The Year 2009 MarksThe 225th ANNIVERSARY
of
MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE's
First Visit to The United States
After the American Revolution, and
His Second Visit to Mount Vernon --
The Only Time When
Lafayette and George Washington
were at Mount Vernon Together
Lafayette returned to France in 1781 'a hero of two worlds'. He received many honors and was awarded the Cross of Saint Louis. He became active in French politics, but remained emotionally tied to his American comrades, and particularly with George Washington. In late 1784, Lafayette returned briefly to the United States to visit George Washington at Mount Vernon. The 20th century painting above depicts this only time Lafayette visited Mount Vernon when Washington was also present. It was also their last time together.

Lafayette's 4 August to 22 December return to the United States in 1784 is generally overshadowed by the Marquis' more spectacular ‘Triumphal Return' as guest of The Nation in 1824-1825. However, the 1784 visit -- which will have it's 225th anniversary in 2009 -- is distinctive for many memorable moments. This page attempts to highlight a few of these moments.
Lafayette had departed North America soon after the Allied victory at Yorktown in October 1781. He had returned to France with honors as a Major General in the American Continental Army. The fame he acquired in the American war had propelled him to the rank of maréchal de camp in the French army. In 1783, he was preparing to participate in a French-Spanish expedition against British holdings in the West Indies. The signing of the preliminary articles of the peace treaties in November of 1782 and January 1783 essentially ended military and naval operations in the War for American Independence. The war was officially concluded with the Peace Treaties of Paris [between the new Republic of the United States and Great Britain] and of Versailles [between France and Great Britain], both signed on 3 September 1783.
Understandably, Lafayette was anxious to revisit the land in which he had deservingly earned military glory, and among whom he had developed many close friends. In particular, the Marquis had formed a very close association with George Washington, under whom Lafayette developed as a military leader and distinguished himself in the American Continental Army.
Responding to an invitation from George Washington, Lafayette, accompanied by his young aide, the chevalier de Caraman, departed on 28 June 1784 from Lorient, France, aboard the Le Courrier de New York. He arrived in New York City port on 4 August 1784. New York City welcomed the Marquis by a large celebration and he was received by the State Assembly. After 2 days, he continued to New Jersey. On 9 August, Lafayette arrived outside Philadelphia and was escorted into the city by the City Troop of Light Horse and met cheering crowds and the French chargé d'affaires François Barbé de Marbois. 'Mad' Anthony Wayne and others who served with the Marquis in the 1781 Virginia Campaign hosted the Marquis at a banquet. On 12 August, Lafayette addressed the American Philosophical Society with a talk on the recent vogue in Europe concerning Friedrich Mesmer's strange theory of 'animal magnetism'. The Marquis reached Baltimore 14 August and was greeted with two more days of festivities. Lafayette pressed on to his principal destination -- to meet with George Washington at Mount Vernon -- arriving 17 August.
Lafayette had briefly visited Mount Vernon in 1781, but Washington and his wife were away from their home and at the northern army headquarters. During this 1784 visit, Lafayette was able to share moments with the General and his wife at Mount Vernon on two occasions: 17-29 August and 25-29 November. Though in later years Lafayette would return to the United States and make other visits to Mount Vernon, these 1784 visits would be the only times Lafayette was at Mount Vernon with George Washington. The two veterans enjoyed the opportunity to solidify their symbolic ‘father-son' relationship, and they no doubt reminisced about the past war as they rode horseback over the plantation. Washington's writings are relatively absent of any contemporary descriptions of the visit. On the other hand, Lafayette wrote enthusiastically and frequently to his wife, Adrienne, who was with their children at Chavanic, in the Auvergne region of France. From these letters, we learn that Lafayette and Washington conversed on a varity of topics, such as agriculture, philosophical as well as practical political aspects of individual freedoms, and debated the type of government needed for the new republic.
Lafayette's stay at Mount Vernon was interrupted by Washington's need to attend to business matters in the Western lands between the Potomac and the Ohio rivers. As Washington would be away from Mount Vernon during this interval, it was agreed that Lafayette would, in the meantime, visit further with communities in the Northeast. On 29 August, Washington and Lafayette rode together to the nearby Alexandria, where they separated for the next few weeks. Lafayette traveled on to Baltimore and attended receptions in his honor. Here he was reacquainted with James Madison, whom he had met briefly at the end of the war. On this occasion, they formed a deeper friendship, and Madison accompanied Lafayette as the Marquis continued north through New York and New England. New York set a trend followed by some other communities in proclaiming Lafayette a ‘citizen'. Lafayette was again joined by François Barbé de Marbois, who would accompany the Marquis, Madison, and Caraman on a most unusual mission.
