The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Happy Birthday, Lafayette!

Today marks the 255th birthday of Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette, who was a Revolutionary War hero and one of the first celebrities in the United States. To celebrate, the Society joins with 23 other host institutions tomorrow for a lecture at Hamilton Hall in Salem, Mass. Prof. François Furstenberg, associate professor of history at the University of Montréal, will give the keynote lecture "When the United States Spoke French: Trans-Atlantic Politics, Land, and Diplomacy in the Age of the Revolution." A festive reception will follow to honor the marquis. For more information about the event please contact Becky Putnam of the Bowditch Institute at or 978-744-6343.

A French citizen, Lafayette began his career as a musketeer in the king's regiment and married into a wealthy, well-connected French family. The reports of Americans fighting for liberty moved him, and in 1777 he bought a ship and sailed for America. Upon arrival, Lafayette earned an honorary commission as major general in the Continental Army. Gen. George Washington became his mentor, and Lafayette was devoted to him. Lafayette earned fame for his courage on the battlefield, and he used his family connections to obtain crucial material aid from France for the American cause. His support for the Revolution, especially as a foreigner, captured the imagination and admiration of Americans. He was beloved in the United States for the rest of his life.

Lafayette’s legacy is apparent in the Society's collections, which include correspondence, artifacts, and memorabilia from the time of the American Revolution and his celebrated return trip to the States in 1824-1825. The portrait gallery also features Jospeh Boze’s well-known portrait of Lafayette. Thomas Jefferson commissioned this work for his gallery of American heroes in honor of Lafayette's contributions to the American Revolution. The portrait depicts Lafayette at the pinnacle of his career. He wears the uniform of the French National Guard and a confident expression as he gazes off into the distance. Even at 255, he still looks good. A happy birthday to him.

permalink | Published: Thursday, 6 September, 2012, 8:00 AM