by Robert Hanaford Smith, Sr.
Weirs Times Contributing Writer
His official name seems to have no end, but he is known more commonly and more simply as Lafayette by those who remember him, and he is also sometimes referred to as America’s forgotten hero.
Lafayette was a young French aristocrat who was supportive of the American cause to be independent of England and, at great risk to himself came to this country to help as a leader in the Revolutionary War. This “Citizen of Two Worlds” or “Hero of Two Worlds ”, other labels applied to him because of his acts of valor in America and in his native France, visited New Hampshire in June of 1825 during a return trip to the United States which included visits to all 24 of the States which comprised the country at that time.
In his June visit Lafayette travelled from Massachusetts to Concord, NH, then to Portland, Maine and back to Concord, before continuing west in New Hampshire and into Vermont. He was in the United States at the invitation of President James Monroe in consultation with Congress 40 years after the Revolutionary War and was greeted with many accolades as he moved from state to state.
In his book about Lafayette, published in 1879, A.A. Parker mentions a meeting with Rev. Dr. Dana on his way to Concord and a visit with him to a ladies school run by a Miss Grant. I wonder if this was the Rev. Dr. Dana from New Hampton who served as a physician, preacher and teacher and for whom the Dana Meeting House where he preached is named.
General Lafayette was greeted as a hero as he made the rounds across the country including in New Hampshire as people came out to meet him as he travelled from place to place, often by stagecoach, at times powered by six white horses. From Concord he went through the towns of Hopkinton, Warner, Bradford, Newport and Claremont. The residents of Claremont made big plans for the arrival of Lafayette to their town, planning to greet him at the half-way house at Chandler’s Mills. A welcoming committee consisting of forty men on horseback led by a prominent physician, Dr. Josiah Richards and a band of musicians gathered well before sunset, expecting their guest to arrive before darkness set in when Richards would make a speech before they preceded their special guest into the town. However, Lafayette and his party were late and the General was not in a good mood and refused to stop the coach at Chandler’s Mills, rushing by the assembled escort, which instead of leading Lafayette into Claremont, followed behind. A 1910 paper titled “Newport’s Guest Book” acclaimed Lafayette as “…Newport’s most illustrious visitor.” The article, published in The Granite Monthly, read that “…the thought of what he had done for us …made the whole country rise up and call him blessed.” He was commended for his youthful enthusiasm and love of liberty.
So, just exactly who was Mr. Lafayette and what did he do for us? At the age of eighteen, and already advocate of personal liberty, he was informed of the effort of Americans to be free of British control. Born into one of the best known families in France, Lafayette’s father died in battle before his birth, his mother and uncle also passed away, and the young man, being the last male surviving in the family line, had inherited a large estate.
He had married at the age of sixteen and had one child and another on the way. This did not stop Lafayette’s determination to come to America and help the settlers here become free from the control of England. His military superiors were not in agreement with his desires and forbid him to leave his duties in France to cross the Atlantic. Nevertheless, he bought his own boat and secretly left France for Spain from which he sailed to America when he was 19 years old, arriving in South Carolina in June of 1777. From there he and his companions made their way to Philadelphia where Lafayette offered his services to the congress. They made the trip by land over primitive roads and the journey took 32 days and left the men in a physically weak condition. The adventurous young man who had left much of value to him back in France at first received a cool reception by the congress in Philadelphia, causing him to say that the experience “…was more like a dismissal, than a reception.” Things changed, however, after Lafayette was allowed to speak to the congress and to make himself known, offering to serve without pay and to take care of his own expenses, whereupon he was made a major general in the Continental Army.
In a matter of days, Lafayette met General George Washington, who soon made the young noble Frenchman one of his aids. Thus began the service of the Marquis de Lafayette on behalf of the struggle for liberty of the people of the United States. He was wounded during the first battle he fought in (Brandywine), but returned to serve well as a commander of revolutionary forces. The nickname “Granite State” for New Hampshire was reportedly first used at a dinner in honor of Lafayette in Concord on June 22, 1825. The title was in a song sung at the event which was written by Philip Carrigain of Concord who was Secretary of State in the early 1800s.
Lafayette laid the cornerstone for the Bunker Hill Monument before coming to Concord in 1825 and dirt from that location is said to have been spread upon his grave after his death and burial in France. Lafayette was accompanied during his 1824-25 tour of the United States by his son Georges Washington Lafayette. They returned to France on a ship appropriately named “ Brandywine”.
Correction: In my March 23rd column about the 1923 N.H. legislature I incorrectly stated that the Laconia Carriage Company manufactured its last railway cars in 1923. It appears that the last cars were actually ordered in the year 1926 and delivered in 1928.