Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, was the greatest and most appealing. of the European volunteers who fought in the American Revolution. Lafayette was only 19 when he came to America in 1777. His rank of major general was supposed to be honorary, but he was soon leading troops in battle with surprising effectiveness.
Lafayette charmed everyone, none more than George Washington. Washington had no children – Lafayette’s parents were dead. The French youth became the “adopted son” to the 45-year-old American general. It was Lafayette who trapped the army of British General Cornwallis at Yorktown, leading to the victory that ended the war.
“His was not the influence of genius, nor even of talents,” John Stuart Mill wrote of Lafayette, “it was the influence of a heroic character.” When American troops arrived in France during World War I, they acknowledged their country’s debt by declaring, “Lafayette, we are here!”
Gilbert du Motier de La Fayette
Born: Auvergne (southern France)
Age in 1775: 18
Profession: Nobleman, one of the richest men in France
Principal Contribution: Fought in the Philadelphia campaign, 1777; led troops at the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse, 1778; advisor to Washington; pursued British General Cornwallis in Virginia, 1781.
Personal characteristics: Charming, enthusiastic, thoughtful, inspired military leader.
Quote: 1781 (after the American victory at Yorktown) “The play is over . . . the fifty act has just ended.”
Later life: Supported the French Revolution in 1789, led the National Guard, opposed the radicalism of the Jacobins, captured by the Austrians and imprisoned for five years.
Born: Norwich, Connecticut
Age in 1775: 34
Profession: Merchant, horse trader, fleet owner
Principal Contribution: Led the 1775 march to Quebec; stopped the British invasion at the 1776 Battle of Valcour Island; played an important role in the American victory at Saratoga in 1777.
Personal characteristics: Energetic, prickly, willful, traitorous.
Quote: 1780 (on his betrayal) “Love to my country actuates my present conduct, however it may appear inconsistent to the world, who very seldom judge right of any man’s actions.”
Later life: Led British troops in raids on Virginia and Groton, Connecticut. Exile in Britain and Canada.