Today in 1824, Revolutionary War hero Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier — better known as the Marquis de Lafayette — was hailed by adoring crowds as he journeyed through the state of Connecticut as part of his 1824-1825 grand tour of America.
Having joined the Revolutionary War effort almost fifty years earlier as a teenager, Lafayette was now in his late sixties and the war’s only surviving Major General. Lafayette’s tour of America began at the request of President James Monroe, a fellow Revolutionary War veteran who was eager to commemorate the United States’ fiftieth anniversary and strengthen diplomatic goodwill between America and France. Arriving in New York City on August 15, Lafayette then journeyed through several Connecticut coastal communities including Fairfield, New Haven, and Old Saybrook on his way to Boston. A few weeks later, Lafayette journeyed westward and re-entered the Constitution State on September 3, 1824 after stopping in Worcester, Massachusetts. He had originally intended to travel all the way to Hartford on the 3rd, but the overwhelmingly large crowds that had gathered to greet him in Worcester had delayed him so much that he was forced to spend the night just over the Connecticut border at the famous Springs Hotel in Stafford Springs.
Lafayette, truly the greatest celebrity in America at the time, was greeted by adoring, patriotic crowds at every turn of his American tour, and his brief stops in Tolland and Stafford Springs on September 3rd were no different. The next day, he arrived in Hartford to a crowd of thousands and, in the words of Lafayette’s secretary, was “welcomed by the whole population with the most lively demonstrations of veneration and love.” After being escorted by an elaborate military parade, lionized in a speech by Governor Oliver Wolcott, and greeted by hundreds of schoolchildren (including those from the American School for the Deaf), Lafayette boarded a steamboat and continued his tour southward, stopping at Middletown the next day before returning to New York City.
In the span of only 13 months, America’s favorite French ally would visit all 24 American states on his grand tour of the young nation whose independence he helped secure. Today, numerous streets, public plazas, buildings, and schools throughout Connecticut are named in Lafayette’s honor — several of which can trace their honorific origins to 1824, when the beloved Revolutionary War veteran traveled through the state.
The Lafayette Trail Project website (Interactive map of Lafayette’s 1824-1825 American tour)
Julien Icher, “The Lafayette Trail: Mapping General Lafayette’s Farewell Tour in the United States,” American Battlefield Trust
Auguste Levasseur, “Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825; or Journal of Travels in the United States,” Google Books (pages 81-85)