Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Lafayette's 1824 Visit to Stow

Lafayette, we are here.” Thus ended a speech by Charles E. Stanton, Lieutenant Colonel on the staff of General John J. Pershing. The event was a visit to Lafayette’s tomb, on July 4, 1917, just three months after the United States has joined the war against Germany and its allies. The speech acknowledged France’s support for the American Revolutionary War. In context: “America has joined forces with the allied powers, and what we have of blood and treasure are yours. Therefore it is that with loving pride we drape the colors in tribute of respect to this citizen of your great republic. And here and now, in the presence of the illustrious dead, we pledge our hearts and our honor in carrying this war to a successful issue. Lafayette, we are here!”

Stanton could say "Lafayette" in the same way other political and military stars need only one name: Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, Mao. By his full name and title, Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier (Marquis de Lafayette) was born in 1757 into a noble French family with a LONG history of military service. Nearly 350 years before his arrival in the at-war Colonies his ancestor Gilbert de Lafayette III had been a companion-at-arms with Joan of Arc's army, fighting against English invaders. And nearly 50 years after Lafayette first arrived on our shores to fight in the Revolutionary War, he returned to the United States and visited, briefly, Stow, MA.

Portrait of Marquis de Lafayette, Lieutenant General,
French Army, 1791 (age 34 years)
Lafayette first arrived in 1777, age 19, as a volunteer, a French Army officer, but without official approval from the French government. He swiftly became an aide to General Washington, endured the winter at Valley Forge, and was given command positions in the Continental Army. He was also an essential liaison between the warring Americans and his home country, traveling back to France in 1779 and again in 1781 to beg for aid. The arrival of the French navy at Yorktown, Virginia, coinciding with land attacks by the Continental Army, in part led by Lafayette and Alexander Hamilton, led to the surrender of the British Army and the end of the War. Lafayette returned to France where he had a life-long involvement in French governments under the King, the revolution, Bonaparte and the restoration of the monarchy.

President James Monroe and Congress invited Lafayette to visit the United States in 1824-25 celebrate the nation's upcoming 50th anniversary. Lafayette was 66 at the time. His intended four month tour of the original 13 states became a thirteen month, 6,000 mile tour of 24 states, traveling by horseback, carriage, canal barge and steamboat. And this brings us to the point of our local interest. On September 2, 1824, Lafayette and his entourage left Boston via carriage to events scheduled in Lexington and Concord. Lexington claimed it was where the war started. A banner read “The birthplace of American liberty.” Concord counter-claimed it was where the colonists first fired at the British. When Lafayette visited North Bridge in Concord, Judge Samuel Hoar told him that he was looking at the spot where “the first forcible resistance was made.”

1824 portrait by Ary Scheffer
Interestingly, echoes of the Lexington/Concord feud sounded down through the years. In 1894 the Lexington Historical Society petitioned the Massachusetts State Legislature to proclaim April 19 as "Lexington Day." Concord countered with “Concord Day.” Governor Frederic Greenhalge opted for a compromise: "Patriots' Day." The Boston Marathon, started to honor the holiday, dates to 1897 - one year after the modern-era Olympics, including a marathon, was started, in Greece.

If Lafayette's coach traveled west from Concord, stopping at Stow along the way, there is only one logical route for him to have taken - Laws Brook Road to School Street to Parker Road to Concord Street to Summer Street - and hence to Stow Lower Village.

From the written records it does not appear that Stow was a planned stop, perhaps only a place to rest the horses and let the travelers stretch their legs, but there ended up being a reception of sorts. According to Crowell’s history of Stow (1933), Lafayette and his entourage reached the Stow common [next to Route 117 east of Shaw’s shopping plaza] after sunset and stayed for almost an hour. They were met by a military company led by Captain Pliny Wetherbee and feted at the Gardner Inn. The Honorable Rufus Hosmer coordinated the event. There were refreshments, the Marquis received a bouquet of flowers, and then departed into the darkness, miles to go before reaching the residence of Sampson V.S. Wilder, in Bolton, for a sumptuous feast and overnight stay. The house still stands, on Wilder Road.  

Stow Minutemen Company, 2011 (Click on photo to enlarge)
The above-described route across Stow (parts which did not become Maynard until 1871), would have been the reverse of much of the line of march of the Stow Minutemen on the morning of April 19, 1775, on their way to Concord. The Stow Minutemen Company re-enacts the march every Patriot's Day. New recruits welcome!

Lafayette had become a Freemason early in his life. There is dispute whether this had occurred before he left France, or at Valley Forge, in December 1777, with General George Washington present and acting as Master of the Lodge at the time of initiation. Regardless, he remained an active Mason, and as such, was asked to place the cornerstone of many monuments, including Bunker Hill, on the 50th anniversary of that 1775 battle. From one description, "Lafayette became so emotionally connected to the United States that he took dirt from the excavation of the Bunker Hill Monument in Massachusetts and shipped it to France so he could be buried in American soil."


Stanton speech:

The Schiller Institute:

Cornell University:

1 comment:

  1. Looking forward to bicentennial of Lafayette's tour in 2024-2025