While in New York, Lafayette was invited to join the state's commissioners in negotiating a treaty with the Six Nations. [Also known as "First Nations/Native Americans" which originally consisted of: the Mohawk, the Oneida, the Onondaga, the Cayuga, the Seneca, and the Tuscarora tribes.] There had long been trouble with the Six Nations not only just between European settlers' encroachment upon the Indian lands, but as the individual tribes associated themselves with opposing European forces during early colonial wars and the recent American Revolution. The situation was further exacerbated as the peace treaty of 1783 between Great Britain and the United States omitted any consideration of the Native Americans who long occupied lands on both sides of the new boundries between British Canada and the United States. The peace treaty left territorial arrangements with the Indians to be resolved by the Americans. The US Congress appointed three commissioners to hold a conference with representatives of the Six Nations at Fort Schuyler, the site of the modern city of Rome and about a hundred miles west of Albany. Lafayette's appearance in the region was considered an opportunity. The commissioners invited the Marquis to attend the treaty. It was envisioned that the Indians would retained fond memories of the Frenchman from his March 1778 involvement in tribal negotiations and in their later service under his command at the Battle of Barren Hill (May 1778) near Valley Forge.
Reportedly, Lafayette took casks of brandy to the meeting site and he was remembered by some of the chiefs as ‘Kayeheanla' [or ‘Kayenlaa']. Making use of written accounts by witnesses Madison and Barbé-Marbois, David A. Clary's Adopted Son (2008) provides considerable backgorund and a colorful description of Lafayette's late September and early October meeting with the Indians. On page 368, Clary characterizes the event as follows:
"... a round of drunken feasts, speeches, and dancing. It all ended with a treaty recognizing Indian sovereignty in western New York and American sovereignty between Lake Erie and the Ohio River. Lafayette and Barbé-Marbois also worked out an agreement to establish French-run fur trade in New York to draw Indian business away from Canada, but the plan was later pigeonholed in Versailles."
Lafayette did not negotiate the treaty so much as he enabled it. Lafayette and his traveling companions arrived before the American commissioners and took the time to meet particularly with the Oneida leaders. Lafayette had successfully established a favorable climate for negotiations by the time the three New York commissioners arrived. In his letters to Thomas Jefferson, Madison revealed an interesting insight not often reported. Madison's assessment was that Lafayette was effective because many Native Americans had fond memories of dealing with the French versus either the English or Americans. He noted that "The commissioners were eclipsed," by Lafayette and " probably felt it." Some of the commissioners did not appreciate their relative insignificance. Madison reported that one of the commissioners, Arthur Lee, complained about being upstaged by the 'French interloper.' Having created the advantageous climate for the negotiations and not being a designated member of the negotiating team, Lafayette's presence was no longer needed, and the Marquis departed the session with a twelve-year-old son of a chief, with the promise to have the boy educated in France.
Lafayette continued to be popular everywhere he went. At Hartford he was awarded honorary citizenship of Connecticut; same in Boston for Massachusetts and received an honorary doctor of letters at Harvard. From Boston, Lafayette travled on the French frigate Nymph to Yorktown, Virginia -- arriving 15 November. He proceeded to Williamsburg; and on 18 November he reached Richmond. It was here that he surprisingly met James Armistead, an African American who carried out spy missions for Lafayette in the 1781 Virginia Campaign. Shocked at finding Armistead still in slave status, Lafayette prepared a letter of commendation, dated 21 November 1784, that appealed to the Virginia Assembly for the slave's emancipation. Eventually, on 9 January 1786, James Armistead won his freedom for services rendered and bravery during the siege of Yorktown. It was at that time that James chose the name 'Armistead' for his middle name and 'Lafayette' for his surname.
At Richmond, Lafayette was reunited with George Washington. Together, they left Richmond on 22 November, and after two days en route, they arrived at Mount Vernon 25 November. Lafayette remained at the General's home through 28 November. Washington gave Lafayette a packet of letters to take back to France. Among them was one to Adrienne. On 29 November, Washington accompanied Lafayette to Annapolis. On 1 December Washington accompanied the Marquis to Marlboro, Maryland, where they exchanged their final, person-to-person goodbys.
The Marquis' visit to the United States continued. On 11 December, Congress praised Lafayette in a letter to Louis XVI. In taking leave of Congress Lafayette made an appeal for national unity as his trip had alerted him to the difficulties the Nation was having with the Articles of Confederation. Though the Marquis was not present, the Maryland House of Delegates granted citizenship to Lafayette and to his male heirs in perpetuity on 18 December. On 20 December, the New York Governor and other officials bid Lafayette a formal farewell in New York. The next day, Governor Clinton, the French consul Jean de Crèvecoeur and others [Greene, Hamilton, and Knox among them] escorted Lafayette on a decorated barge out to the French frigate Nymphe. Lafayette was handed a letter, dated December 8, 1784, from Washington. The General had written the letter after returning to Mount Vernon and probably found it easier to express his deep feelings than when he last departred from his friend -- and 'adopted son'. This letter follows:
"Mount Vernon, December 8, 1784.

