Lafayette Arrives in America

US #1010 was issued on this day in 1952, to mark the 175th anniversary of Lafayette’s arrival in America.

On June 13, 1777, the Marquis de Lafayette arrived in America to offer his services in the Revolutionary War.

Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette was born in Chavaniac, in Haute Loire, France.  His father died on the battlefield when Lafayette was two years old.  His mother and grandmother died when he was 13.  The young orphan inherited a great fortune. 

US #1010 – Classic First Day Cover.

Descended from a long line of soldiers, Lafayette studied at the Military Academy at Versailles.  When he was 16, he married Marie Adrienne Françoise de Noailles, the daughter of one of the most powerful families in France.  Shortly after his marriage, Lafayette became a captain in the cavalry.  However, he disliked court life, and soon grew interested in the events of the American Revolution.

US #1097 was issued for Lafayette’s 200th birthday.

Serving in the French military, Lafayette traveled to Metz for duty, and by chance, attended a dinner with the Duke of Gloucester, the younger brother of King George III.  As the Duke complained about the American colonists and mocked their revolutionary beliefs, Lafayette realized his mission.  As he later recalled, “My heart was enlisted… and I thought only of joining my colors to those of the revolutionaries.”

US #1716 was issued on the 200th anniversary of Lafayette’s arrived in America.

In late 1776, Lafayette signed up to join a group of French officers being sent to America to offer their support.  However, the British discovered this plan and threatened war, forcing its abandonment.  But Lafayette was determined to go to America and offer his help.  In spite of a decree forbidding French officers to serve in the war, Lafayette began making his own plans.  After learning that the Continental Congress didn’t have the funds to pay for his voyage to America, he bought his own ship for 112,000 pounds.  Lafayette also convinced several French officers to accompany him.  He set sail on March 25, 1777, using much of the two-month journey to learn English.

Lafayette arrived near Charleston, South Carolina, on June 13, 1777.  At the time, many other French officers were offering their services to the Continental Congress.  But many of them couldn’t speak English or didn’t have significant military experience.  At first, the Continental Congress was unimpressed with Lafayette, who spoke little English.  But, when he agreed to serve without pay, the cash-poor Continental Congress appointed him a major general.  He ended up paying over $200,000 of his own money during the war for his staff’s salaries, uniforms, and other expenses.

US #1097 – Classic First Day Cover.

Ben Franklin reportedly urged George Washington to take the 19-year-old Lafayette under his wing.  The two men met on August 10, 1777.  Lafayette humbly explained he was there to learn, not to teach, which impressed Washington, and the two grew close quickly.  In fact, after Lafayette was shot in the leg during the battle at Brandywine Creek, Washington summoned his personal surgeon and told him to treat Lafayette as if he were his son.  Impressed with Lafayette’s courage, Washington recommended him for divisional command, which he received.

US #1716 – Fleetwood First Day Cover.

Lafayette’s victory at Gloucester earned him the command of a division.  He served at Valley Forge during part of the terrible winter of 1777-78.  Lafayette also fought at the battles of Barren Hill and Monmouth, and during the campaign to capture Rhode Island.

US #1716 – Classic First Day Cover.

In 1779, Lafayette returned to France to participate in an invasion of Britain.  Although the invasion never took place, Lafayette secured French aid for the Americans.  He returned to America in April 1780.  In 1781, Lafayette played an important role in the American victory at Yorktown.  When he returned to France in 1782, Lafayette was received as a “hero to two worlds.”

US #1716 – Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover.

Lafayette and Washington remained close, despite the ocean between them.  They wrote each other regularly and Lafayette even sent Washington the key to Bastille after he led the attack there.  When Lafayette died in 1834, America went into mourning, and Congress requested that citizens wear black for a month to honor his memory.

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    1. Nice article but left out his return and your of America in the 1820s and the crowds throughout the country that honored his return as well as Lafayette’s chagrin of not being able to meet with his Oneida friends (they had long been forcibly removed from their Upstate NY homelands.

  1. I got to visit his grave in France–it stood out because there are American flags as well as French. Another nice story is that during WWII, when the Americans came to free France, an American military officer stood in front of Lafayette’s grave and said something along the lines of “You came to our country to help when we needed it. Now, we are here to help your country.”

    1. Nevin: Not sure if this is part of your story or a different one, I read somewhere a group of American troops arriving in France to free the country announced, “Lafayette, we are here !”.

  2. A few foreigners gave their all for our cause of freedom but Lafeyette gave his all and almost his life. He was instrumental in France’s involvement in our cause and a key factor in containing Cornwallis at Yorktown, which led to our winning that war. He was revered in his return to America in the 1820’s and we remembered it with our war cry in WWI “Lafayette, Here we come!”.

  3. Colonel Charles Stanton said this at the Lafayette statue in Paris during World War I. “Lafayette, we are here!”

  4. Appreciate comments about US soldiers who appear to arouse the spirit of Lafayette at his grave. “We are here”.
    This is why I love history.

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