|A Year of Indiana History - 2016|
Congress invited the Revolutionary war hero, and only surviving general from the American Revolution, to visit the United States so a still grateful nation could thank him for his service to the American cause.
Invitation by Congress
After Congress passed a resolution inviting the Marquis to the nation, President James Madison extended the formal invitation in January 1824. The Marquis agreed to the visit and departed France in July 1824 accompanied by his son, Georges Washington de La Fayette. He arrived at Staten Island, New York in August. During the fall and winter he toured New England, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, DC. In the spring he extended his tour to include the southern portion of the country.
The Tour of America
Lafayette departed from Washington on February 23, 1825. His route included stops in North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana. After a stopover at New Orleans, Lafayette proceeded up the Mississippi River, stopping at various points along the way. At every stop throngs of people gathered to greet and cheer the aging Marquis. His route turned to Illinois, Tennessee and finally to Kentucky.
On May 9 the boat, carrying him sinks on its way to Louisville on the Ohio River. At a place now called Lafayette Springs a thunderstorm blew up. The steamboat struck a rock formation, now called Rock Island that jutted out from the surface of the water. All passengers and crew escape. Lafayette loses all his belongings and money in the catastrophe, including $8000 in cash and his papers. Lafayette fell into the river, nearly drowning in the process. Quick thinking deck hands hauled the beloved, elderly general out of the water. The party spent the night by the springs drying their clothing out by bonfires. Neighboring pioneers, hearing of Lafayette's presence flocked to see him. The next day the steamboat, Paragon, was flagged down. The Paragon had been traveling downriver, but agreed to take Lafayette's party to Louisville.
The Visit to Jeffersonville
On May 12, the Marquis de Lafayette, upon prior invitation by the Indiana General Assembly, crosses the Ohio to visit Jeffersonville, Indiana. He spends the greater part of the day there, visited by large, admiring crowds. By evening he returned to Louisville and continued his tour on May 14.
His visit was the subject of much press coverage during his visit. He covered over 6,000 miles using nearly every mode of transportation available at the time. He concluded his visit at Washington DC, after a stop at Mount Vernon to honor his friend, George Washington, who had died twenty-five years earlier. On September 7, 1825 Lafayette departed Washington on the USS Brandywine.
Author Note: There are conflicting reports on the date this occurred. Some sources say May 11, 1825, others give the date as May 12, 1825. The author has chosen May 12.
A Year of Indiana History - 2016
© Paul Wonning