When Lafayette Visited New Orleans in 1825: A Souvenir in Time for July 4 | Entertainment/Life

It is an enigma of historic proportions.

If anyone in New Orleans wants to celebrate the Battle of New Orleans, they can visit Chalmette Battlefield. If they want to remember the First World War, there is the Arc de la Victoire in rue Bourgogne and rue Pauline. For WWII, there’s this little museum on Andrew Higgins Boulevard.

But as the country prepares to celebrate the 4th of July, where does a New Orleans patriot go to remember the American Revolution?

After all, while America’s founders were grappling with the British rear east, New Orleans was a Spanish colony, which was officially neutral for most of the Revolutionary War.

Admittedly, this did not stop Governor Bernardo Gálvez from quietly moving supplies up the river and towards the Continental Army.

A posthumous full-length portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette, painted by C. Schuessele circa 1851 and edited by PS Duval.

When Spain finally declared war on Britain in 1779, Gálvez – then no longer governor but general – devoted his entire life of military training to campaigns against British forces in Baton Rouge, Mobile and Pensacola. . Although often overlooked by historians, these campaigns have been characterized by George Washington himself as beneficial to the fighting’s southern front.

There was also the 1779 naval skirmish on Lake Pontchartrain in which the Continental Navy schooner USS Morris attacked and captured the British sloop HMS West Florida off the coast of present-day Mandeville.

However, none of this resolves the question of where history-loving New Orleans can go to remember the revolution.

Not so in the spring of 1825, when New Orleans built a massive structure in what is now Jackson Square to house a true Revolutionary War hero in the flesh.


An illustration of the triumphal arch built in 1825 to mark the visit of Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette to New Orleans, published in 1909 in The Times-Picayune. The arch, about 60 feet high, was built in the middle of what is now Jackson Square.

He was Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, the French-born fighter who as a young man established himself as a trusted aide-de-camp alongside Alexander Hamilton in Washington’s wartime “family”, what the general called his inner circle. .

This, coupled with his battlefield heroism – including the decisive Siege of Yorktown, the final battle of the Revolutionary War – catapulted Lafayette to immediate fame, both in America and in France.

So when it was announced in 1824 that Lafayette—then the last surviving major general of the revolution—would embark on a year-long nationwide tour of all 24 states of the Union, it sparked patriotic fervor in across the country.

French parentage

It was particularly acute among the people of southern Louisiana who, given their common French heritage, felt a special kinship with the aging warrior. A local woman even sent a letter, signed simply “Désirée”, offering to personally clean Lafayette’s laundry, down to “her sacred under-drawers”.

The city leaders were so enamored that as the date of his visit approached, they left the Cabildo and called on the city’s wealthiest residents to lend their finest furniture and decorations to transform the historic building. , which then served as the town hall, in what was called “General Lafayette’s House” for the duration of his stay.

The council chamber has become a reception hall. The armory has become a dining hall. The private apartments of city officials were turned over to Lafayette and his entourage.

Ahead, on the Place d’Armes – remember, that was 26 years before it was renamed Jackson Square – was erected a massive triumphal arch “of admirable architecture and excellent design”, as Lafayette’s secretary, André-Nicholas Levasseur, would later describe. this.

A false delight

Designed by city engineer Joseph Pilié, it was built on a wooden frame and covered in canvas, but it did not look like canvas, thanks to the convincing work of Antonio Fogliardi, then among the main painters of theatrical scenes of the city, which made him look like stone.

“This monument was sixty feet high, of which forty were under the spring of the arch, and fifty-eight wide,” wrote Levasseur in his multi-volume account of Lafayette’s voyage. “The arcade was twenty feet wide and twenty-five long; it rested on a plinth imitating the marble of Sera-Veza; the base, forming a pedestal of green Italian marble, was adorned with colossal statues of Justice and Liberty.

“This allegorical basement supported a Doric arch, adorned with four columns coupled on each side. These keystones were composed of twenty-four stones, each adorned with a golden star… thus representing the twenty-four states connected by a common bond.

“The pediment, in imitation of the yellow marble of Verona, supported two figures of Renown with trumpets, and carrying banners entwined with laurel, bearing on them the names of Lafayette and Washington; the whole was surmounted by the national eagle.

On the string

Other ornaments included the names of signers of the Declaration of Independence, a depiction of Wisdom resting her hand on a bust of Benjamin Franklin, and the words “A grateful republic dedicates this monument to Lafayette”.

Surrounded by militia units called up by the governor, it would have been a grand sight.

In true New Orleans style, finishes were still in progress on the night of April 9 when news reached town that the steamer Natchez was approaching with Lafayette on board. A 100-gun salute rang out from Jackson Square shortly after midnight to mark the day of his arrival.

“The next morning, a Sunday, the Natchez were surrounded by a flotilla of steamboats that had come to escort the hero upriver,” Patricia Brady wrote in her 2000 article “Carnival of Liberty: Lafayette in Louisiana.” “Despite the pouring rain, Lafayette stood bareheaded on deck, bowing to the multitudes on the boats and on the seawall.”

mutual affection

From the banks of the river, the crowd shouted: “Vive la liberté!” Long live America’s friend! Long live La Fayette! – “Long live freedom! Long live the friend of America! Long live La Fayette!

Other crowds waited in the square, where Lafayette was greeted under the Pilié arch by Mayor Louis Philippe de Roffignac. Speeches were made. Cannons were fired. The cathedral bells chimed. “La Marseillaise” resounded several times throughout the city.

The people of New Orleans were beside themselves. Lafayette, for his part, was charmed.

“In this state, daily proof is given of the aptitude of a French population for the judicious use of free institutions and for autonomy”, he declared, always concerned about freedom, during a visit at the battlefield of Chalmette.

On April 15, after five days in town, Lafayette boarded the Natchez to continue his voyage.

Today, the Pileus Arch is long gone, replaced years later by the now iconic equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson. But Louisiana’s affection for Lafayette is evident in the many places that bear his name.

This includes everything from the city of Lafayette to Lafayette Street in the Warehouse District to Lafayette Square – which is equally appropriate for a history-conscious New Orleanian to remember the heroes of the war that started it all.

Have a safe and happy July 14th.

Sources: The Times-Picayune Archives; “Carnival of Liberty: Lafayette in Louisiana”, by Patricia Brady; “Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825”, by A. Levasseur; “His Excellency: George Washington,” by Joseph J. Ellis; “The Historiography of the American Revolution in Louisiana,” by Jack DL Holmes; Library of Congress

Know of a building in New Orleans that deserves to be featured in this column, or are you just curious about one? Contact Mike Scott at [email protected]

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