|Lafayette at Mount Vernon|
ShareHis name was Marquis de Lafayette. At 19, against the King’s wishes, Lafayette purchased a ship and persuaded several French officers to accompany him to fight in the American Revolution, arriving JUNE 13, 1777. Trained in the French Military, he was a descendant of one of the oldest French families, with ancestors who fought in the Crusades and alongside of Joan of Arc. Commander-in-Chief George Washington appointed Lafayette a Major General in the Continental Army, though Lafayette paid his own expenses. Lafayette endured the freezing winter at Valley Forge, was wounded at Brandywine, and fought with distinction at the Battles of Gloucester, Barren Hill, Monmouth, Rhode Island, and Green Spring.
Returning to France, Lafayette worked with Ben Franklin to persuade King Louis XVI to send General Rochambeau with ships and 6,000 French soldiers to America’s aid. Lafayette led troops against the traitor Benedict Arnold, and commanded at Yorktown, helping to pressure Cornwallis to surrender. George Washington considered Lafayette like a son, and belatedly wrote back to him from Mount Vernon, on June 25, 1785:
My Dear Marquis…I stand before you as a culprit: but to repent and be forgiven are the precepts of Heaven: I do the former, do you practice the latter, and it will be participation of a divine attribute.Yet I am not barren of excuses for this seeming inattention; frequent absences from home, a round of company when at it, and the pressure of many matters, might be urged as apologies for my long silence…I now congratulate you, and my heart does it more effectually than my pen, on your safe arrival in Paris, from your voyage to this Country.Lafayette joined the French abolitionist Society of the Friends of the Blacks, which advocated the end of the slave trade and equal rights for blacks. On May 10, 1786, George Washington wrote from Mount Vernon to Marquis de Lafayette: “Your late purchase of an estate in the colony of Cayenne, with a view of emancipating the slaves on it, is a generous and noble proof of your humanity. Would to God a like spirit would diffuse itself generally into the minds of the people of this country.”
On August 15, 1787, in a letter from Philadelphia to the Marquis de Lafayette, Washington wrote: “I am not less ardent in my wish that you may succeed in your plan of toleration in religious matters. Being no bigot myself to any mode of worship, I am disposed to indulge the professors of Christianity in the church with that road to Heaven which to them shall seem the most direct, plainest and easiest, and the least liable to exception.” (Read more.)