La Fayette's
Ocean
Crossings
La Fayette crossed the Atlantic Ocean eight times in seven different ships. An account of these voyages, in the order by date they were taken, was reported in Société en France des Fils de la Révolution Américaine (Automne 2004), within the article "La Fayette sur la mer" by M. Jacques de Trentinian. The following text is an expanded and edited version of this article designed to distinguish between these ocean crossings and an array of ships associated with the Marquis.


(1)
La Victoire (Los Pasajes, Spain, 20 April 1777 - Georgetown, SC, 13 June 1777).
La Fayette's first journey to North America was on La Victoire, leaving Los Pasajes, Spain on 20 April 1777. This merchant ship of 268 tons was bought and provisioned by the Comte de Broglie, and was previously called La Clary. The destination theoretically was planned for St. Domingo in the Caribbean, but the ship's captain had secret instructions to sail for Charleston, SC, near where it eventually landed at Georgetown, South Carolina [SC], on 13 June 1777. On board was Baron de Kalb. He had assisted La Fayette in planning the trip. De Kalb had been to America once and knew some English. La Fayette knew no English, and it was Baron de Kalb who taught him on the crossing. La Fayette was 20 years old (b. 6 September 1757), and his departure was against his family's wishes. The marquis expressed his apprehensions while at sea in several letters he wrote his family and young wife asking for their understanding. [La Victoire, unfortunately, sank 24 June 1777.]
La Fayette proceeded overland to meet the US congress in Philadelphia, where he was granted the rank of major general and assigned to serve on George Washington's headquarters' staff in August 1778. He was injured at the Battle of Brandywine (11 Sep 1777). After his convalescence in the Moravian settlement of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, La Fayette was with the American Army at Valley Forge 1777-78 winter camp, where was given command of a special re enforced reconnaissance expedition. He distinguished himself in out maneuvering a larger British force at Barren Hill, outside of Philadelphia (19-20 May 1778). He served with distinction at the Battle of Monmouth (28 June 1878), and attempted to intercede in the first Franco-American combined and joint operation in the war at Newport, Rhode Island (July-August 1778). The allied failure was personally upsetting to La Fayette, but both the Americans and the French learned some valuable lessons regarding such complex ventures.


(2)
L'Alliance (Boston, 11 January 1779 - Brest, 6 February 1779).
La Fayette became lonely for home, and in October 1778 he asked leave of George Washington, who readily agreed to his return to France. La Fayette departed Boston on 11 January 1779, and arrived in Brest on 6 February 1779. His voyage was on the 36-gun frigate, l'Alliance, which was the jewel of the young American Continental Navy. The ship's captain was the French Français Pierre Landais, who would later have problems with John Paul Jones. A mutiny broke out on this crossing and La Fayette assisted in quieting it. On landing in France, La Fayette was greeted by adulation from the crowds that gathered from Brest to his home in Paris. La Fayette's heroism in the America battles (such as at Brandywine) was well publicized in the French press, and the acclamations of the French people forced the King and his family to forgive him. The king put him under a gentleman's ‘house arrest', which was soon rescinded.
La Fayette involved himself in various schemes against the English being contemplated in France. One that took hold was a proposition for action against the Jersey Islands in cooperation with John Paul Jones. La Fayette was placed on the French forces headquarters staff where plans were formulating to assemble troops in Normandy for an invasion of England. Nothing involving La Fayette materialized from either of these plans. However, La Fayette contributed immensely conveying to the French court the real status and needs of the American military. He made a convincing argument for the French to deploy a land army as well as a sizable naval fleet to directly support Washington's army.
La Fayette did succeed in getting the French to support an expeditionary army to America, but not as he had hoped one that he would command. Rather, the French did approve an expeditionary army for America, but it was to be under the command of Rochambeau.


