short stay at Fayetteville was occupied by festivals of gratitude and friendship. Notwithstanding the bad weather, which never ceased to oppose us, the volunteer militia companies, assembled to render military honours to the last surviving major-general of the revolutionary army, would not quit the little camp which they had formed in front of the balcony of the house, whence the general could easily see them manoeuvre. They were still under arms, on the morning of our departure, and we passed in front of their line on leaving the town. It was then that General Lafayette, wishing to give them an expression of his gratitude, alighted, and passing through the ranks, took each officer and soldier affectionately by the hand. This conduct excited the spectators to such a pitch of enthusiasm, that a great portion of the population, willing to prolong the pleasure of seeing him, accompanied his carriage a considerable distance on the road, and only quitted him when the sun was nearly set.”[10]

            Lafayette continued his journey into South Carolina.

[1] The Life Of George Washington, Vol. 3 by Washington Irving, 1856; p818
[2] Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825: Or, Journal of a Voyage to ..., Volume 2 By Auguste Levasseur: 1829
[3] Halifax Free Press (Halifax, NC) 4 Mar 1825
[4] Weekly Raleigh Register, (Raleigh, NC) 11 Mar 1825
[5] Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825: Or, Journal of a Voyage to ..., Volume 2 By Auguste Levasseur: 1829
[6] Weekly Raleigh Register, (Raleigh, NC) 11 Mar 1825
[7] Ibid
[8] North-Carolina Free Press (Halifax, NC), 18 Mar 1825, p2.
[9] The North-Carolina Star (Raleigh, NC) 18 Mar 1825
[10] Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825: Or, Journal of a Voyage to ..., Volume 2 By Auguste Levasseur: 1829

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