On this date, Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch du Motier de Lafayette, Marquis de Lafayette became a major general in the Continental Army.
A young Lafayette was no stranger to the life of a soldier as his regal bloodline included a member of the army of Joan of Arc as well as a distant relation who fought during the Crusades. Lafayette himself, received an officer’s commission in France at the tender age of thirteen.
In 1773, while still a very young man, Lafayette fell in love with and married Marie Adrienne Francoise and became a father for the first time in December of 1775. It was during that time of domestic bliss that he began to closely identify with the American cause that was boiling over, an ocean away from his home land.
The concept of liberty was one of supreme preoccupation in the brilliant mind of the young soldier. And the fact that its very viability was being tested on foreign soil was of paramount interest to him. It was an idea worth fighting for and this young warrior wanted to be right in the heart of the battle.
When the young French general discovered that his fellow officers were being dispatched to America, he quickly took action and implored the American Ambassador to France, Silas Deane, to allow him the great honor of fighting for the Revolutionary cause on behalf of Continental forces. Although only 18-years -old at the time, he was granted his request and subsequently assigned the rank of Major General.
Lafayette was thrust quickly into the thick of the war first at the Battle of Brandywine. While in New Jersey, he served with the Revolutionary war legend, Nathanael Greene. Along the way, he showed his loyalty to the Commander of Continental Forces, George Washington, by helping to reveal a plot by General Thomas Conway who hoped to oust Washington.
He even returned to his homeland of France to personally request further support for Patriot forces as they continued to wage war against France’s rival.
When he returned once again to America, he was placed in charge of a trio of Virginia regiments. During this particular stint, British General Charles Cornwallis found himself and his troops surrounded at Yorktown by soldiers under the direction of our French “brother” in arms. Surrender was drawing ever nearer.
During his years in the United States, at the urging of Ben Franklin, Lafayette was given the great honor of assisting George Washington. The two like-minded luminaries would become almost like father and son.
Many years later, in 1824, Marquis de Lafayette would return to his beloved second home of America at the request of President James Monroe. Not surprisingly, he arrived to a war hero’s welcome and traveled to all 24 states. And at each stop, he was greeted by large rousing crowds of Americans who knew well that they owed this Frenchman a debt they could never, ever repay.
After leading this rollickingly adventurous life and accomplishing more than most could in 10 lifetimes, on May 20, 1834, Marie-Joseph Paul Yvette Rich du Motier de Lafayette, Marquis de Lafayette was laid to rest in beautiful Paris, France. And just as it should be, soil that once resided on the hallowed grounds of Bunker Hill was sprinkled over America’s devoted friend’s resting place.
The perfect ending (or perhaps beginning) to a deep and enduring friendship that has spanned both an ocean and several centuries.