A Hero's Welcome

Rarely has the benefactor of a people been awarded such measure of

gratitude as we gave Lafayette, in 1824. Eager crowds flocked into

the cities and the villages to welcome this hero. Thousands of

children, the boys in blue jackets and the girls in white dresses,

scattered flowers before him. If you could get your grandfather or

your grandmother to tell you of this visit, it would be as

interesting as a storybook.

The conditions in the United States were just right for such an

outburst of feeling. Everybody knew the story of the rich French

nobleman, who, at the age of nineteen, had left friends, wife, home,

and native land, to cast his lot with strange people, three thousand

miles away, engaged in fighting for freedom.

It was not until after the battle of Bunker Hill that, at a grand

dinner party, the young marquis heard of our struggle for

independence. He knew neither our country nor our people, and he did

not speak our language; but his sympathies were at once awakened, and

he made up his mind to fight for us.

In the spring of 1777, at his own expense, he bought and fitted out a

vessel with military supplies, and sailed {200} for America. Seven

weeks later, he landed in South Carolina, and at once went to

Philadelphia to offer his services to Congress.

He wrote a note to a member of Congress, in which he said, "After the

sacrifices I have made, I have the right to exact two favors; one is,

to serve at my own expense, the other, to serve as a volunteer."

These manly words and the striking appearance of the young Frenchman,

together with letters from Benjamin Franklin, had their effect. His

services were accepted, and he was made a major general.

For seven years Lafayette served Washington as an aid and a personal

friend. His deep sympathy, his generous conduct, and his gracious

ways won all hearts, from the stately Washington to the humblest

soldier. Personal bravery on the battlefield at once gained fame for

him as a soldier, and made him one of the heroes of the hour. His

example worked wonders in getting the best young men of the country

to enlist in the army.

During the fearful winter at Valley Forge, the young nobleman

suddenly changed his manner of living. Used to ease and personal

comforts, he became even more frugal and self-denying than the

half-starved and half-frozen soldiers. How different it must have

been from the gayeties and the luxuries of the French court of the

winter before!

The battle of Monmouth was fought on a hot Sunday in June, 1778. From

four o'clock in the morning until {201} dusk, Lafayette fought like a

hero. Late at night, when the battle was over, he and Washington lay

upon the same cloak, under a tree, and talked over the strange events

of the day until they fell asleep.

After the battle of Monmouth, Lafayette went back to France to visit

his family, and to plead the cause of his adopted country. He was

kindly received at court.

"Tell us all the good news about our dearly-beloved Americans,"

begged the queen.

To the king, Lafayette spoke plainly: "The money that you spend,

Sire, on one of your court balls would go far towards sending an army

to the colonies in America, and dealing England a blow where she

would most feel it."

In the spring of 1780, Lafayette returned to America with the French

king's pledge of help.

At the close of the Revolution, the gallant young marquis went back

to France, the hero of his nation, but {202} his interest in America

never grew less. When the treaty of peace was signed at Paris, he

hired a vessel and hurried it across the ocean, with the good news.

In 1784, the year after peace was declared, Lafayette visited this

country for the third time. He made Washington a long visit at Mount

Vernon, went over the old battlefields, and met his old comrades.

In 1824, it was known that Lafayette, now an old man, longed to visit

once more the American people and the scenes he loved so well.

Congress at once requested President Monroe to invite him as the

nation's guest.

Forty years had wrought a marvelous change in America. The thirteen

colonies, in whose cause the young Frenchman came over the sea, had

been united into a nation of twenty-four states. The experiment of

laying the foundation of a great republic had proved successful. The

problem of self-government had been solved.

The United States had taken its place among the great nations of the

world,--a republic of twelve millions of prosperous and happy people.

Towns and cities had sprung up like magic. The tide of immigration

had taken possession of mountain and valley of what was then the far


The people of the young nation were still rejoicing over the glorious

victories of Hull, Decatur, Bainbridge, Perry, and other heroes of

the sea. Less than ten years {203} before, General Jackson had won

his great victory at New Orleans.

Time had dealt heavily with the great generals of the Revolution.

Washington had been laid away in the tomb at Mount Vernon,

twenty-five years before. Greene, Wayne, Marion, Morgan, Schuyler,

Knox, and Lincoln were all dead. Stark had died only two years

before. Sumter was still living. Lafayette was the last surviving

major general of the Revolution.