(3)
L'Hermione ( Rochefort, 20 March 1780 - Boston 27 April 1780).
La Fayette had been back in France for a little over a year, and was very restless to get back to America where he believed that he could play a more significant role than any offered him in the French military at the time. La Fayette set sail aboard the l'Hermione, from Rochefort, 20 March 1780 and landed in Boston, 27 April 1780. [This ship was a new frigate of 32 canons, under Captain La Touche Treville. This young captain later fought Horatio Nelson and died some weeks before the famous naval engagement in the Napoleonic Wars at Trafalgar (October 21, 1805).] La Fayette's 1780 crossing was uneventful, but the good news to Washington of the coming French land army and naval assistance caused jubilation. La Fayette immediately set about helping Washington to prepare for the reception of this French expeditionary force called ‘Expédition Particulière'. [Note: a reconstructed l'Hermione has been rebuilt in Rochefort, France, and is undertaking a commemorative voyage in 2015. See http://hermione2015.com/blog/press/lafayettes-hermione-voyage-2015/.]


(4)
L'Alliance (Boston 23 December 1781 - Lorient 18 January 1782).
L'Alliance was the same frigate used in La Fayette's previous return trip to France; however, the captain on this occasion was John Barry, often acclaimed as 'the Father of the American Navy'. The previous captain Landais had a unbearable character and had been deprived of his command. This voyage left from Boston, 23 December 1781 and arrived in Lorient 18 January 1782. La Fayette was able to elaborate upon events leading to the surrender of General Cornwallis, the news of which had already reached Paris. Peace negotiations had begun, but the war was not actually over. La Fayette's name was considered, among others, to command the land forces of a second allied expedition against Jamaica. His friend D'Estaing was to be commander of the large French and Spanish armada that had been assembled at Cadix, Spain by the end of 1782. Nothing materialized from these plans due to the advance status of peace negotiations late that year.


(5)
Le Courrier de New York (Lorient 28 June 1784 - New York 4 August 1784).
The Treaty of Paris had been signed in 1783 between France and England. America had been granted its independence in this treaty. La Fayette wanted to return for a visit to this free country. A new capitol of the young nation was acclaimed. Regular liner service was assured. So on 18 June 1784, he departed from Lorient aboard the Le Courrier de New York and landed on 4 August 1784 in New York City. His travels took him briefly to New York and Baltimore, his principal destination on this trip was Mount Vernon, which he visited on two occasions, 19 August to 28[29?] August and 25-29 November, in the close company of George Washington and the General's family. Almost every morning Washington and La Fayette rode by horse over Washington's vast plantation where their conversation centered on agriculture, individual freedoms, and the type of government the new country needed. Reminisces of the war must have been highly discussed. These visits would be the only times La Fayette would have been at Mount Vernon with George Washington. When the Marquis departed Mount Vernon, George Washington rode with him as far as Annapolis, where tears were shed. La Fayette would never see the great American founding father again. George Washington died in December 17, 1799 long before La Fayette would return to the United States again.


(6)
La Nymphe (New York, 22 December 1784 - Brest 20 January 1785).
La Fayette left New York aboard La Nymphe, commanded by Granchain, on 22 December 1784 and arrived at Brest 20 January 1785. The ship was a frigate of 32 canons. Nothing eventful was reported on this crossing. La Fayette returned to France where he was swept up in a revolution.


