Marquis de Lafayette

French General and Washington Protégé


Painting of the Marquis de LafayetteBorn into a noble French military family, orphaned and a soldier by 13, and already rich through inheritance, the Marquis de Lafayette was inspired by the struggle for American independence to sail to America at age 19. Despite his limited military experience, he convinced American leaders to name him a major general, partly due to his connections to the French monarchy. Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter in support of Lafayette. Also, an historian points out, “Lafayette agreed to serve without pay, brought a ship to America outfitted at his own expense,” and used his own money to supply the army.[1] Lafayette served with distinction under Gen. George Washington. He was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine (Penn.), and Washington ordered the doctor, “‘Treat him as though he were my son.’” Lafayette survived the winter camp at Valley Forge (Penn.), rallied the troops at the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse (N.J.), and led the capture of a key British defensive work at the Siege of Yorktown (Va.). He also interceded with French King Louis XVI for additional aid. After the war he returned to France. There Lafayette barely survived the French Revolution, and was captured by Austria while leading a French army in 1792. Starting in the Summer of 1824, he made a triumphant year-long tour of all 24 of the United States, including 10 stops in North Carolina. Cross Creek was the first American city to rename itself for him, becoming Fayetteville, which he visited. He died of pneumonia in Paris at age 76.

More Information

[1] Chernow 2004.

Mug with an African-American soldier and the words, "Fighting for Freedom."
Mug saying, "Do Whig Out!" on a parchment scroll