The people of this country were familiar with Lafayette's remarkable

history since he had left America. They had heard of his lifelong

struggle against tyranny in his native land. They knew him as the

gallant knight who had dealt hard blows in the cause of freedom. They

cared little about the turmoils of French politics, but knew that

this champion of liberty had been for five years in an Austrian


Do you wonder that the grateful people of the sturdy young republic

were eager to receive him as their guest?

In company with his son, George Washington Lafayette, and his private

secretary, Lafayette landed at Staten Island, New York, on Sunday,

August 15, 1824. He spent the night at the house of Vice President

Tompkins. The next day, six thousand citizens came, in a grand

procession of gayly decked vessels, to escort the national guest to

the city. The cannon from the forts and from the men-of-war boomed a

welcome, while two hundred thousand people cheered themselves hoarse.

{204} Within a few days Lafayette went to Washington, and was

formally received as the nation's guest by President Monroe, at the

White House.

As our guest now enters upon an unbroken series of receptions and

triumphal ovations in the twenty-four states of the Union, let us

take a glimpse at his personal appearance.

Lafayette was tall, rather stout, and had a large head. His face was

oval and regular, with a high forehead. His complexion was light, and

his cheeks were red. He had a long nose, and well-arched eyebrows

overhanging grayish blue eyes. He had lost his hair in the Austrian

prison, and in its place wore a curly, reddish brown wig, set low

upon his forehead, thus concealing the heavy wrinkles upon his brow.

"Time has much changed us, for then we were young and active," said

Lafayette to his old friend, the famous Indian chief Red Jacket, whom

he met at Buffalo.

{205} "Alas!" said the aged warrior, who did not suspect the finely

made French wig, "time has left my white brother red cheeks and a

head covered with hair; but for me,--look!" and, untying the

handkerchief that covered his head, the old chieftain showed with a

grim smile that he was entirely bald.

The veteran soldiers of the Revolution said they could not see any

resemblance to their youthful hero of nearly half a century before.

He was always a plain-looking, if not a homely man, but his smile was

magnetic, his face singularly attractive, and his manner full of

sweet and gracious courtesy. To the people of the Revolution he was

always known as "the young marquis."

Lafayette remained in New York four days; but, having promised to

attend the graduating exercises at Harvard College, he was forced to

hasten to Boston. The trip was made by a relay of carriages, with a

large civic and military escort.

Although the party traveled from five o'clock in the morning until

midnight, it took five days to reach the city. Every village along

the route had its triumphal arch, trimmed with flowers and patriotic

mottoes. People came for many miles round, to welcome the great man

and his party. At night the long file of carriages was escorted by

men on horseback, carrying torches. Cannon were fired and church

bells rung, all along the route; while, after dark, huge bonfires

were lighted on the hilltops and on every village green.

{206} When Lafayette appeared, there was wild excitement in the staid

city of Boston. He rode in an open barouche drawn by six white

horses; and was escorted by companies of militia, and by twelve

hundred mounted tradesmen, clad in white frocks.

It seems that Dr. Bowditch, the famous mathematician, a man too

dignified to smile on ordinary occasions, was caught in the crowd

that was waiting for Lafayette. He walked up a flight of steps, that

he might with proper dignity let the crowd pass. At the sight of the

famous Frenchman, he seemed to lose his senses; for in an instant he

was in the front ranks of the crowd, trying to shake hands with the

honored guest, and shouting with all his might.

On this trip Lafayette went east as far as Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

His tour was then directed by way of Worcester, Hartford, and the

familiar scenes of the Hudson, to the South and the Southwest, where

he visited all the large cities. From New Orleans, he ascended the

Mississippi and the Ohio. He then crossed Lake Erie, and, passing

through the state of New York and the old Bay State, visited

Portland, Maine. Returning by Lake Champlain and the Hudson, he

reached New York in time for the magnificent celebration of the

Fourth of July, 1825. The tour was brought to an end in September, by

a visit to the national capital.

Lafayette's journey through the country lasted for more than a year,

and was one unbroken ovation. {207} Towns and cities all over the

land vied with each other in paying him honor. It was one long series

of public dinners, patriotic speeches, bonfires, flower-decked

arches, processions of school children, and brilliant balls.

The old veterans who had fought under Washington eagerly put on their

faded uniforms, and found themselves the heroes of the hour, as they

fought their battles over again to crowds of eager listeners. In

fact, Lafayette's interviews with the old soldiers and the few

surviving officers appear to have been the most interesting and the

most pathetic features of the whole journey.

