Americans will not forget their debt to French nobleman Lafayette

6th September 2007, Comments 0 comments

06 September 2007, WASHINGTON (AFP) - Across the United States, Americans are celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of a French nobleman to whom they still feel indebted, centuries after he helped them win independence, the Marquis of Lafayette.

06 September 2007


WASHINGTON (AFP) - Across the United States, Americans are celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of a French nobleman to whom they still feel indebted, centuries after he helped them win independence, the Marquis of Lafayette.

"There were many French and people of other nationalities who came over to serve in the American Revolution, but Lafayette was rather special," said Diane Windham Shaw, curator of a collection devoted to the French marquis at a university named after him, Lafayette College in Pennsylvania.

"He was only 19 when he first came over here in 1777, but almost everyone got along with him -- especially George Washington, who in the end considered him an adopted son."

Marie Joseph Roche Yves Gilbert du Motier Marquis de Lafayette was born on September 6, 1757 in the French region of Auvergne.

He crossed the Atlantic in 1777 to help Americans in their fight to cast off British colonial rule.

*quote1*Lafayette's noble charm and strategic genius during the American revolutionary war have earned him the honor of having at least 42 counties and cities and hundreds of streets and squares -- including Lafayette Square opposite the White House -- named after him or his ancestral home in France, La Grange.

Also named after the French nobleman so beloved of Americans is Mount Lafayette in the Franconia range, in the northeastern state of New Hampshire.

"Most of the naming occurred when Lafayette returned to the United States for his farewell tour in 1824. He was a huge celebrity during that tour," Shaw said.

"That is in part due to the fact that one message of the tour was what a great success America had made of the democratic experiment in 50 years. Americans liked hearing that, especially from a French marquis," Shaw said.

Books, poetry and music have been written in the United States in honor of Lafayette, including "The Sword of Lafayette" poem, which many American children read in school.

And proof that the Americans and French share the tendency to claim illustrious foreigners as their own, writer Martha Crow published a book in 1918 in the "True Stories of Great Americans" series, entitled "Lafayette."

"He considered himself American and often said: 'I am American.' Several states made him a citizen when he was here on his farewell tour, and he was made an honorary citizen of the United States (in 2002)," Shaw said.

When the United States belatedly joined World War I in 1917, Fred Teeling wrote a song entitled "We'll pay our debt to Lafayette" and Ray Girard wrote the words and music for "Lafayette, we're coming over":

"Let us picture Washington on bended knee, as he prayed that God would save us from the hands of tyranny.

*quote2*"His prayers were quickly answered -- France sent over Lafayette, who in our trouble saved us. Now's the time to pay our debt," ring the words to Girard's song.

"Many Americans considered that by helping France through what it was enduring during World War I, we could help repay the debt owed to Lafayette," Shaw said.

In 1914, the Lafayette Fund was established to put together kits for French soldiers fighting in the trenches.

American pilots who volunteered to fly for France organized themselves into a unit called the Lafayette Escadrille.

"And when General Pershing arrived at the head of American forces, he made a pilgrimage on July 4, 1917 to Lafayette's grave in Paris. As he laid a wreathe, his aide said: 'Lafayette, we are here,'" Shaw said.

Lafayette College, located in Easton, Pennsylvania, around 70 miles (112 kilometers) west of New York, kicked off a year-long tribute to the life and legacy of the marquis last week.

But although the university took its name in honor of the "talents, virtues and signal services" the marquis rendered "in the great cause o

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