(7)
Cadmus (Le Havre, 12 July 1824 - New York, 15 August 1824).
La Fayette survived the French Revolution and the reign of Napoleon. However, his beloved wife, Adrienne, had died by the time he received an invitation from the United States president, James Monroe to visit America in 1824. La Fayette was now 67 years old and would be celebrating his 68th birthday in America. He boarded the ocean liner Cadmus in Le Havre, 12 July 1824. [An opera written by Lully refers to ‘Cadmus et...Hermione'. There are two versions of the final destiny of the Cadmus. The most likely is that it is in the harbor of San Francisco having been covered with fill dirt in the 1850's.]
La Fayette landed in New York on 15 August 1824 to a tumultuous reception at Castle Garden. Immediately, he set out on a triumphal tour of New England where he was present at the unvailing of the new monument at Bunker Hill. He was the last living American general from the Revolutionary War, but there were many participants of that war still alive. La Fayette traveled up the Hudson River to Albany, NY where he laid the corner stone for a monument to the Battle of Saratoga. He visited Indian tribes. He then set out to visit the new capital that had been established on the shores of the Potomac River. On his trip south, he visited Valley Forge, Brandywine (where he had been injured), Philadelphia, Germantown, south to the Head of Elk, Annapolis, and Washington City. He was the first foreigner to speak before the United States Congress. His speech left all who heard him in tears. Knowing of his lack of money, Congress voted money and land to reward him for his services to the establishment of the country's independence. The most moving experience was his visit to the old grave site on the grounds of Mount Vernon.
La Fayette then traveled to Monticello to visit an ailing Thomas Jefferson, and Montpelier, the home of James Madison. He visited Yorktown. During this winter's stay in the Capitol City, it was decided that he would visit all 24 states that now made up the United States. There had been only 13 states when he last visited. In February, 1825, La Fayette headed to North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. In each, where a battle had taken place, he dedicated monuments. Particularly moving was at Camden, where La Fayette's first fellow traveler, Baron de Kalb had been killed and was buried. La Fayette then continued on to Alabama, New Orleans and up the Mississippi. He visited Andrew Jackson at the Hermitage, on to the Erie Canal, that had just opened for business. He traveled on the Canal, back to Albany, NY.
La Fayette was present at the unveiling of the new monument at Bunker Hill before starting the slow trip south through New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and back to the Federal City. During his visit, he had witnessed the free election of John Quincy Adams to the United States Presidency. La Fayette again took a tour of the Virginia countryside to see Jefferson and Madison for the last time. Last came 7 September, the day of departure from the terra firma of the United States. Much packing had to be done. Gifts of all descriptions had been given him. Large delegations of citizen came to visit. At the stated time, President Adams began his speech.
"At the painful moment of parting from you, we take comfort in the thought, that wherever you may be, to the last pulsation of your heart, our country will be ever present to your affections: and a cheerful consolation assures us, that we are not called to sorrow, most of all, that we shall see your face no more. We shall indulge the pleasing anticipation of beholding our friend again. In the meantime, speaking in the name of the whole people of the United States, and at a loss only for language to give utterance to that feeling of attachment with which the heart of the nation beats as the heart of one man, I bid you a reluctant and affectionate farewell."
With deep emotion, La Fayette replied, "God bless you, sir, and you all who surround us. God bless the American people, each of their States, and their Federal Government. Accept this patriotic farewell of an overflowing heart; such will be its last throb when it ceases to beat." The emotional scene of his departure at the White House and the nearby park, called 'President's Park' and later to be renamed 'La Fayette Park', became part of American lore. With a twenty-four gun salute, La Fayette's carriage set out, the White House flags dipped in salute and the people watched in silence. Indeed, this visit was an American ‘Arc de Triomphe' for La Fayette -- ‘The Guest of the Nation'. This visit left an indelible impression upon the American memory of La Fayette's earlier participation in the American Revolution.


(8)
Brandywine (at the mouth of the Potomac River, 8 September 1825 - Le Havre, 4 October 1825).
The ceremonies of his departure began, still on 7 September, at Cana's Wharf, today's Navy Yard in Washington, DC, where La Fayette boarded the steamboat Mount Vernon. Farewell ceremonies continued as the ship proceeded down the Potomac River, past crowds on the shore waving, past Mount Vernon, where he stood in silence with eyes gazing at one spot on land, that of the tomb of his beloved adopted father. At last they reached the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, where he boarded the Brandywine. The United States frigate Brandywine, of 60 canons, captained by Commodore Morris, was put at the disposal of La Fayette by an appreciative Congress. Commodore Morris commanded the ship. A rainbow had appeared over the ocean on the day of La Fayette's first arrival in Charleston. Now on his last day in America, a rainbow arched itself over the bay, tying the Maryland and Virginia shores.
La Fayette's departed from American waters on 8 September, 1825; and rough seas kept La Fayette sick on much of the trip home. He arrived in Le Havre on 4 October 1825. An entourage greeted him at the port, and many people accompanied him on his journey to his home at La Grange. La Fayette would never return to America. He was now 68 years old. Back in France, he witnessed more revolutions and served briefly as commander for the National Guard in 1830, thus contributing to the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. He died 20 May 1834. Americans mourned this loss and paid their tribute by naming many buildings, towns, roads, colleges, parks ie., in his honor. Americans will never forget!

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Page created 17 June 2005; revised 2 May 2015.