Birth of Marquis de Lafayette – “Hero of Two Worlds”
On September 6, 1757, Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette, better known as the Marquis de Lafayette was born in Chavaniac, in Haute Loire, France to a wealthy family.
Born into one of France’s oldest families, with ancestors who’d fought alongside Joan of Arc, Lafayette developed an early hunger for military glory. Orphaned at a young age, he became one of the richest people in France, but had no interest in court life.
Serving in the French military, he traveled to Metz for duty, and by chance, attended a dinner with the Duke of Gloucester, the younger brother of King George III. As the Duke complained about the American colonists and mocked their revolutionary beliefs, Lafayette realized his mission. As he later recalled, “My heart was enlisted… and I thought only of joining my colors to those of the revolutionaries.”
Against the orders of his king, Lafayette bought his own ship and sailed for America. There he found an unimpressed Continental Congress. They’d received offers from countless other Frenchmen seeking glory. But when Lafayette explained he didn’t want to be paid (instead, he paid over $200,000 of his own money during the war for his staff’s salaries, uniforms, and other expenses), he was made a major general.
Ben Franklin reportedly urged George Washington to take the 19-year-old Lafayette under his wing. The two men met on August 10, 1777. Lafayette humbly explained he was there to learn, not to teach, which impressed Washington, and the two grew close quickly. In fact, after Lafayette was shot in the leg during the battle at Brandywine Creek, Washington summoned his personal surgeon and told him to treat Lafayette as if he were his son. Impressed with Lafayette’s courage, Washington recommended him for divisional command, which he received. In 1779, Lafayette returned to France to smooth out relations and get the support of the French fleet. Though he received a hero’s welcome, he was briefly imprisoned for defying his king. Lafayette then returned to America, garnering further French support, and helping to win the war.
Lafayette and Washington remained close, despite the ocean between them. They wrote each other regularly and Lafayette even sent Washington the key to Bastille after he led the attack there. When Lafayette died in 1834, America went into mourning, and Congress requested that citizens wear black for a month to honor his memory.
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