This Place in History: The Marquis de Lafayette

Local News

BURLINGTON, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History’, we’re on the University of Vermont campus in Burlington with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“We’re going to be talking about the Marquis de Lafayette. The Marquis de Lafayette was one of the French military officers who came over to the fledgling United States and helped us win the American Revolution. He became this larger than life hero for American servicemen. And Lafayette actually named his son George Washington Lafayette,” began Perkins.

“So, that’s who he was. But why is his statue in Vermont? We have to go back to the 1820s. We’re coming up on the 50th anniversary of the United States, 1826. A lot of Revolutionary War soldiers were dying, and they said what kind of big splash can we make to get everyone all excited about this 50 year anniversary of our country. We’ll invite one of the great French generals back. So, Lafayette was the only one still alive. They invited him to do a grand tour of the United States; there were 24 of them at the time,” continued Perkins.

“He landed in New York in 1824, and he spent almost 18 months here. He was greeted by parades, speeches and dinners everywhere he went. Of course, all sorts of product was sold. I brought a product with me. This is a sandwich glass plate and it has the ship Lafayette sailed on to get to the United States. During his actual trip, glass companies were producing things like this to sell to people to remember that trip. There’s Lafayette stuff all over the place at antique markets and that’s where it comes from.”

“He came to Vermont at the tail end of his trip. This was in June of 1825. He came up through New Hampshire and on the morning of the 28th of June, he crossed the Windsor-Cornish covered bridge and started his trek up. Everywhere he stopped, he had a reception. They ate. They drank. I can’t imagine doing that today,” explained Perkins.

“And he was doing this in carriages and on rough roads and going all the way from Windsor to Montpelier. The governor accompanied him the whole way. He stayed at a beautiful house called the Caldwell House. All the best furniture from all the region was loaned to the owner of that house so his house could be completely outfitted in the best furniture for the Marquis de Lafayette.”

“The next morning, they get up and hit the road, and they head out, ending up in Burlington which was the college town and the home of the Governor Cornelius Van Ness.”

“This is called the Old Mill Building and it’s one of the oldest buildings on campus. The very first UVM building was erected right on this site, but in 1824 it burned down. When Lafayette came to visit, this made the perfect opportunity for Lafayette to lay the cornerstone for the brand-new UVM building.”

“We’re in front of what we now know as Grass Mount. Lafayette spend his final evening at a grand party in this house, which was owned by the Governor of Vermont at the time. They had bands on the lawn. They had big celebratory arches welcoming Lafayette and apparently they partied well into the night here, before rolling the Marquis down the hill and putting him on the steamship Phoenix where he headed on down to Whitehall, New York.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historical markers, click here.

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