On Christmas night, 1776, George Washington crossed the Delaware with 2,500 men, marched over nine miles through a snowstorm, and surprised the British at Trenton taking 1,000 prisoners. Then on January 3rd, 1777, Washington performed another great maneuver marching around Cornwallis’s flank defeating the British in Princeton, after which Washington dug in at Morristown. This position threatened the British line of supplies and prevented them from crossing New Jersey to take Philadelphia; as a result, they stayed the next five months in New York.
These maneuvers convinced the world that the Americans were for real, and so was their leader, George Washington. The French thought, believing the Americans had a shot at beating the British, threw their support behind them.
The French and the British had recent dealings which turned out in favor of the British. The French wanted revenge and the American cause was the perfect opportunity to get even. It was a win-win for both the Americans and the French.
—In Comes Lafayette
Of all the French who aided the Americans, one man stands out – the not quite 20-year-old Marquis de Lafayette.
The French were slow, however, getting into the game. So Lafayette, unwilling to wait for his tardy government to act, fitted out a ship at his own expense and headed to America.
He arrived on our shores on this day, June 13, 1777.
Lafayette offered his services to Congress free of charge. Washington used Lafayette successfully throughout the war and he was wounded during the Battle of Brandywine. At last, Washington sent Lafayette to defend Virginia, a move which kept the British cooped up at Yorktown waiting for reinforcements. The rest is history.
—A Brotherhood of Liberty
When Lafayette first came to America the war seemed like a joke to most people throughout the world. How could these Americans, with no large manufacturing capabilities, take on the mighty British Empire? The Americans could barely make a single cannon! Yet Lafayette saw something special in the Americans, a secret weapon, more powerful than many cannons:
“Simplicity of manners, kindness, love of country and of liberty, and a delightful equality everywhere prevails…All the citizens are brethren. In America there are no poor, or even what we call peasantry.”
Lafayette knew the Americans could overcome their disadvantages because of the kind of people they were.
True, there are some inconsistencies with that statement when you consider slavery, a terrible thing. But, thankfully, that would be fixed later. Lafayette was commending the fact that the citizens considered themselves brethren.
If Lafayette came today, would he say those same things about us?
—Lafayette Returns to America: Liberty’s Fire Still Burning
Lafayette went back home after the war and returned again in 1824 to visit his adopted country. Back in 1777, Lafayette left a rich family to take up our cause. He could have stayed home and enjoyed his youth in comfort and ease; instead, Lafayette offered his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor in the cause of liberty. And now, almost 50 years later, he returns to the land he loves and served.
Lafayette’s welcome was overwhelming. The landscape of America changed greatly since Lafayette left, he looked different too. Lafayette was no longer a young man, he walked a lot slower, his hair was grey, and his brow was furrowed with age. When he first came to America he saw a few poorly organized colonies struggling for liberty, now his aged eyes are beholding a growing nation, respected all over the world, with growing cities, booming industries, and rapid westward expansion. But there was one thing that didn’t change in Lafayette or America– the love of liberty.
Lafayette visited every state receiving a hero’s welcome everywhere he went. Congress voted him $200,000 and land in Florida asking him to accept these as a payment for his services during the war. This was a great blessing to Lafayette since he lost his fortune in the horrors following the French Revolution.
In June of 1825, Lafayette attended one of the biggest events Boston ever held up till that time, a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Bunker Hill, at which he laid the cornerstone of the Bunker Hill Monument.
After Lafayette’s 14 month visit, he boarded a ship called the “Brandywine”, named for the battle in which he was wounded, and returned to his native land.
The Marquis de Lafayette died on May 20, 1834, in Paris, France.