Lafayette Square - Table of Contents

The text below is a reprint from a series published by the The Courier Express
Reprinted with Permission

Lafayette's Triumphal Tour of Buffalo and the Niagara Frontier
by Dr. Joseph A. Grande



Click on illustrations for larger size

Marquis de Lafayette

Marquis de Lafayette

Rathbun's Eagle Tavern as it was in 1825.

1825 reception for General Lafayette drawing by LeGrand St. John

Red Jacket Monument in Forest Lawn Cemetery

Red Jacket

General Peter B. Porter

General Peter B. Porter House, 1192 Niagara St.

   Illustrations not part of 
The Courier Express reprint.

 

Le Carrousel du Louvre, Paris, France
2006 photo.

     

The year was 1825. It was an exciting time for Buffalo's 2,412 citizens. Local and state dignitaries gathered with great fanfare to celebrate the opening of the Erie Canal. They boarded canal boats at the new harbor for the symbolic trip to New York City heralding the wedding of the waters of the Great Lakes and Atlantic Ocean. As the canal's western Terminus, Buffalo was destined to gain dominance on the Niagara Frontier over neighboring Black Rock two miles down the river, and to develop into a thriving commercial and manufacturing center, the Queen City of the Great Lakes.

During the excitement over the impending canal opening, the people of Western New York had added reason for festivities as they observed the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the American War for Independence by extending a gala welcome to the Marquis de Lafayette, a famous hero of that conflict. The French nobleman had volunteered to help the American cause and, while in the United States, had served as an aide to General George Washington as well as a military field commander. After his return to France in 1782 he had struggled to bring liberty and constitutional government to his native land during the French Revolution.

Lafayette and his American friends had hoped he could return once again to the United States after a visit in 1784, but this proved impossible for many years. Imprisonment, financial, adversity and poor health had plagued him during the revolutionary convulsions and wars which kept Europe in turmoil for a generation. However in 1824 as the golden anniversary of independence neared, Congress extended an official invitation assuring him of "the affectionate and grateful attachment which the government and people of the United States preserve for him ... " President James Monroe was requested to send a naval vessel to Bring him to America, "as soon as he shall have manifested the intention of going to the United States."

The sixty-seven year old Marquis accepted the invitation though declining the naval vessel and on July l2, 1824, he set sail from France aboard the merchant ship Cadmus accompanied by his son George Washington Lafayette. Arriving in New York on August 14, he received a tumultuous welcome from a crowd of 30,000 grateful Americans.

For over a year, he traveled around the country visiting ex-Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, addressing Congress and meeting with outgoing President Monroe and incoming President John Quincy Adams. And in the summer of 1825 his journey brought him to Western New York enroute to Boston to participate in the June 17th anniversary of Bunker Hill Day.

Lafayette in Buffalo

Lafayette's route to Buffalo took him from Pittsburgh via Meadville, Erie, Fredonia and Dunkirk. As his party moved northward, Buffalo bustled with ambitious preparations for his arrival. Early in the morning of Friday, June 3rd, a delegation of prominent citizens boarded the steamer Superior to sail for Dunkirk to fetch the illustrious tourist. The ship's arrival in Buffalo's new harbor at noon the next day caused an excited throng to gather in tribute to the village's famous guest.

At Buffalo as well as elsewhere in the nation, he received "an outburst of affection praise and veneration such as perhaps no nation has ever offered a stranger .. . ," for he was "the last of the great heroes of a glorious age." The village band, two detachments of militia and a committee on arrangements met him at dockside to escort him to the Eagle Tavern . The spacious three story brick structure, located on the west side of Main Street near Court, was renowned as the finest hotel in the western part of the state. An elegant platform had been constructed in front of the hotel and it was here that village officials formally welcomed the newly-arrived traveler

Present among the dignitaries were Village President Oliver Forward and his arch-rival from Black Rock, General Peter B. Porter. Political animosities had been set aside for the occasion. A former congressman and a hero of the War of 1812, Porter participated in Buffalo's ceremonies because he was a leading figure in business and society on the Niagara Frontier and had considerable influence at Albany and Washington.

Forward opened the formalities by recalling Lafayette's voluntary sacrifices in support of liberty and asking him to accept "the humble tribute of our respect, in conjunction with what has been and will continue to be proffered, not only by every citizen of the American nation, but by every friend of liberty and of mankind."

The venerable Frenchman acknowledged the welcome by requesting village officials to convey "the tribute of my grateful respect to the citizens of Buffalo." At the behest of the Buffalo arrangements committee, General Porter then presented him to the people and a public reception followed. Among those who shook Lafayette's hand was the great Seneca Indian chief Red Jacket whom he had last met forty years before. A civic dinner was held the same evening as was a gala ball where the beautiful and charming Letitia Grayson Porter, member of the influential Breckenridge clan of Kentucky, joined her husband at the head of the reception line to introduce the Marquis to the guests.

The next morning at six o'clock, Lafayette's party departed for Black Rock, "a small though pretty port, which rivals, in activity of business, the harbor at Buffalo." General Porter feted the visitors at breakfast in his residence located in the vicinity of Niagara and Breckenridge Streets. A committee of Black Rock's 1039 citizens had decorated the home's courtyard gate with a live eagle and French and American flags, and its front columns with red, white, and blue ribbons.

After the meal, Lafayette was presented to the people of Black Rock, and at ten o'clock, he boarded the Seneca Chief, a canal packet which later in the year led the flotilla from Buffalo to New York heralding the completion of the Erie Canal. From Black Rock, the French nobleman went to Tonawanda, Niagara Falls, Fort Niagara and Lockport. He then took leave of the Niagara Country traveling to Rochester and points east leaving the people of Buffalo to focus attention on the approaching canal opening which would mean so much to their prosperity. They had paid homage to the past as they prepared to face the future with a sense of hopeful expectation.

See also: The Early Buffalo Drawings of LeGrand St. John


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Joseph A. Grande is chairman of the Department of History and Political Science at D'Youville College in Buffalo (1996)


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