" My Dr. Marqs: The peregrination of the day in which I parted with you, ended at Marlbro': the next day, bad as it was, I got home before dinner.*
" In the moment of our separation upon the road as I travelled, and every hour since, I felt all that love, respect and attachment for you, with which length of years, close connexion and your merits have inspired me. I often asked myself, as our carriages distended,** whether that was the last sight, I ever should have of you? And tho' I wished to say no, my fears answered yes. I called to mind the days of my youth, and found they had long since fled to return no more; that I was now descending the hill, I had been 52 years climbing, and that tho' I was blessed with a good constitution, I was of a short lived family, and might soon expect to be entombed in the dreary mansions of my father's. These things darkened the shades and gave a gloom to the picture, consequently to my prospects of seeing you again: but I will not repine, I have had my day.
" Nothing of importance has occurred since I parted with you; I found my family well, and am now immersed in company; notwithstanding which, I have in haste, produced a few more letters to give you the trouble of, rather inclining to commit them to your care, than to pass them thro' many and unknown hands.
" It is unnecessary, I persuade myself to repeat to you my Dr. Marqs. the sincerity of my regards and friendship, nor have I words which could express my affection for you, were I to attempt it. My fervent prayers are offered for your safe and pleasant passage, happing meeting with Madame la Fayette and family, and the completion of every wish of your heart, in all which Mrs. Washington joins me, as she does in complimts. to Capt. Grandchean and the Chevr.7 of whom little Wash:n often speaks. With every sentimt. wch. is propitious and endearing, I am, etc."

[* Note:Washington parted from Lafayette at Annapolis, apparently on December 1, and reached Mount Vernon on December 2.]

[** Note:A questionable error of the copyist; "distanced" seems more likely to have been the word written by Washington.]

Source: John C. Fitzpatrick, ed. The Writings of George Washington ...


The Nymphe ran aground while departing the harbor on 21 December, It was freed 22 December and was out to sea by 23 December, heading for France. Lafayette arrived at Brest 20 January 1785. The delay in New York Harbor allowed Lafayette to rush an emotional reply to Washington. The Marquis' letter, dated 21 December 1784 is partly shown below:
"On board the Nymph, New York Harbour, 21 December, 1784

"My dear General,

"I have received your affectionate letter of the 8th and from the known sentiments of my heart to you, you will easily guess what my feelings have been in perusing the tender expressions of your friendship.
"No, my beloved General, our late parting was not by any means a last interview. My whole soul revolts at the idea ; and could I harbour it an instant, indeed, my dear General, it would make me miserable. I well see you never will go to France. The inexpressible pleasure of embracing you in my own house, of welcoming you in a family where your name is adored, I do not much expect to experience; but to you I shall return, and, within the walls of Mount Vernon, we shall yet often speak of old times. My firm plan is to visit now and then my friend on this side of the Atlantic ; and the most beloved of all friends I ever had, or ever shall have anywhere, is too strong an inducement for me to return to him, not to think that whenever it is possible I shall renew my so pleasing visits to Mount Vernon.
"Since I have left you, my dear General, we have passed through Philadelphia to Trenton, where I was happy to find a numerous and well-chosen Congress. Their testimonies of kindness to me, and my answer to them, you will see in the newspapers. As to my services abroad, it has been (on motion respecting what I told you) universally decided that public confidence in me was a matter of course, a doubt of which ought not to be expressed. But, as I know the sense of the Congress, and as Mr. Jay has accepted, and Mr. Jeflerson will be Minister in France, my situation in that respect will be very agreeable.
"Orders have been sent to Canada to reenforce the Lake posts, put the vessels in commission, and repel force by force. But I. think that if once Congress have the trade to regulate, mercantile interdictions Philadelphia will set these people to rights. Although party spirit had a little subsided in New York, yet that city is not by any means settled. How far from Boston!
"Although your nephew is not arrived, I will hope for the pleasure to see him in Paris. General Greene was in Hartford when the letter reached him, from where he came to New York, and I had the pleasure to spend some days with him. Inclosed I send you a small cipher. Should any public political business require a fuller one, I will write to you a complete cipher I have had long ago with Mr. Jay's present department.
"Mr. Carey, printer of the Volunteer journal, has been obliged to fly for his life, and now lives at Mr. Sutler's, hatter. Front street, in Philadelphia, where he is going to set up a paper. A letter from you, becoming a subscriber, and telling him I have mentioned it to you, will the most oblige me, as I have promised him to recommend him to my friends. He is now an American; and we have nothing to do with his quarrel with the Duke of Rutland, which disputes, by the by, seem to subside, and vanish into nothing. The French packet is not yet arrived.
"The Chevalier de Caraman and Captain Grandchain beg leave to offer their respects to you, Mrs. Washington, and all the family. My most tender, affectionate respects wait upon Mrs. Washington and all the family. I beg she will give a kiss for me to the little girls, my friend ; and I beg Mrs. Stuart, the Doctor, Mr. Lund Washington, and all our friends, to receive my best compliments. I hope Mr. Harrison will be soon appointed, and I wish his cousin may know it.
"Adieu, adieu, my dear General. It is with inexpressible pain that I feel I am going to be severed from you by the Atlantic. Every thing, that admiration, respect, gratitude, friendship, and filial love, can inspire, is combined in my affectionate heart to devote me most tenderly to you. In your friendship I find a delight which words cannot express. Adieu, my dear General. It is not without emotion that I write this word, although I know I shall soon visit you again. Be attentive to your health. Let me hear from you every month. Adieu, adieu. Lafayette."

