Sunday, May 7, 2017

Lafayette Was Here - Probably

... there never was nor will be such a meeting in this or any country ,,,
Salem Towne Junior July 25, 1824

Burying The Lede With A Geographic Diversion

Stafford Street is one of those roads people who live in the area know about and use.  It connects two of the main East-West roads in Central Mass - Route 20 and Route 9 with only a couple of traffic lights. It crosses over the real East-West drag I-90 - the Massachusetts Turnpike. In these parts. Stafford Street runs NE/SW between Worcester and Charlton a bit less than eleven miles. There is not a lot to look at unless you pay attention.

Stafford street can be a little bewildering to people unfamiliar with the area.  A couple of times on my walks in Rochdale one of those Massachusetts places that rates a post office, but is not its own town (Rochdale being part of Leicester), I have had to help out people trying to get to Connecticut.  Frankly, I find it a little confusing myself sometimes.

I was just a little startled to learn that Stafford Street is a remnant of something that was once a big deal.  The Worcester Stafford Turnpike connected Worcester and Hartford.  Tolls were collected until 1835.  So it was kind of the main drag.  And that accounts for the marker just across Stafford street from the Episcopal church at the corner of Pleasant street.

The Markers

On September 3, 1824, General the Marquis de Lafayette was greeted by the people of the Town of Leicester, led by Captain Howe,  Here, on the site of Stone's Tavern, a welcome was made by the Rev. Joseph Muenschner of the Episcopal Church, which was followed by an address to the crowd by Lafayette.
If you are outbound from Worcester after passing through Rochdale, you will cross over the Mass Pike.  A bit before that in Charlton you will see the Rider Tavern.  The Tavern is preserved and can be viewed by appointment.  Across the street is an open field, which according to one of the monuments is where Charlton's militia drilled.  Another plaque indicates that Lafayette also stopped there on September 3, 1824.

My New Obsession

Those two markers which I view pretty frequently, the one in Rochdale practically daily, developed a hold on my imagination.  I began imagining that special day in 1824, although I have only a dim idea of what Charlton or Leicester militia might have looked like. Maybe like the older guy in this picture taken at Old Sturbridge Village.

My primary interest in American history has always been the reform movements from 1830-1860, not that I can't get fanatical about the Civil War, Reconstruction, and World War II.  At any rate, I spent quite a while obsessing about Adin Ballou, a rather odd figure, a Universalist turned Unitarian minister who became best remember by Catholic peace activists in the 1960s.  Then there was Thomas Wentworth Higginson, also a Unitarian minister, better known than Adin Ballou.  He knew just about everybody who became part of the canon of 19th Century American literature, commanded a regiment of freed slaves in the Late Unpleasantness and is best known in some circles as Emily Dickinson's mentor.

I read a large percentage of what Higginson wrote, which made it clear why he kind of missed being part of the canon himself. That led me to my obsession of the last decade.  Higginson wrote a biography of Margaret Fuller.  I really got somewhere with that one.  At the upcoming American Literature Association conference one of the sessions is:
"Documentary Film on Margaret Fuller: A Preview," Jonathan Schwartz, Project Director; and Nan Byrne, Project Writer
I sparked that project and have been involved one way or another for several years.  There is still a lot to be done with Margaret, but the groundwork for my new project should not interfere with that.

The new project is the bicentennial of Lafayette's visit coming up in seven years.  It is going to happen and it is going to big.  Before the progress report, though I should explain why I think it is so important.

About Lafayette

Lafayette is how we refer to him in America.  Although sometimes it is Marquis de Lafayette, a title which he renounced.  Or then there is the Marquis, because we really don't have any others.  Anyway, the first paragraph in Wikipedia gives you the high points
Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette (French pronunciation: ​[maʁki də la fajɛt]; 6 September 1757 – 20 May 1834), in the U.S. often known simply as Lafayette, was a French aristocrat and military officer who fought in the American Revolutionary War. A close friend of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson, Lafayette was a key figure in the French Revolution of 1789 and the July Revolution of 1830.
The most important point I would add is that Lafayette, with help from Thomas Jefferson, was responsible for the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

About The Visit

Lafayette is altogether a fascinating guy with a fascinating biography, but he is mostly outside my primary area of interest.  It is more what Lafayette came to represent and the profound affect that his visit had on the nascent democracy that intrigues me.

I scratch my head and can think of no event in American history that is comparable to Lafayette's visit.  Everywhere he went crowds turned out for him sometimes waiting long into the night as he dealt with poor roads and unscheduled stops.

And they remembered.  In the history of Ware, Massachusetts, you can read about a hurricane in the nineteen twenties that knocked down a venerable tree that was dubbed the Lafayette Elm, because Lafayette stopped beneath it for lunch on his second trip to Boston.