A few weeks after his arrival in this country, Lafayette went to

Yorktown, to celebrate the anniversary of that notable victory. He

was entertained in the house which had been the headquarters of

Cornwallis, forty-three years before. A single bed was found for the

marquis; but the little village was so crowded that the governor of

Virginia and the great officers of the state were forced to camp on

straw spread on the floor.

A big box of candles, which once belonged to Cornwallis's supplies,

was found in good order in the cellar. They were lighted and arranged

in the middle of the camp, where the ladies and the soldiers danced.

The next day, Lafayette received his callers in the large Washington

tent, which had been brought from Mount Vernon for this purpose.

Branches cut from a fine laurel in front of the Nelson house were

woven into a crown, and placed on the head of the honored guest.

{208} Lafayette at once took it off, and, putting it on the head of

his old comrade, Colonel Nicholas Fish, who helped him carry the

redoubt at Yorktown, said, "Take it; this wreath belongs to you also;

keep it as a deposit for which we must account to our comrades."

"Nick," said Lafayette at another time to this aged man, as the two

old friends sailed up the Hudson, "do you remember when we used to

slide down that hill with the Newburgh girls, on an ox sled?"

On the trip through the Southwest, one of the grandest ovations took

place at Nashville, Tennessee. General Jackson, the hero of New

Orleans, with forty veterans of the Revolution, and thousands of

people from far and near, gave their guest a rousing welcome.

One old German veteran, who came over with Lafayette in 1777, and who

served with him during the whole war, traveled a hundred and fifty

miles over the mountains to reach Nashville.

As he threw himself into his general's arms, he exclaimed, "I have

seen you once again; I have nothing more to wish for; I have lived

long enough."

In the grand procession at New Orleans, one hundred Choctaw Indians

marched in single file. They had been in camp near the city for a

month, that they might be on hand to see "the great warrior," "the

brother of their great father Washington."

It would fill a good-sized book to tell you all the incidents and the

courtesies that marked this triumphal tour.

{209} At Hartford, Connecticut, eight hundred school children, who

had saved their pennies, gave Lafayette a gold medal, and a hundred

veterans of the Revolution escorted him through the city to the boat.

When the grand cavalcade reached Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the rain

came down in torrents, but a thousand school children, crowned with

flowers, lined the road to greet the far-famed man, and not one left

the ranks.

In New York City, there was a firemen's parade with nearly fifty hand

engines, each drawn by thirty red-shirted men. A sham house was built

and set on fire; then, at the captain's signal, the firemen leaped to

the brakes and showed their foreign guest how fire was put out in


Sixty Boston boys, from twelve to fourteen years of age, formed a

flying artillery company, and, keeping just ahead of the long

procession, fired salute after salute as the party neared the city.

While in Boston, Lafayette rode out to Quincy one Sunday, to pay a

visit of respect to the venerable John Adams, and dine with him. He

was astonished to find this noted man and ex-President of the United

States living in a one-story frame house. Although the old statesman

was so feeble that his grandchildren had to put the food into his

mouth, Lafayette said "he kept up the conversation on the old times

with an ease and readiness of memory which made us forget his

eighty-nine years."

{210} One beautiful night while Lafayette was the guest of

Philadelphia, the whole city was illuminated in his honor. Forty

thousand strangers flocked into town for the night. The next morning

the mayor called upon the distinguished guest, and told him that

although it was "a night of joyous and popular effervescence,"

perfect order prevailed, and not a single arrest was made.

A word was coined to express this flood tide of popular homage, and,

for many years afterwards, whenever special honors were paid to

anybody, he was said to be "Lafayetted."

A touching incident shows the spirit of gratitude which seemed to

seize even the humblest of citizens, in trying to please the nation's

guest. The party stopped at a small tavern on a byroad in Virginia,

to rest the horses. The landlord came out and begged Lafayette to

come into his house, if only for five minutes. The marquis, with his

usual courtesy, yielded to the request, and entered.

The plain but neat living room was trimmed with fir trees, and upon

its whitewashed wall was written, in charcoal, "Welcome, Lafayette."

On a small table was a bottle of strong drink, with glasses, as was

the custom in those days. There was also a plate of thin slices of

bread, all neatly covered with a napkin. The landlord introduced his

wife, and brought in his little five-year old boy. The food was

served, and the health of the guest was drunk.

The speech for the occasion was recited by the boy: "General

Lafayette, I thank you for the liberty which you have won for my

father, for my mother, for myself, and for my country."

Lafayette was much moved by the sincerity of it all; and after

kissing the boy and getting into his carriage, he said, with tears in

his eyes, that it was one of the happiest moments of his life.

