Lafayette—the Hero of Two Worlds

Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, was a French aristocrat and military officer.

To many of us, he is simply the famous Frenchman who fought in the American Revolutionary War.

But there is much more to this amazing man than meets the eye.

Here are 10 fascinating facts about the Marquis de Lafayette that you may not be aware of.

Lafayette was made a King’s Musketeer at age thirteen

At just 13 years old, Lafayette entered the King’s Musketeers as a junior commissioned officer.

He was in exalted company alongside legendary musketeers like Charles de Batz de Castelmore d’Artagnan—the real-life historical basis for Alexandre Dumas’s character d’Artagnan in the novel The Three Musketeers.

Reserved for nobles, the Musketeers were among the most prestigious of the military companies of the Ancien Régime—the old political and social system that had been in place in France since the late Middle Ages.

D'Artagnan at the monument to Alexandre Dumas, Paris, France
D’Artagnan at the monument to Alexandre Dumas, Paris, France

Founded in 1622 to guard the king while he was outside of the royal residences, the uniform changed from the flamboyant cavalier style of d’Artagnon to the more utilitarian dress that Lafayette would have worn (shown as the two central figures below).

Uniforms of Musketeers of the Guard, 1660-1814
Uniforms of Musketeers of the Guard, 1660-1814

In 1664, the two companies were reorganized into “Grey Musketeers”, from the color of their matched horses, and “Black Musketeers”, mounted on black horses.

Lafayette’s six years in the Black Musketeers must have served him well for what lay ahead.

Lafayette was instrumental in the outcome of the American Revolutionary War

Not only was Lafayette effective as a military officer with hands-on engagement in several battles, for which he was commended by Washington himself, he was also instrumental in securing French finance, troops, and ships to aid the American cause.

Charming, tall, and idealistic, the 19-year-old Lafayette had defied the French king’s orders and enlisted to fight in America for the prospect of glory, chivalry, and liberty.

Nation Makers by Howard Pyle depicts a scene from the Battle of Brandywine
Nation Makers by Howard Pyle depicts a scene from the Battle of Brandywine

Shot in the leg at his first battle at Brandywine Creek in Pennsylvania, it wasn’t long before Lafayette was back on his feet again, spending the winter of 1777 camped at Valley Forge alongside Washington and the Continental Army.

Starvation, disease, malnutrition, and exposure killed more than 2,500 American soldiers by the end of February 1778.

Despite his privileged aristocratic upbringing, Lafayette willingly endured the hardship along with everyone else.

Lafayette (right) and Washington at Valley Forge
Lafayette (right) and Washington at Valley Forge

So severe were the conditions at times that even Washington was in despair.

unless some great and capital change suddenly takes place… this Army must inevitably… starve, dissolve, or disperse, in order to obtain subsistence in the best manner they can.

A year later, Lafayette returned to France, where his wife Adrienne gave birth to a son they named Georges Washington Lafayette.

And he also secured the promise of 6,000 French troops.

Marie Adrienne Francoise de Noailles, Marquise de La Fayette (1759-1807)
Marie Adrienne Francoise de Noailles, Marquise de La Fayette (1759-1807)

Lafayette sailed for America once more in March of 1780 in the frigate Hermione.

Lafayette became an American citizen before becoming  a French citizen

After the Revolutionary War in 1784, Lafayette visited America again.

He met Washington at Mount Vernon, addressed the Virginia House of Delegates and the Pennsylvania Legislature, and went to the Mohawk Valley in New York to help make peace with the Iroquois.

For his troubles and gratitude for his selfless service during the war, Harvard granted him an honorary degree, and the states of Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Virginia granted him American citizenship.

Lafayette later boasted that he had become an American citizen before the concept of French citizenship even existed.

Greater coat of arms of the United States
Greater coat of arms of the United States

Lafayette was a lifelong abolitionist

Washington and Lafayette at Mount Vernon, 1784 by Rossiter and Mignot, 1859
Washington and Lafayette at Mount Vernon, 1784 by Rossiter and Mignot, 1859

Lafayette was a staunch opponent to the concept of slavery.

His writing was adopted as part of the French Constitution and included revolutionary ideas such as the freedom and equality of all men.

Although his work never specifically mentioned slavery, he made his views clear in letters to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Hoping that Washington and Jefferson might adopt his ideas to free the slaves in America, he proffered that slaves could be made free tenants on the land of plantation owners.

But his ideas fell on deaf ears, so in 1785, he bought a plantation in the French colony of Cayenne to put his experimental ideas into practice.

