Historical Markers
General Lafayette Historical Marker
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General Lafayette

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
North Matlack Street at Lafayette Street, in park, West Chester

Dedication Date:
June 9, 1952

Behind the Marker

On June 13, 1777, the nineteen-year-old Marquis de Lafayette arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, to fight alongside the Americans in their struggle for independence.  Lafayette brought with him a commission as a major general, which he had received from the American delegation in Paris the previous December, and a firm belief in the “rights of man” and democratic government espoused by French Enlightenment thinkers. Carrying letters of recommendation from markerBenjamin Franklin and the good will of the Continental Congress, Lafayette joined the Continental Army as it tried to defend Philadelphia from the British invasion of Pennsylvania. 
Bust length, facing forward of a man wearing a dark blue uniform coat with buff facings, gold epaulettes with two stars each. He has a buff waistcoat, white shirt, and a black sword across his chest.
Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Motier, Marquis De Lafayette, by Charles...

By 1777, General Washington had come to distrust the pretensions of foreign "volunteers" who seemed to him little more than soldiers of fortune. Because of his political and social connections in France-which was being courted by American diplomats for recognition of Independence and a military alliance-Congress and Washington tried to gratify his ambitions for glory.
Washington soon formed a favorable impression of Lafayette. After the Marquis was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, Washington informed the Continental Congress that the Frenchman "possesses a large share of that Military order, which generally characterises the Nobility of his Country." He also quoted, approvingly, General Nathanael Greene, who noted that "The Marquis is determined to be in the way of danger."
In this full length Portrait, Lafayette idealistically depicted Lafayette as much younger than his sixty-seven years. Lafayette stands in front of the triumphal arch that was designed by architect William Strickland for the hero's reception at Independence Hall. Philadelphia's Washington Grays, Lafayette's military escort through the city are visible in the midground. In the background is Independence Hall, filled with a cheering crowd, and an American Flag is visible.
Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Motier, Marquis De Lafayette, by Thomas...

Lafayette spent the winter of 1778 at markerValley Forge, and there was appointed to lead an American invasion of Canada in February of 1778, an adventure about which Washington had grave doubts. When he arrived in Albany, New York, to take over the forces delegated to that task, however, Lafayette reported that they were in no way adequate to the mission, and the plan was called off. In May of 1778, Lafayette commanded a large detachment from Valley Forge north of the lines at Philadelphia, and narrowly escaped being trapped, with the loss of a large part of the army. For much of the war, Washington found Lafayette more valuable as a headquarters advisor than a field commander. During the 1780s, the Frenchman performed valuable service in command of troops in the southern campaigns.
Terracotta bust
Marquis de Lafayette, by William Rush, 1824.

Lafayette returned to France after Independence was acknowledged in 1783. He typified the "wind from America," influence carried to France by its nationals who had seen the American Revolution firsthand. When the Estates General met at Versailles in 1789 to consult with the Bourbon monarchy about the reformation of taxes and state finance, individuals like him briefly became an important to the reform process. As the French Revolution gained momentum, Lafayette gave it credibility, although he was soon identified with conservative sentiment among the French public, and he was eventually condemned as an enemy of the state.
In many ways, the virulent progression of the French Revolution from a reform cause to a bitter social and civil war helped to define for Americans the supposedly the unique dimensions of their own revolution: its relative moderation, and lack of a "tenor" of social revolution. Their debates about that subject helped to establish the actual practices of politics and government in America in the 1790s.
Lafayette College, Easton, PA, circa 1880.

Upon the invitation of President James Monroe, the Marquis de Lafayette returned to the United States in the summer of 1824 for a fourteen month triumphal tour that took him to ever state in the nation. His farewell tour of America was one of a series of events that helped Americans to consolidate their memories of the Revolutionary era and then to consign its work to history.

Others included the debates over legislative proposals for federal pensions for Continental Army veterans in 1818 and 1831, the seemingly providential deaths of both Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on July 4, 1825, and the disappearance of members of the Revolutionary generation itself in the second and third decades of the nineteenth century.
Through these episodes, Americans came to terms with the Revolutionary dynamics that had begun with the modest goal of national independence and then raised the possibility of vast and systematic social changes at the same time that they fell short of their own ideals regarding slavery.
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