In the nineteen thirties the Berkshire Evening Eagle ran a series for several years about notables of the area from previous centuries.  Men who had served in the Revolution or War of 1812 and held important offices.  In the series, we learn about Phineas Allen (1776-1868) and Ezikiel Colt (1794-1860).  Among the highlights of their lives:
Mr. Allen was a member of the citizens committee which met Gen. Lafayette at the state line on the famous occasion of the visit to Pittsfield in 1825.
In June 1825 he (i.e. Colt) was of the escorting party which met General Lafayette at the state line on Lebanon Mountain on the occasion of his visit to Pittsfield.  Majors Colt and EM Bissell has command of a troop of cavalry.
In 1870, the City of Pittsfield congratulating itself on the large number of citizens who had reached the age of 70, held a dinner to honor the old timers.  Prof WC Richards presented a narrative poem outlining his notion of what such fellows might remember including the following two stanzas.

Twas a proud day for the village an' you seldom see a prouder 
And never throats and bells and guns went merrier  or louder 
When we gave the hero welcome as means great Lafayette 
Whose name like that o' Washington we'll never more forget

I think twas twenty-five he come an the soges went to meet him 
An the county poured its thousands out old and young to greet him 
For he draw'd his sword to help us when we'd a mighty foe 
And gratitude's a sort of debt we pay _ but allus owe.

Lafayette's secretary wrote an account of his travels, which has been translated by Alan Hoffman, President of the American Friends of Lafayette.  Comprehensive as the account is you won't read about Leicester or Charlton or Ware in it.

Here is Levasseur's account of the day that Lafayette stopped in Leicester and Charlton
The first day in Bolton, we had stayed in the charming country house of Mr. Wilder, whose amiable hospitality will not be erased from our memory. The second day, we stayed at Stafford, after having attended the glittering festivities of Worcester, and on the 4th at ten o’clock in the morning, we arrived at Hartford,
The real story of the magnitude of Lafayette's visit is buried in local history.


Lafayette was invited to President Monroe to come and visit as the Guest of the Nation.  It is well to remember that the American experiment with government by the people and civil equality was still very new.  The people in the prime of life at the time were the first people to have spent their whole lives as citizens of the United States.

Lafayette, the only surviving major general from the Revolution, was a total hit with the veterans and the ceremonies surrounding the visit were as much a celebration of them as it was of him. One of the key events near the end of his tour was the laying of the cornerstone of the Bunker HIll Monument.

The cause of self government did seem to be prospering as the name of Bolivar was bruited about and we had the the Monroe Doctrine.  There was even optimism about a solution to the contradiction of slavery with the establishment of Liberia, its capital being named for the President.  Of course, people nowadays have not such a high opinion of the colonization effort, but it is well to remember that one of the rationales for the movement was that white people would not treat the freed slaves well.  It is not as if the experience of Reconstruction proved the colonizers wrong.

All in Lafayette was an ideal person to embody the spirit of the new nation.  He had not been involved in American politics which was then heading for a very divisive Presidential election, that would be decided in the House of Representatives for the first time.  And he was not associated with any region of the country.  And his work for democratic government and civil equality in France aligned with the idea that America was about ideas not ethnicity.  And that they were ideas that would spread.

Back To Me

My notion about the bicentennial, which became more and more elaborate, was based purely on the two markers and my previous knowledge about the visit and Lafayette, which was pretty sketchy.  So I figured I needed to do some research.For a recent biography I went with Lafayette: His Extraordinary Life and Legacy by Donald Miller..

It was in reading the legacy part that I breathed a sigh of relief.  I learned about the American Friends of Lafayette .  I became a life member.  This is great.  I'm not on my own when it comes to the bicentennial.  I communicated with Alan Hoffman, who besides being a translator of Levasseur's account is the President of AFL.

And it is was my contact with Alan Hoffman that facilitated last week's road trip.  He let me know about a graduate student in geography from France who was documenting Lafayette's stops in New England.  I offered to host him when he was ready to take on the heart of the commonwealth.

Lafayette In Massachusetts

Lafayette made a point of visiting all of the then 24 states of the Union.  He probably covered Massachusetts more thoroughly than any, Having originally landed in New York, he visited Boston twice - once early in his travels in August-September 1824 and nearly a year later to lay the cornerstone for the Bunker Hill Monument. His tour of the south and west was constrained by his need to get to Bunker Hill in time.

If we overlay modern roads on the map of 1824 we can imagine Lafayette jumping on I-95 to get to Boston via Providence and then heading back to New York by taking Route 2 to I-495 to I-290 to pass through Worcester where he would switch to Route 20 to pick up I-84 in Sturbridge to head to Hartford.

