When the Marquis de Lafayette returned to America for an extended tour of the 50-year-old Republic, he was no longer the slim young nobleman in a powdered wig.
At 66 years old, he had cropped his still-dark hair in the fashion of the day. He had acquired gravitas during his political career in France. Lafayette survived the tumultuous years of the revolution and its aftermath, which for him included a five-year prison term.
50 Years Flew By
In 1824, President James Monroe invited Lafayette, the last surviving general of the American Revolution, to tour all 24 U.S. states — 11 more than the original 13, including Maine and Vermont. Monroe wanted the visit to celebrate the nation’s 50th anniversary.
Lafayette took him up on the offer, and what a celebration it was.
From July 1824 to September 1825, Lafayette traveled 6,000 miles to every state by stagecoach, horseback, canal barge and steamboat. He was greeted with rapture, escorted by cavalcades, feted and honored. People named streets, monuments and entire towns after him.
He left France on July 13, 1824 and was received a salute by artillery when he landed at Staten Island, N.Y., on August 15.
The First New England Visit
Lafayette visited New England twice, spending a month all told in the region. Heading north from Staten Island, he stopped briefly in New Haven, Conn., Providence, R.I., Stoughton, Mass., and Boston from August 21 to August 24. He had a splendid escort and enjoyed greetings of great demonstrations of joy — so great, he had to travel at night to make progress.
He arrived in Cambridge, Mass., on August 25, and settled into the Boston area until August 31. During that time he visited former President John Adams in Quincy, Mass.
The next day he stopped in five Massachusetts cities and towns: Lexington, Concord, Salem, Marblehead, and Newburyport. He visited the Old North Church and, noticing a bust of George Washington, said, “Yes, that is the man I knew and more like him than any other portrait.”
On September 1, he visited Portsmouth, N.H., then headed south again to Boston and Lexington.
Worcester, Mass., and Tolland, Conn., were on his agenda on Sept. 3. Then on Sept. 4, Hartford and Middletown, Conn.
Second New England Visit
Lafayette then visited familiar places: Philadelphia, Delaware, Virginia. He spent some time in the new capital, Washington, D.C., then south to Maryland, the Carolinas and Georgia. He turned west to see the new states of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, then up the Mississippi River in a steamboat to Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Then he traveled back through Pennsylvania to New York, where he saw Niagara Falls and went to Albany by way of the Erie Canal. From Albany he traveled straight to Boston.
On June 17, 1825, Lafayette began his second New England tour by laying the cornerstone of the Bunker Hill Monument – exactly 50 years after the battle was fought. He was surrounded by ‘such a civic and military display as is seldom seen among men.’
Daniel Webster gave a rousing speech for the occasion. A grand two-mile long procession marched from the Boston Common, with the 40 survivors of the battle following in eight carriages.
Lafayette then laid the cornerstone at the monument with the help of some masons. The platform held a thousand ladies. Then 4,000 people sang odes, gave toasts and ate an enormous dinner.
Northern New England
A less grand reception, but no less sincere, met Lafayette in northern New England. He spent the night of June 23 in Dover, N.H. That night, a delegation of citizens from South Berwick, Maine, invited him to breakfast. He accepted. The next day he was greeted with an arch of evergreens, festooned with oak leaves and roses. A cavalcade escorted him to the Cleaves Hotel in Saco, then he visited Biddeford and Portland. During the few hours he spent in Portland, 15,000 Mainers saw him.
On June 27, he arrived late at night in Claremont, N.H. Early the next day, he crossed over the Cornish Bridge to Vermont, passing through Woodstock late in the morning, then took a stagecoach over the mountains to Barnard and Royalton. In Randolph; Vt., he was said to have met a young Justin Morrill and eventual Senator Dudley Chase.
Departure of Lafayette
On Sept. 6, 1825, President John Quincy Adams bid him farewell. A new ship outfitted for him was named after a battle — the Brandywine. Though wounded at Brandywine, Lafayette had ordered a successful retreat.
He left behind dozens of places named after him, including Lafayette Village in North Kingstown, R.I., Mount Lafayette (and Lafayette Campground) in Franconia, N.H., and Lafayette Park in Manchester, N.H.
With thanks to Recollections of General Lafayette on His Visit to the United States, in 1824 and 1825; With the Most Remarkable Incidents of His Life, from His Birth by Amos Andrew Parker. This story was updated in 2019.