Looking Back

Illustration of the first meeting between Gen. George Washington (right center) and the Marquis de Lafayette (left center) in 1776, published by Currier & Ives, 1876.

Throughout the United States “Lafayette” is a familiar place name. Naming a location Lafayette (or Fayette, Fayetteville, or Lafayetteville) is a reflection of the esteem that Americans hold in their hearts for Maj. Gen. Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette, a hero of the American Revolution. Numerous cities, towns, and counties were named in his honor, as well as parks and other public spaces.

Looking Back with Aurore Eaton sig

One of the most famous of these is Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., situated across the street from the north lawn of the White House. This popular tourist attraction features four large monuments commemorating patriotic figures, including one dedicated to Lafayette.

In New Hampshire there is majestic Mount Lafayette, at 5,260 feet the highest peak in the Franconia Range in the White Mountain National Forest. In its shadow is Lafayette Place Campground in Franconia Notch State Park. There are Lafayette streets in Manchester, Laconia, Rochester, Lebanon, Claremont, Newmarket, and Suncook. Also, there are Lafayette roads in Londonderry and Thornton, and another that runs from Seabrook to Portsmouth (Route 1).

Lafayette was born in Chavaniac, France in 1757. He pursued a military career from a young age as was the tradition within his aristocratic family. At age 13 he was commissioned as an officer in the Musketeers and at 18 he was named a Captain of Dragoons.

After war broke out between Great Britain and the American colonies, Lafayette made his way across the Atlantic to join the Continental Army. He arrived in South Carolina in June 1777, and met Gen. George Washington in Philadelphia in August.

A passionate supporter of the American cause, Lafayette was commissioned as Major General later that year. He led troops into battle in several notable encounters, including the challenging but ultimately indecisive Battle of Rhode Island in 1778 alongside Gen. John Sullivan of Durham, N.H.

In addition to his military contributions, Lafayette was instrumental in obtaining vital aid from the French government in support of the new United States of America. After the American Revolution Lafayette returned to France, where he was caught up in the perilous political conflicts that emerged at the time of the French Revolution. He was arrested in 1792 and held in captivity for more than five years.

Throughout his adult life Lafayette advocated for human rights, including an end to slavery in the United States. His 1824-1825 tour of the 24 American states, a pilgrimage through his adopted country, was cause for celebration in the towns and cities where he stopped along his route, including in New Hampshire.

In 1902 land for a new park on the west side of Manchester was donated to the city by the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, the large land and power company and textile producer that had developed Manchester into an industrial city.

The park, which stretches over two acres along Notre Dame Ave. across from the towering Gothic-revival church building of Ste. Marie Parish, was named Lafayette Park. This was a fitting name, as this section of the city was a center of settlement for Franco-Americans (French speaking immigrants from Canada and their descendants).

On Nov. 11, 1957 the Franco-American Memorial Commission dedicated a bronze plaque in Lafayette Park in celebration of the bicentennial of Lafayette’s birth. The plaque includes a remarkably accurate bas-relief portrait of Lafayette in his older age.

Among the words cast (also in bas-relief) on the plaque are: “First and most admired of America’s adopted sons.” Maryland was the first of several states to grant Lafayette honorary citizenship. However, these gestures were not recognized by the U.S. Congress until 2002 when Lafayette was officially granted American citizenship.

Also, on the plaque are these words: “Homage – Gratitude: To honor the Franco-Americans who in times of peace and of war have contributed to the glory of their country and to the prosperity of the city of Manchester.” For the city’s Franco-Americans, particularly those of earlier generations, identification with the French language and culture is something deeply felt — though most of their French ancestors left the mother country for the New World in the 17th or 18th centuries.

For them, and for all Americans, the Marquis de Lafayette is viewed as the embodiment of selfless patriotism and as a man of honor and integrity.

Next week: The Marquis de Lafayette stops in New Hampshire on his 1824-1825 tour.

Aurore Eaton is a historian and writer in Manchester, contact her at auroreeaton@aol.com or at www.facebook.com/AuroreEatonWriter.