After listening to the lecture in front of the Courthouse at Colonial Williamsburg, I stayed to watch a reenactment of the Continental Army under General Washington arriving in Williamsburg. Several actors who played generals of the Continental Army waited in front of the Courthouse until General Washington arrived. He was greeted by one general who spoke in French accent. Later on, I found out that the general was supposed to be Marquis de Lafayette.
The name Lafayette today can be seen in many places in the United States — streets, parks, cities, etc. I remembered also hearing about Marquis de Lafayette as a friend of Thomas Jefferson’s when I visited Jefferson’s home, Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia. I thought it was quite curious however to have one Frenchman among the Americans during the reenactment in Williamsburg. So later on, I read some more about Lafayette and watched a documentary about this historical figure on Netflix.
There were several facts about Marquis de Lafayette that I found interesting. He was born into a noble family in France, so he was among the wealthiest in the nation during his youth. At early age (sixteen), he joined the French army and he learned about the struggle for independence in America. He decided that he wanted to help the cause, even when it meant he had to find his way to get to America, and even enlisted in the Continental Army as a volunteer to avoid being perceived as a mercenary. General George Washington took Lafayette under his wings. His first battle was the Battle of Brandywine, where he was wounded but received citation from Washington for his bravery.
Lafayette then was given the command of a division of the Virginia troops, and later fought the British in New Jersey and Rhode Island. He also went home to France to lobby for French aid to America. Working with Benjamin Franklin, he secured French troops under General Rochambeau to come to America and helped the Continental Army to fight the British. When he came back to America, General Washington ordered Lafayette to lead the troops to pursue and capture Benedict Arnold (a Continental Army general who defected to the British). While he was not able to capture Arnold, he was able to help defend Richmond from being occupied by the British. Later that continued to his participation in the Siege of Yorktown, where the British surrendered and marked the end of the Revolutionary War.
After the war, Lafayette went back to France and continued to be an advocate for the Americans. In return he was given an honorary American citizenship by the Congress; he was the only foreigner to receive such honor until Winston Churchill in 1963. He came to America in 1824 to celebrate the country’s 50th anniversary at the official invitation of President James Monroe and the US Congress. He was honored as the only surviving general from the American Revolution through a grand tour around to visit all 24 American states in the period of almost a year.
When Lafayette died in 1824, the US gave him the same funeral honors as given to other American heroes. Today, his gravesite in Paris is decorated with an American flag. A park in Washington, DC very close to the White House was also named after him, Lafayette Park.
The photo below was the actor who played Lafayette providing explanation of the plan to attack the British in Yorktown.