Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lafayette visits Derry, New Hampshire

In New Hampshire we have a Lafayette Social Club in Manchester, started by the French Canadians, and a Lafayette Road along the seacoast, otherwise known as Rt. 1. There is a Mount Lafayette in the White Mountains, which rises 5,260 feet from the side of Interstate 93 in Franconia Notch. All of these were named in honor of General Lafayette, the French hero of the American Revolution. He made an extremely popular, triumphal tour of New Hampshire in 1824-25, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill.

General or Marquis de La Fayette, Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier (6 September 1757 -20 May 1834) was a very young man, only age 19, during the Revolutionary War. He was handsome, popular and served with distinction. He was also the first person to be granted honorary United States citizenship. He is buried in the Picpus Cemetery in Paris, under dirt taken from Bunker Hill. He had the honor of laying the cornerstone for the monument at Bunker Hill.

Upon his return visit to New England he was given an honorary degree from Harvard and Boston gave his a portrait of Washington. He visited every state but Georgia. He was greeted by mobs and hailed as a hero, at a time when all the other founding fathers and Revolutionary era Generals had already passed away. No pop star today can match the crowds he drew as he visited over 400 towns on this tour.

General Lafayette came to Derry on September 1, 1824 on his way to Boston (which was really out of the way since he was coming from Portsmouth!). He stayed with General Elias Haskett Derby at his house on Lane Road. On his way to Boston he drank from a spring in Windham, which was afterwards named Lafayette Spring. In 1990 this famous spring was bulldozed by developers.

And then on June 21, 1825 Lafayette returned to Derry. He was accompanied by his son, George Washington Lafayette, and be entertained by the young ladies at the Adams Female Academy on Lane Road. General Derby was going to attend and greet his old friend. He had a meal at Derry’s Redman tavern (which later became the home of the milk Baron, H.P. Hood, and is now Chen’s Chinese Restaurant) before moving on to Pembroke to stay with Major Caleb Stark, the son of Derry’s famous General John Stark. He went home to France in September, and died nine years later. It was his last trip to the United States.

Derry Lawyer, Alan Hoffman, is a “Lafayetteophile” and he has been gathering information on the General, and all his travels in the New World, as well as his stops in Derry. For two years he translated Levasseur’s “Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825” from the original French. Hoffman lives in Londonderry. He has translated the original 1,130 page book into a 572 page book with a 27 page index and maps.

In my family tree I don’t recall anyone meeting Lafayette, either during the war or during his return tour of the United States. But perhaps some of them did, for several members of the family tree were prominent in the building of the Bunker Hill Monument. The cornerstone was laid by Lafayette on June 17, 1825 and Daniel Webster addressed the crowd of 100,000 including 190 elderly veterans of the battle. My first cousin 5 x removed was Nathaniel G. Snelling, who was a member of the Bunker Hill Monument Association. Another cousin on this side of the family was William Lingham, who died in 1873 in Roxbury, and he was the senior Captain of the Massachusetts Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company at the laying of the cornerstone ceremony.

Alan Hoffman will speak at NEHGS on Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 6PM on “Lafayette, Symbol of Franco-American Friendship”. A book signing will follow the lecture.

Click here for my blog on H. P. Hood from September 2009, which has a photo of the Hood homestead, formerly known as Redman's Tavern, where Lafayette dined.

For more information:

“Lafayette in America” by August Levasseur, Lafayette Press, Manchester, New Hampshire, 2006

“Nutfield Rambles” by Richard Holmes, Peter E. Randall Publisher, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 2007, pages 71-75 for the story of Lafayette in Derry

“Lafayette’s Travels Not Lost in Translation: Londonderry Lawyer Obsessed with Life of Revolutionary War Hero” by Susan Laurent, The Eagle Tribune, July 12, 2007

Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

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