While on his way to Yorktown, in October, Lafayette paid a visit to

Mount Vernon. Again he passed through the rooms and over the grounds

with which he was so familiar. What memories of its owner, his great

and faithful friend for twenty-two years, must have crowded upon the

old hero!

The remains of Washington then lay in the old tomb near the river.

The door was opened, and Lafayette went down into the vault, where he

remained some moments beside the coffin of his great chief. He came

out with his head bowed, and with tears streaming down {212} his

face. He then led his son into the tomb, where they knelt reverently,

and, after the French fashion, kissed the coffin.

Meanwhile, the fiftieth anniversary of the battle of Bunker Hill was

near at hand. The prosperous and happy people of the old Bay State

were preparing a celebration. The corner stone of Bunker Hill

Monument was to be laid by Lafayette.

The weather on this memorable June day was perfect. Never before had

such a crowd been seen in Boston.

A Yankee stage driver very aptly said, "Everything that had wheels

and everything that had legs used them to get to Boston."

Through the densely crowded streets, a grand civic and military

procession of seven thousand people escorted the guests to Bunker


As one famous man said, "It seemed as if no spot where a human foot

could plant itself was left unoccupied."

Two hundred officers and soldiers of the Revolution marched at the

head of the procession. One old man, who had been a drummer in the

battle of Bunker Hill, carried the same drum with which he had

rallied the patriot forces.

{213} How they shouted when the hero of the day came riding slowly

along, in an open barouche drawn by six white horses! The women waved

their handkerchiefs and the gayly decked school children scattered


How thrilling it was to see those forty white-haired men, the

survivors of Bunker Hill!

During the morning, these honored heroes had been presented to

Lafayette. He had shaken hands with them, had called them by name,

and had spoken a few tender words to each of them, as if to some dear


Not a field officer or a staff officer of the battle was living.

Captain Clark, the highest surviving officer, came tottering along

under the weight of ninety-five years, to shake hands with the French


The young man who introduced the veterans, and who in after years

became one of the most honored citizens and mayors of Boston, said of

this occasion, "If there were dry eyes in the room, mine were not

among them."

{214} What a scene it was for an historical picture, when the brave

old minister, the Reverend Joseph Thaxter, who was chaplain of

Colonel Prescott's regiment, rose to offer prayer and to give the

benediction! As his feeble voice was lifted to ask for the blessing

of God, it did not seem possible that fifty years before, on the same

spot, this man had stood and prayed for the patriot cause.

Daniel Webster was the orator of the day. A famous Englishman once

said that no man could be as great as Webster looked, and on this day

the majestic orator seemed to tower above all other men.

Every American schoolboy who has had "to speak his piece" knows by

heart the famous passage from this oration, beginning, "Venerable

men! you have come down to us from a former generation. Heaven has

bounteously lengthened out your lives, that you might behold this

joyous day."

Mr. Webster's voice was in such good order that fifteen thousand

people are said to have been able to hear him.

At the banquet during the same evening, the great orator said, "I

shall never desire to behold again the {215} awful spectacle of so

many human faces all turned towards me."

Near the end, Lafayette visited Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. The

veteran statesman, now eighty-one years old, drove his old-time

friend and guest over to a grand banquet at the University of

Virginia. James Madison was present. When the students and the great

crowd of people saw Washington's friend seated between the two aged

statesmen, a shout went up, the like of which, it was said, was never

before heard in the Old Dominion.

When Lafayette arrived in America, in August, 1824, he first visited

the national capital, and was formally received at the White House by

President Monroe and by many of the great men of the country. On his

return to Washington in 1825, he was told that Congress had voted him

two hundred thousand dollars and two large tracts of land, for his

services during the Revolution.

It was now September, and Lafayette had remained in this country much

longer than he had expected. The new President, John Quincy Adams,

gave him a farewell dinner at the White House, with a large party of

notable men. The President's formal farewell to the country's guest

is a classic in our literature.

Amid the blessings and the prayers of a grateful people, Lafayette

sailed for France in the new and beautiful frigate Brandywine, which

had been built and named in his honor.

{216} For years afterwards, some people used to tell their children,

with a peculiar thrill and feeling of awe, that a beautiful rainbow

arched the heavens just before Lafayette landed at Staten Island, and

that an equally beautiful symbol of peace spanned the broad ocean, as

the steamboat moved slowly down Chesapeake Bay, to take the nation's

guest on board the Brandywine.