With the help of The Raab Collection, Lafayette College’s Skillman Library has added to its special collections an 1824 letter written by the Revolutionary War hero
Recently, Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, acquired from us a remarkable letter dated May 14, 1824, in which the Marquis de Lafayette called America “the land of genuine freedom.” Written entirely in Lafayette’s hand to General Marinus Willett, with whom he had fought at the Battle of Monmouth, the letter also announces Lafayette’s plan to be soon in America for his great tour.
In fact, it was during that visit to the states that Easton lawyer James Madison Porter, whose father had served with Lafayette at the Battle of Brandywine, proposed naming the town’s new college after the French statesman as “a testimony of respect for his talents, virtues, and signal services . . . in the great cause of freedom.”
That this Lafayette letter referencing freedom should now be preserved and safeguarded by the college’s Skillman Library Special Collections & College Archives seems like a perfect match. The library plans to put it on exhibit this fall.
Lafayette’s Farewell Tour
At the invitation of President James Monroe, the Marquis de Lafayette returned to the United States for a ‘Farewell Tour’ in 1824-25. As it was also the new nation’s 50th anniversary year, there were many celebrations, parades, and dinners at which Lafayette was accorded much attention as the “last significant surviving general of the American Revolution.”
In August 1824, just after his arrival, Lafayette was reunited with Willett. As the Saturday Evening Post reported, “Decidedly the most interesting sight was the reception of the General by his old companions in arms: Colonel Marinus Willet [sic], now in his eighty-fifth year, General Van Cortland, General Clarkson, and the other worthies whom we have mentioned… He embraced them all affectionately, and Col. Willet again and again. He knew and remembered them all. It was a re-union of a long separated family.”
During the 13-month tour, Lafayette became the first foreign dignitary to address a joint session of Congress. He also met with all of the living presidents, from John Adams to Andrew Jackson; he dined at the White House; and he traveled to Virginia where he stayed with Thomas Jefferson at Monticello.
Lafayette returned to France in 1825 and died there in 1834.
Bicentennial of Lafayette’s Tour
As it so happens, 2024 is the bicentennial of the Marquis de Lafayette’s Farewell Tour. In addition to Lafayette College’s exhibition later this year, many institutions and organizations are hosting events to mark the occasion, including:
-The American Friends of Lafayette will host the recreation of the bicentennial celebration of Lafayette’s Farewell Tour with events in cities across the U.S.
-The American Revolution Institute will open a major exhibition, Fete Lafayette: A French Hero’s Tour of the American Republic, on March 4th in Washington, D.C.
Documents That Found Homes
We occasionally highlight the sale of important documents when they are acquired by institutional libraries like Lafayette’s. You can read more about some of our past interesting sales, always written only with the permission of those buyers.