A lifetime abolitionist, he was also a pragmatist and recognized the crucial role slavery played in many economies.

George Washington did eventually begin implementing Lafayette’s practices in his own plantation in Mount Vernon.

And Lafayette’s own grandson, Gustave de Beaumont later released a novel discussing the issues of racism.

One of Lafayette’s publications was monumental in expediting France’s abolition of slavery in 1794—the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

Lafayette helped write the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen

Passed by Frances’ National Constituent Assembly in August 1789, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen is an important document in the history of human and civil rights.

Directly influenced by Thomas Jefferson, it states that the rights of man are held to be universal and valid at all times and in every place.

It became the basis for a nation of free individuals protected equally by the law.

Inspired by the Enlightenment, the Declaration provided the rationale for the French Revolution and had a major impact on the development of freedom and democracy in Europe and worldwide.

Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen

Lafayette created the French Tricolor

After the French Revolution broke out, Lafayette was appointed commander-in-chief of the National Guard of France, tasked with maintaining order.

He proposed a new symbol for the Guard: a blue, white, and red cockade.

French revolutionaries wearing Phrygian caps and tricolor cockades and sans-culotte carrying earlier tricolor
French revolutionaries wearing Phrygian caps and tricolor cockades and sans-culotte carrying earlier tricolor

Combining the red and blue colors of Paris with the royal white, it was the origin of the French tricolor.

Multiple French flags as commonly flown from public buildings
Multiple French flags as commonly flown from public buildings

Lafayette and his family narrowly escaped execution in the French Revolution

As the French Revolution deepened, it became ever more extreme.

Lafayette had tried to maintain order and steer a middle ground.

But when radicals asserted control, a Reign of Terror ensued that swept even Lafayette into mortal danger.

Lafayette criticized the growing influence of the radicals and called for their parties to be “closed down by force”.

It was a risky move in the political climate of the time.

Marie Antoinette's execution in 1793 at the Place de la Révolution

An escape attempt by King Louis XVI and his family dubbed the “Flight to Varennes” had extremists like Georges Danton pointing the finger at Lafayette for allowing it to happen on his watch.

And one of the most influential figures of all—Maximilien Robespierre—labeled Lafayette a traitor.

Georges Danton and Maximilien Robespierre
Georges Danton and Maximilien Robespierre

Sensing the public mood had changed against him, Lafayette left Paris and Danton put out a warrant for his arrest.

Lafayette spent 5 years in prison

Hoping to return to the United States, Lafayette traveled through the Austrian Netherlands in what is now Belgium.

Expecting right of passage as a fleeing refugee, Lafayette’s luck ran out when he was recognized by the Austrians and treated as a dangerous revolutionary.

Held prisoner until such time as the monarchy was reinstated in France, he tried to use his American citizenship to secure his release.

Lafayette in prison
Lafayette in prison

Although unsuccessful, Washington and Jefferson were able to use diplomatic loopholes to get money to Lafayette, which he was able to use to secure his family’s safety.

U.S. Minister to France and future president, James Monroe used his influence to win the release of Lafayette’s wife Adrienne and their two daughters.

Lafayette is reunited with his wife and daughters
Lafayette is reunited with his wife and daughters

Lafayette’s reputation was used to gain support for entry into World War I

Lafayette’s name and image were repeatedly invoked in 1917 in seeking to gain popular support for America’s entry into World War I.

In a speech given in Paris during the First World War, Charles E. Stanton included a memorable expression that would become the famous phrase, “Lafayette, we are here.”

WWI poster 'Lafayette, we are here now'
WWI poster ‘Lafayette, we are here now’

Stanton visited the tomb of Lafayette along with General John J. Pershing to honor the nobleman’s assistance during the Revolutionary War and assure the French people that the people of the United States would aid them in World War I.

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.

Sadly, Lafayette’s image suffered as a result when veterans returned from the front singing “We’ve paid our debt to Lafayette, who the hell do we owe now?”

Lafayette is buried under soil taken from Bunker Hill

Lafayette died on 20 May 1834, and is buried in Picpus Cemetery in Paris, under soil taken from Bunker Hill.

For his accomplishments in the service of both France and the United States, he is sometimes known as “The Hero of the Two Worlds“.