In  1825, he was coming from the Albany area and was in a hurry, but the Nation's Guest did not pay tolls ruling out the Mass PIke.  He was mostly on Route 9 from Pittsfield to Worcester and then on Route 20.  

After the dedication he headed north to visit Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont and did not touch Massachusetts on his way back to New York.

Planning Our Road Trip

So towards the tail end of my post-tax season vacation I get a phone call from Julien Icher.

Julien has a business card that identifies him as the Project Manager-Lafayette Trail for Republique Francais - Consulat General De France A Boston.  As we were chatting about his liking for the United States, I asked him what sort of document he was in the country on and he told me that he had a diplomatic passport.

Julien called me on a Sunday when my covivant and I were on the tail end of our post tax season vacation.  He was ready for my part of Massachusetts and wanted to get together on Wednesday. That severely cut into the time I had hoped to spend preparing.  Since CV and I were travelling on Monday, I was left with Tuesday.  CV was gracious about having an unanticipated house guest for three days.

Julien told me not to worry about the abbreviated prep time.  He already had some things planned and he had a "lucky star" that made things work out as he traveled around New England documenting Lafayette's stops. I managed to make a couple of the connections I had been hoping for.  So we had a plan of sorts.

Julien has a bachelors in history, a masters in geography and a second masters in geographical information systems.  He speaks English very well with just enough of an accent to let you know he is French.  He loves idioms.  He is particularly fond of "pulling your leg".  I furthered his education by teaching him a few idioms that cannot be used in polite company or repeated on this blog.

Julien is 23 just two weeks older than my son. He treated me with the same deference that my son treats me.  That is regularly mocking the eccentric old man.  I think that I insisted on playing Ingress at our stops might have been a factor.    

Day One

Julien set most of the program for Day 1.  He got to my condo in North Oxford around 9:00 AM.  We started off by going down to Rochdale, where I showed him the marker that had gotten me started.  We hit the nearby diner where I had second breakfast and took Stafford street to Worcester reversing Lafayett's 1824 route.

That allowed us to do part of the 1825 route in reverse mostly on Route 9.  We stopped in the Brookfields - town hall and local library.  I just had to show him the Book Bear, one of my favorite bookstores.  I thought we might score a good local history.  But the lucky star only seems to work for Julien.

I had not yet caught on to the rapid research, that is the hallmark of Julien's methods.  His end product is a piece of software with a map on which you can close in to view details on Lafayette's stops. That's the Geographic Information Services masters at work.  I did however uncover the story of Ware's Lafayette elm.

As we were heading for lunch we tried to follow directions to the site of the Lafayette elm, but did not have much luck.  Julien was not that excited by it.  He told me there are lots of Lafayette elms scattered around.

We ate at a Subway in Walmart. Subway is Julien's favorite fast food place, as it is relatively healthy.  He went for the whole grain bread.  My covivant would have approved.  He talked about how well known Lafayette is in America.  I told him he might be dealing with a sampling problem.  I speculated that if we started asking the people in Walmart about Lafayette, we might come up empty,

After lunch it was off to Northhampton.  I used my Garmon for the shortest route which is not Route 9.  And that probably accounts for Lafayette apparently not having visited Amherst.  So if the lack of Lafayette references in the poetry of Emily Dickinson has been troubling you, now you know why.  Her being born in 1830 and all is not a sufficient explanation.

Northampton was mostly the library.  I should mention here that Julien was not keeping me informed on everything he found.  I was more transportation and entertainment, of a sort. I'm pretty sure that I made it a point to show him where Jonathan Edwards preached.

We went back via Route 9 allowing Julien to see Amherst.  He was mainly impressed by the college girls walking about.  He is 23 after all.

Day Two

The second day is where my planning paid off.  We were following Lafayette's 1824 route back to New York starting in Leicester again.  As luck would have it Reverend DiBenedetto was about and she was able to give us a tour of the church building which was newly built when Lafayette passed by.

The Episcopal Church was created to serve recently emigrated people from England who were drawn to the area due to the mills powered by the water resources. It had taken a while to get a permanent minister so she was not able to shed any light on the Rev. Joseph Muenschner who had greeted the general.  She referred us to the church historian, with whom Julien is following up.

Next stop was Charlton for our appointment with Frank Morrill of the Charlton Historical Society for our tour of Rider Tavern.  We were a little early so we hung out in the militia field, owned by the town, across the street.

I think I explained a bit about the militia to Julien.  One of my favorite pieces of Lafayette trivia is that the reason we call our National Guard the, well, National Guard is because of Lafayette.  On 15 July 1789 Lafayette was elected to be the commander in chief of the newly formed Garde Bourgeoise which was soon renamed la Garde nationale. In 1824 with Lafayette's arrival the 2nd Battalion of the 11th Regiment of Artillery New York State Militia renamed itself the National Guard in honor of Lafayette. They started a trend which caught on.  So if you are confused by us calling our state units national, you can blame it on Lafayette.

