July 31, 2012
On July 31, 1777, the Marquis de Lafayette arrived in Philadelphia to receive his commission as Major General in the Continental Army. Lafayette was recruited originally because of his of his connections to the Court of Louis XVI, rather than his military acumen. In fact, the young Lafayette had yet to have seen military combat to that point in his life.
Lafayette and a cadre of French officers landed off the coast of Georgetown, South Carolina on June 13, 1777, after fifty-six days at sea. The group then rode to Philadelphia to volunteer for the Continental Army. On July 31, the nineteen-year-old Lafayette received his Major General’s sash. Five days later he met George Washington for the first time. Washington had travelled to Philadelphia to brief members of Congress on the precarious state of military affairs.
The two men bonded almost immediately. Washington was taken by Lafayette’s profound dedication to the American cause. Lafayette was awed by Washington. Writing in his memoir about the pair’s first encounter, Lafayette explained, “Although he was surrounded by officers and citizens, it was impossible to mistake for a moment his majestic figure and deportment; nor was he less distinguished by the noble affability of his manner.”1
After dinner Washington asked the young Frenchman to accompany him on an inspection of the city’s defenses. Lafayette later described the moment in his memoirs: “The majesty of his figure and his height were unmistakable… It was with such simplicity that two friends were united whose attachment and confidence were cemented by the greatest of causes.”2 The meeting began a friendship and mentorship that would continue through the war years and afterwards, spanning the remainder of Washington’s lifetime.
- Marquis de Lafayette, Memoirs, Correspondence and Manuscripts of General Lafayette Published by His Family, Vol. 1 (New York: Saunders and Otley, 1837), 18.
- Lafayette and the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776-1790, Vol. I, eds. Stanley J. Idzerda, et al (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1977), 91.
Adam D. Shprintzen, Ph.D.
Editor, George Washington Encyclopedia
This post is based on information taken from the George Washington Encyclopedia, a new online resource that allows users to interact and explore primary source materials and objects from the Mount Vernon collection. The encyclopedia is due to launch during the Summer of 2012
Category: On This Day