Author: General Lafayette
Source: Correspondence of the American Revolution; Being Letters of Eminent Men to George Washington, from the Time of His Taking Command of the Army to the End of His Presidency, Volume IV., Jared Sparks, 1853

Lafayette and Washington were to exchange many letters after the 1784 visit; but George Washington died 17 December 1799, long before Lafayette would return to the United States and again visit Mount Vernon.

The only known commemoration of this visit was conducted by The District of Columbia Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. The DC Society used the occasion of their traditional October program that celebrates the anniversary of the American victory at Yorktown to support a special program commemorating the 225th Anniversary of a unique moment for two of the great heroes of the American War for Independence. The program was held on 24 October 2009, at the Officers' Club, Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, DC. With the DC Society's President, Gary Nordlinger, presiding; and with French Embassy guests [M. Françoïs Rivasseau, Deputy Chief of Mission, and Col. Vincent Cousin, Air Attaché, present; the program Chairman, Peter Arrott Dixon, introduced a representative of the American Revolution Round Table of DC to give a talk "Commemorating Lafayette's Visit with Gen. Washington at Mt. Vernon in 1784".
OTHER PARGES on LAFAYETTE sponsored by the Expédition Particulière website are

MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE
LAFAYETTE'S VIRGINIA CAMPAIGN (1781)
LA FAYETTE's VISITS to MOUNT VERNON.
The 225th ANNIVERSARY of LAFAYETTE's FIRST VISIT to MOUNT VERNON (31 March 2006)
La Fayette's Ocean Crossings.
Issue of Washington's Masonic Apron Gift from Lafayette .
Expédition Particulière Lafayette monuments webpage.
Lafayette at Barren Hill, May 1778.
OTHER Sources outside of the Expédition Particulière website are

"The Wife of Lafayette".
A remarkable website "Female Ancestors: Resources to help find female ancestors!"
David A. Clary's Adopted Son: Washington, Lafayette, and the Friendship that Saved the Revolution (2007. paper 2008).
In particular pages364-372. This work provides further references to the primary sources, such as Lafayette's Memoirs and writings of contemporaries, in addition to the excellent research of Louis R. Gottschalk and Stanley Idzerda. Gottschalk and Idzerda remain the bed rocks of Anglophone studies on La Fayette and their works are listed in the Expédition Particulière webpage: "Selected BIBLIOGRAPHY for the FRENCH - AMERICAN MILITARY ALLIANCE of 1778-1783".
James R. Gaines For Liberty and Glory: Washington, Lafayette and Their Revolutions (2007).
A penetrating examination of the complex relationship between George Washington and Lafayette. For a shorter version, see Mr. Gaines' "Washington & Lafayette" in the Smithsonian magazine, September 2007, pp.82-92.
Michael de la Bedoyere's Lafayette (1934).
"Part One: Education (1757-1785)," "Section VI ‘The Hero of Two Worlds' (1781-1785)," pp. 82-94.
Ralph Ketcham's James Madison, A Biography (1971, rp 1990).
William C. Rives and Philip R. Fendall, eds., Letters and Other Writings of James Madison(1865).
Eugene P. Chase, ed., Our Revolutionary Forefathers: The Letters of Francois, Marquis de Barbé-Marbois(1969).
John C. Fitzpatrick, ed. The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745-1799 (1931-44),
Electronic [U.Va. Library's digital collections site] http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/washington/fitzpatrick/
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Page posted 9 November 2008; revised 8 July 2010.