Frank Morrill arrived and took us inside the Rider Tavern which has a Lafayette room where the General dined on September 3

There is also a Lafayette ballroom upstairs.  Frank told us about the difficulties of keeping local historic societies going and the work that has gone into preserving the Rider Tavern.

An interesting twist on the lack of integration between local and national history came as Frank mentioned that Lafayette stopped there on his way to Boston.  Now, of course, you and I both know that Lafayette was on his way back from Boston when he stopped in Charlton.  He had come up via Providence on his first trip and was further north on his second trip.

Julien saw it differently.  He thought Frank was just testing us to see whether we were legit.  At any rate, I have big hopes for the Rider Tavern in the bicentennial, but maybe some of the deeper pocket groups with an interest in the event should help them out a bit.  I'm just the descendant of a Civil War veteran and an enlisted man at that so I don't have any pull with the Society of Cincinnati, but maybe they should be looking at Charlton.  Just saying.

Next stop was Old Sturbridge Village where I began to fear that Julien's lucky star had sunk.  Reverend DiBenedetto had told us that the historian of her church worked at OSV, but he seemed to have taken the day off.  We pretty much breezed through the various displays.  As it happens there are quite a few Ingress portals in OSV.  I kept trying to reach Michael Arnum the Director of Marketing who I had spoken with on Tuesday.

Finally, we just walked over to the Administration Building and there he was.  He had arranged with the librarian for us to see some Lafayette items.  Included was the letter I quoted at the beginning of this piece. Salem Towne who seemed to have been on an extended trip was writing to his wife to encourage her to come to Boston to see Lafayette.  There never had been nor ever would be anything quite like it was his prediction.  And he was right.

We were then off to Hartford to visit the Connecticut Historical Society.  I don't know what Julien came up with there but he seemed satisfied.  Traffic foreclosed us hitting the towns in between.  We ended up eating at the Publick House in Sturbridge. They have an elaborate story about there be arrangements to have fine china on hand for Lafayette but his never getting past the tap room.  The account is that he left Worcester at 2:00 so if he stopped to eat in Charlton it must have been pretty late when he got to Sturbridge.

Day Three

We got up relatively early on Friday for our final day.  We took the Mass Pike out to Pittsfield so we could follow Lafayette's 1825 track.  We spent the morning at the Berkshire Athenaeum and I think I might have been finding my groove and contributed a bit more to the research effort.  According to The Hoosac Valley - Its Legends and Its History by Grace Greylock Niles, Lafayette fell in love while in the Hoosac Valley, but Julien didn't take the claim very serious.

We had another museum stop in Pittsfield, but the place turned out to be mainly dedicated to Herman Melville who lived in Pittsfield for a while.  I did, however, buy two t-shirts. One reads "Call me Ishmael" and the other "I would prefer not to".  The second one is spoiled by giving the reference which you and I both know is to Bartleby the Scrivener, but you have to be considerate of others.

For lunch, Julien just had to have another Subway.  And the one he found was in a Walmart.  I thought I could liven up the journey with some music so we went in the back to see if there was anything worthwhile.  I passed by his suggestions and picked up Billy Joel.  Julien really liked Billy Joel including the Piano Man.

His lucky star had finally become obscured as we did not pick up much more on our stops.  The selectman in Peru, Mass (pop 800) seemed a bit skeptical of our bona fides.  We did, however, find a stretch of 149 that is designated the Lafayette Trail.

Eventually, we were back on Route 9 passing through Amherst so Julien could ogle the college girls again.  We continued into Worcester to stop at That's Entertainment.  Julien told me that he had a liking for graphic novels and that is the place for them.  We met up with CV at The Sole Proprietor/.


I figure we drove about 400 miles and in the process I don't think I did too much damage to Boomer/Millenial or French/American relations. We ended up in the various towns looking at the monuments which in part commemorate young Americans giving their lives to bail out France or at least that was the spin I put on it - including Vietnam.  Julien told me that in France they blame Vietnam on us.  Go figure.

I'm contemplating how much time I want to spend in the next few years in libraries hunting down stories about Lafayette's visit.  We'll see.

Julien will be speaking at the Lafayette Day ceremonies in Boston.  He figures he is the youngest person to ever have that honor.  He'll do fine.

Peter J Reilly CPA mostly writes about taxes on


I kept on having this regrettable tendency to call Julien Lucien which even crept into this piece which he was kind enough to point out to me and I have now fixed.  He also insists that his lucky star shines as brightly as ever and that I neglected to mention how many M&Ms I consumed in the course of our road trip.