June 13, 1777 — The Marquis de Lafayette landed on US soil today. The French aristocrat and military officer fought for the United States in the American Revolutionary War. Lafayette was a key figure in the French Revolution of 1789 and the July Revolution of 1830.
Born September 6, 1757 (he died May 20, 1834), Lafayette was a French aristocrat and military officer who was a close friend of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson.
When he learned that the Continental Congress did not have the money for his voyage, he acquired the sailing ship La Victoire with his own funds. The two-month journey was marked by seasickness and boredom. At last, today, he landed on North Island near Georgetown, South Carolina.
Upon his arrival, Lafayette met Major Benjamin Huger, a wealthy landowner, with whom he stayed for two weeks before going to Philadelphia. The Continental Congress had been overwhelmed by French officers recruited by Deane, many of whom could not speak English or lacked military experience. Lafayette had learned some English en route (he became fluent within a year of his arrival), and his Masonic membership opened many doors in Philadelphia.
After Lafayette offered to serve without pay, Congress commissioned him a major general on July 31. His advocates included the recently arrived American envoy to France, Benjamin Franklin, who by letter urged Congress to accommodate the young Frenchman.
On August 5, Lafayette met George Washington, then the commander in chief of the Continental Army, when he came to Philadelphia to brief Congress on military affairs. At a dinner, Washington was reportedly impressed by the young man’s enthusiasm and was inclined to think well of a fellow Mason; Lafayette was simply in awe of the commanding general.
Washington took the Frenchman to view his military camp; when Washington expressed embarrassment at its state and that of the troops, Lafayette responded, “I am here to learn, not to teach.”
He became a member of Washington’s staff, although confusion existed regarding his status. Congress regarded his commission as honorary, while he considered himself a full-fledged commander who would be given control of a division when Washington deemed him prepared. Washington told Lafayette that a division would not be possible as he was of foreign birth, but that he would be happy to hold him in confidence as “friend and father.”
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