Today in 1824, the venerable Revolutionary War hero Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier — the Marquis de Lafayette — was hailed by adoring crowds as he journeyed through Connecticut during his 1824-1825 “Last Man” 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 American visit began at the request of President James Monroe, a fellow Revolutionary War veteran. He was eager to both commemorate the United States’ fiftieth anniversary and strengthen diplomatic goodwill between America and France. Lafayette arrived in New York City on August 15, 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 a stop 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 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, without question the greatest celebrity in America at the time, was greeted by adoring, patriotic crowds at every turn of his American tour. His stop in Tolland and overnight stay in Stafford Springs on September 3rd were no different . And the next day, when he arrived in Hartford, he was, in the words of Lafayette’s secretary, “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 and “Last Man” of the Revolution would visit all 24 American states on a grand tour of the nation whose independence he had played a vital role in helping secure. Today, numerous streets, public plazas, buildings, and schools throughout Connecticut are named in Lafayette’s honor. Several 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)