“Lafayette, we are here.”
Attributed to General Pershing in 1917
In August of 1824, the 67 year old Marquis de Layfayette arrived in New York. Years ago, when he was only 20, he had come to this country offering his services to General Washington in our war for independence. His youth and charm had attracted Washington to him and his valor and leadership won the General’s admiration. The British had contemptuously called him “the boy” but he had dared defy Cornwallis, Tarleton and other British officers. Now, with his own son George Washington Lafayette, he had returned to visit the country whose independence he had helped to secure.
After a visit in New York and a brief tour of the New England states, Lafayette arrived in Washington and was greeted by President Monroe in the Oval Room of the White House. A few days later, he embarked on a steamboat in Alexandria to go to Mount Vernon to pay his respects at the grave of George Washington. He was accompanied on this trip by George Washington Parke Custis, Washington’s step-grandson, who was the father of Mrs. Robert E. Lee.
At the gravesite, Custis presented Layfayette with a ring containing a lock of Washington’s hair. Layfayette responded by saying, “I can only thank you, my dear Custis, for your precious gift, and pay a silent homage to the tomb of the greatest and best of men, my paternal friend.”
Lafayette then continued down the Potomac on the steamboat and arrived in Yorktown on October 19, the anniversary of the surrender in 1781. Here in Yorktown, he met General John Hartwell Cocke who issued the invitation to visit in Fluvanna County. After Yorktown, came a visit in Richmond and he set out from there to visit Mr. Jefferson at Monticello. Enroute to Monticello, he paid a visit to the good people of Fluvanna County, being greeted in Columbia by a delegation.
On the third day of November 1824, General Cocke and the Rev. Walker Timberlake and a company of fifty or sixty well-mounted gentlemen in full dress uniform formed an escort for General Lafayette and accompanied him to Cole’s Tavern in Wilmington. The carriage in which the General rode was drawn by stallions of the true English Hunter breed. The carriage belonged to Cocke. (The carriage has since been given to Stratford, the home of Robert E. Lee, by Mrs. Forney Johnston, a great grand-daughter of General Cocke.)
Many citizens came out to show their respect for this aged warrior including upwards of thirty veterans of the War for Independence. Many of them had served under Layfayette throughout his Virginia campaign. There were many moist eyes among the old veterans.
After dinner came toasts and there were many. A few of them were recorded:
“The American Revolution – the sun in the firmament of history.”
“Thomas Jefferson – the lamp that lighted our land to liberty and glory – it burns bright to the socket.”
The General, having expressed his thanks to the company, gave these toasts:
“The county of Fluvanna and Mechunk Creek – where upper and lower Virginians rendezvoused to show the enemy the road to Yorktown.”
“The French people – brave, generous and enlightened – they deserve to be happy.”
“The republics of South America – they have won their liberty with the price of blood – may they use it wisely.”
After the toasts were made the General retired to his quarters but the celebrants continued to make more toasts. Among them were Col. Barret G. Payne; George M. Payne, esq.; Col. Strange; Capt. Peter Guerrant; Dr. Wills; Dr. Jones; and Capt. Pettit. They also sang a song “Layfayette in Fluvanna” which was sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne. This song was sung over and over with much spirit.
After he left Fluvanna, Layfayette had a two-week visit at Monticello with his old friend Jefferson. Layfayette said this was the happiest and most restful part of his visit to this country.
He then went back to Washington, made a tour through the South, and hence to Boston for the Bunker Hill Anniversary, and then back to Washington again. On September 7, 1825, he left Washington on the steamship Mount Vernon which carried him to the frigate Brandywine for departure to France on September 9.
He left behind these words he said in Wilmington, “I have only to beg of you, take care of the liberty which your fathers have secured to you. Most of them, as you say, are gone. Whatever may become of those who remain of us – take care of your liberty.”
(Much of this information was taken from Fluvanna County Historical Bulletin Number 1, dated September 1965.
This Bulletin stated that much of it was from “The Richmond Enquirer” edition of November 12, 1824which carried a detailed account of Lafayette’s visit.)
Bill Jones – Fluvanna County Historical Society