Death of General Lafayette by Gondelfinger, 1834
Death of General Lafayette by Gondelfinger, 1834
US Marines Decorating Grave of Lafayette, Picpus Cemetery, Paris 1889
US Marines Decorating Grave of Lafayette, Picpus Cemetery, Paris 1889

American journalist, historian, and author, Marc Leepson, concluded his study of Lafayette’s life:

The Marquis de Lafayette was far from perfect. He was sometimes vain, naive, immature, and egocentric. But he consistently stuck to his ideals, even when doing so endangered his life and fortune. Those ideals proved to be the founding principles of two of the world’s most enduring nations, the United States and France. That is a legacy that few military leaders, politicians, or statesmen can match.
Statue of Lafayette on north end of University of Vermont Green, sculpted by John Quincy Adams Ward, 1883
Statue of Lafayette on north end of University of Vermont Green, sculpted by John Quincy Adams Ward, 1883

Currier & Ives: the Essential Decoration for Victorian Homemaking

From humble beginnings in the Victorian era, Currier and Ives became a successful New York-based printmaking firm that produced more than a million prints of hand-colored lithography.

Catharine Esther Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, authors of American Woman’s Home (1869) considered Currier & Ives prints essential for proper homemaking:

The great value of pictures for the home would be, after all, in their sentiment. They should express the sincere ideas and tastes of the household and not the tyrannical dicta of some art critic or neighbor.

Lithography is a method of printing reliant on the fact that oil and water don’t mix. The process allows precise control over where ink will adhere to a print plate. The result is beautifully detailed artwork.

Currier and Ives made prints from paintings by fine artists as black and white lithographs that were then colored by hand.

Lithographic prints were inexpensive to buy and the firm labeled itself “Publisher of Cheap and Popular Prints” and advertised “colored engravings for the people”.

Nathaniel Currier from Massachusetts started the firm in 1834 when he was 21. Having apprenticed with Pendletons of Boston to learn the trade, he found success creating lithographs of local and national events.

In 1857, Currier’s bookkeeper James Merritt Ives became a partner. Ives had a keen sense for gauging what the public wanted and helped select the images that the firm would publish.

Employing celebrated artists for original works, Currier and Ives prints were among the most popular wall hangings of the Victorian era.

The 1872 Currier and Ives catalog proclaimed:

… our Prints have become a staple article… in great demand in every part of the country… In fact without exception, all that we have published have met with a quick and ready sale.
Bringing Home the Logs, Winter Landscape, 19th century (colour litho) by Currier, N. (1813-88) and Ives, J.M. (1824-95); colour lithograph
The Farmers Home – Summer, 1864
Salmon Branch, Granby Connecticut, 1869
The Trout Pool
The Return From The Woods
The Road – Winter by Otto Knirsch, published by Currier and Ives, 1853
Hero and Flora Temple, 1856
Western River Scenery, 1866
Echo Lake, White Mountains c. 1875
American Homestead Winter. Published by Currier & Ives, 1868
Three Jolly Kittens
The levee, New Orleans, 1884
The Falls of Niagara-From the Canada side, 1868
Winter in the Country. Published by Currier & Ives, c1863
The Drew Grand Saloon
The Boston Tea Party
The American Fireman
Winter morning in the country. Published by Currier & Ives, c1873
Sailor departure Black-eyed Susan
Robinson Crusoe and man Friday, 1874
Off for the war, 1861
Home in the wilderness. Published by Currier & Ives, c1870
A mansion of the olden time. Published by Currier & Ives, between 1856 and 1907
New York showing Equitable Life building
Morning in the Woods, 1835
Life in the Country – Evening
Washington crossing the Delaware on the evening of Dec 25th. 1776, previous to the battle of Trenton. Published by Currier & Ives, c1876
Kiss-me-quick, 1840s
Grand, national, temperance banner – dedicated to every son & daughter of temperance, throughout the union
Hunting, Fishing and Forest Scenes
Friendship love and truth
Flora Temple (famous racehorse)
Central Park by Currier & Ives, 1862
Brooklyn Bridge – connecting the cities of New York and Brooklyn, looking west, 1883
American Homestead Spring
American Homestead Autumn
American Homestead Summer
A Home on the Mississippi
1883 battery detail of City of New York
West Point Hudson River, NY, c 1900
New York and Brooklyn, with Jersey City and Hoboken water front, 1875
The City of Chicago, c. 1874
Washington City from the new dome of the Capitol, looking east, 1892
The City of San Francisco, 1878
The New York yacht club regatta, 1869
The Lincoln Family, (published 1867)
The harvest moon, c 1870
The fruits of temperance, 1848