On June 21, 1825, the Marquis de Lafayette began his second visit to New Hampshire as part of his farewell tour of the 24 American states. During his 13-month journey, this French hero of the American Revolution was met everywhere with exuberant displays of gratitude and affection.
After crossing into New Hampshire from Methuen, Mass., in a horse-drawn coach, Lafayette and his aides, along with the New Hampshire delegation sent to accompany him, enjoyed a turkey dinner at Pattee’s Tavern in Salem. Afterward, the travelers rode about 16 miles to what is now Derry, then part of Londonderry (Derry was incorporated in 1827). They stopped for a short time at the Adams & Redfield Tavern on the Londonderry Turnpike (Route 28B). Here they likely met up with Gen. Elias Hasket Derby, Jr., who was tasked with entertaining Lafayette during the few hours he would spend in town.
Derby had been born in Salem, Mass., in 1766, the son of a wealthy merchant engaged in the international shipping trade. The younger Derby gained the title “General” in 1801 when he reorganized and commanded the local militia in Salem. Like his father, he also became involved in the mercantile trade, but in 1815 he changed directions and bought a large farm on what is now Lane Road in East Derry. Here he grew a variety of crops and also raised cattle and sheep. Both Lafayette and Derby were Freemasons, so the two men would have shared an instant fraternal bond of friendship.
After enjoying Derby’s hospitality, Lafayette was taken to the Adams Female Academy. Incorporated in 1824 with money bequeathed by Jacob Adams, the school was one of the first academies established in the country to offer a regular course of studies for women. It was then located in its original building next to the First Church (now the First Parish Church on East Derry Road).
A letter from an Academy student written to her friend on June 22, 1825, was included in “Willey’s Book of Nutfield,” published by George F. Willey in 1895. (Nutfield was the original name for Londonderry.) The writer describes how the girls assembled at the school at 9 a.m., in anticipation of Lafayette’s arrival later that morning. She wrote, “The pupils were all dressed in white with pink sashes and a bouquet of natural flowers. Their heads were unornamented except by their neatly arranged hair and simple combs. Many of the young ladies are very interesting in their appearance, and the whole school looked very pretty.”
The 100 or so students endured a long, tedious day waiting for Lafayette’s arrival. One of the teachers read to them “from the Memoirs of Lafayette, which increased the interest in this noble-minded individual.” At around 5 p.m. the girls went outdoors to get some exercise, but were driven inside by a sudden thunderstorm. By that time, they had nearly given up hope of seeing Lafayette, but “At this moment horsemen coming at full speed approached with the welcome intelligence that Lafayette would soon be with us.”
As the student wrote, when Lafayette entered the building “… every heart swelled with intense interest as we beheld the friend, the defender, the martyr of liberty. Before us stood the man, who fifty years ago left his native country, his noble prospects, his happy home, to embark in the almost shipwrecked cause of American Independence.” An Academy trustee explained to Lafayette that this was “one of a few public institutions in our country designed exclusively for the education of women; that it was taught wholly by ladies and was designed to give them a solid education, on the same basis as our colleges.” Lafayette appeared quite impressed, and after a few words were exchanged, he shook hands with each of the students, and to each he remarked, “I am happy to see you.” And, “After staying fifteen minutes, he departed, expressing much gratification at his visit. His last words, ‘Farewell forever,’ sounded mournfully in our ears.”
The rain was still pouring down as Lafayette left the building, but the clouds had parted in the west, and the light from the late afternoon sun caused a brilliant rainbow to appear in the eastern sky.